Why is this so hard?

Our jobs are challenging, emotional, and physically draining. Should we be surprised that we bring some of this baggage home with us?

Raise your hand if…

you’ve had a dream about your students…

you’ve had your husband cut out laminating for you…

everyone in your family knows the names of each of your students…

an exciting Saturday night involves making file folder games…

I bet I have a lot of hands up. There is nothing wrong with being passionate, hard-working, and just plain obsessed with your students and your job. In fact, that’s why you are so awesome. Your students and school are beyond lucky to have someone as dedicated as you are. But at the same time, we need to make sure we are taking care of ourselves as well. You can’t be that amazing and energetic teacher superstar if you are exhausted, run down, or burnt out.

I get these questions all the time. How do you balance work and home? How do I avoid bringing work (physically or mentally) home with me? How can I be a good teacher and a good parent/wife/friend etc?

I wish I had a magic answer on how to achieve the elusive work/life balance. If you clicked on this post in eager anticipation of a quick checklist or easy to implement strategy to fix your balance issues I am very sorry to disappoint. This is something I personally really struggle with and have been making a big effort to work on. I am by nature a perfectionist and workaholic which is a pretty deadly combination. When I found out I was pregnant last year, my husband gave me a good talking to about taking care of myself because know I have more to worry about than just my own health. And he was absolutely right. I worked really hard to destress and take time for myself. And I’m not going to lie, I was shocked by how hard it was. It shouldn’t be an effort to lay in bed and watch netflix but for me it was. My brain would spin with everything I ‘should‘ be doing. It took some time. It took practice. I got better at unplugging. I got better at being in the moment. Surprisingly, I wasn’t much less productive than as I was before. And I was definitely happier. I enjoyed work more. I enjoyed my family more.

Give yourself rules. Similar to many of our students – I am all about that rule governed behavior. I need guidelines and structure just like our classrooms. You almost need to create a social story for yourself. A mantra you can recite. I find myself most successful at balance work and life when I make a plan and set some rules. Sometimes it’s closing the laptop at a certain time or picking one day of the weekend to do absolutely nothing work related or maybe it’s putting the do not disturb on my phone for certain time periods. Whatever you need to do to unplug and focus on your life – do it.

Taking time for yourself will make you a better teacher. This was a hard one for me to wrap my brain around at first (and honestly still it). I am very much from the camp of the more you do the better you’ll be where as my husband is all about the work smarter not harder. I’m slowly coming around to this way of thinking because I have seen time and time again that when I do take time for myself – the world goes on. I still get my work done and when I was teaching I was able to be more in the moment, engaged, and an overall better teacher when I had given myself some breaks. So even if you don’t fully believe that giving yourself some breaks will make you a better teacher in the long run – fake it until you make and embrace it. Soon you’ll be a believer.

Don’t feel guilty. This is a sneaky one that pops in. You’ve set some nice boundaries to help avoid work creeping into your personal life. You are taking time for yourself and your family. But before you even have a few minutes to relax and catch your breath, the guilt wiggles it’s way into your brain. What about that IEP that isn’t written yet? You should respond to your principal’s email. You still don’t know what to do about Johnny’s behavior plan. How can you possibly be watching a movie when you have all of these things to do?! All of these nagging thoughts absolutely ruin your R&R time. Now you’ve accomplished nothing. You haven’t relaxed but you also haven’t gotten any work done either. This becomes a vicious cycle. If you’ve been there, you know exactly what I mean. When that guilt sneaks in, take control. Tell yourself you will not feel guilty. Have the mental argument with yourself. When the guilty thoughts pop into your head, acknowledge them as just that – thoughts. They don’t own you. They won’t ruin your personal time or work time. It’s just a thought. Move on.

Like I said, I don’t have a solution for the ever elusive work/life balance quest. I am a major work progress myself. Some days I rock at it, other days I such at it (there’s probably more of those days). But know that if this is something you are struggling with – you are not alone. It’s something we maybe avoid talking about because we are supposed to be such amazing rock stars who just do-it-all-all-the-time. But it’s okay to not do it all. And it’s even more okay to feel like crap while trying to do it all. Like any good special ed teacher, learn from what works and doesn’t work and move on. Take it one day at a time just like our jobs. Know that you work hard. You work damn hard. And you deserve a little R&R.

Sasha Long
Sasha Long

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