You’re tired. You’re frustrated. You’ve had it. The work seems endless and thankless and all encompassing. And that stack of essays and other assignments you lugged home lurks in the corner, stealing away whatever relaxation you could possibly have. If this scenario repeats, burn out is not far off.
Even to this day, I remember the words of one of my professors when I went back to school to get my teacher certification. He said to leave work at work. Don’t bring work home with you. And with the exception of a few ill-made decisions this has held true for my career in education. If you need to stay late to finish, stay late to finish, but don’t bring it home.
Now, working with teachers, I try to share that same wisdom, but will still hear tales of hours upon hours of time spent on the weekend or at night planning, grading, creating. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And these are great teachers. And I’m left to worry how much longer I will have their expertise in the classroom. Because burnout happens. And it happens to the best.
But it doesn’t have to.
And so I share the advice I heard all those years ago. Leave work at work.
And this doesn’t just go for teachers. It goes for any professional in a high stress job with high expectations.
The real question becomes, how do you leave work at work? How do you disconnect enough to actually relax, refresh, rejuvenate?
The first step is to look at how you’re actually spending your time. Do you spend your conference time chatting it up with another teacher down the hall, or do you hustle to make sure your lesson for tomorrow is well-crafted and effective? Do you fiddle on your phone and check Facebook or get all those emails returned and parents called?
If you’re staying hours late every day, or taking tons of work home, it’s important to reflect on how you spend your time during your work day. I’m not saying don’t take a break, everyone needs a break. But if you’re staying an hour late every day and see that you’re unproductive during your conference time, a little time management could go a long way towards creating more time not at work.
I recommend writing down how you spend your time for a few days – and be honest. This will help you find time you might not otherwise be utilizing.
This may be the hardest one for many people. It can be for me, too. I cannot tell you how many times I have checked on my work email on my phone over the weekend only to become completely stressed by the contents of an email I am not even capable of handling because I am not in the office. Relaxation squashed. “Why did I open that email?” said with fist clenched to the heavens.
So it’s hard, but it’s simple. Don’t check your email, avoid work texts, don’t train others to expect you to answer and be available all the time. Again, leave work at work. Maybe even leave your work email completely off your phone.
Stay late – but not that late
The fact is sometimes you have to stay late to finish up or prepare for an upcoming lesson. But if you’re staying hours every day, it’s going to wear on you. There is life outside of work.
So if you are staying late, stay focused and get the job done. Give yourself a goal. If you have to grade essays and you find it hard to get it done during the school day, tell yourself you will grade for 45 minutes, then you are out the door. Or do a certain amount every day. Hold yourself to it. You will thank yourself later.
Know how and when to say no
It’s for the children, right? Oh, the guilt trip. It’s all over education. Yes, at the end of the day, it is about the students in your classes, but that doesn’t mean you have to say yes to everything that is “for the children.” If you already feel overwhelmed by the pressure of being an educator, sponsoring a club or group isn’t going to make you feel less overwhelmed. If you’re already exhausted, volunteering to work every Saturday school under the sun isn’t going to make you feel more rested. Pick and choose the extra assignments you decide to spend your valuable time on (because it is valuable and so are you). If you love coaching UIL, do it! But don’t feel you have to coach every event and stay every day. It’s about balance and knowing when to say no.
Sometimes it’s hard to say no when it’s an administrator or a department chair, but sometimes it has to be said. You can respectfully decline activities outside of your work hours if it’s just too much at that given time.
Take care of yourself
Bottomline: if you’re in teaching for the long haul, you have to take care of yourself. If you stay late all the time, work on every weekend, take work home all the time, and are constantly tethered to messages from work, burn out is inevitable. There is more to life than your work life. That can be hard to understand when you are passionate about what you do, as many educators are. But it’s hard to be there for your students if you don’t take care of yourself. You’re a better you when you have a full, balanced life.
Set reasonable expectations. Use your time wisely. Work smarter not harder. All so cliché, but so true! So next time those essays beg to come home with you, just say no. They’ll get over it, and so will you.
Kristen is a literacy leader who is passionate about empowering educators to be the best they can be in their classrooms. Follow her on Facebook at Kristen Henry – Literacy Education & Instructional Leader.