Noteworthy Voices 2-MIN. READ

Strategies for Juggling Work—Life Balance as a Teacher and Parent

By: Emily McCann 08/15/2022

Practicing these three tips can help teachers achieve a positive work–life balance.

Emily McCann stands on Dorr Mountain next to a marker with her dogs.

Summer, for teachers, could be coined the season of self—a few months when there’s time for self-reflection and self-care. It’s a short season, but those interstitial weeks are so sweet: filled with ripe fruit, family BBQs, fireworks, refreshing swims, extended sunlight, and blissful sleep. I have been blessed to spend my life with teachers, starting with my father and now my husband, Sean. I have watched both of them treat these months as not only opportunities for adventure but also as chances to cement routines that would help preserve their energy and joy in the crush of the school year.

This crush is especially acute for those of you who have responsibilities for young people in both the classroom and your homes as parents. My husband and I had four kids in six years—our variety pack of singles, twins, red heads, and toe heads—and they filled the moments outside of work with a set of demands rivaled only by the children we served in schools. We used to lie prostrate on the couch at night after the last crazy child had succumbed to fatigue, fighting sleep while we planned coverage for our morning parenting duties. Rinse and repeat. It was only after a few years of this that we took stock of what allowed each of us to create and sustain the energy to get through these days. One obvious one was the kids in our home and in the classroom. It’s hard not to get energy from little beings designed to put energy into the world. Another was our access to basic resources: a home, food, clothing, heat, transportation, and childcare support. But the others we came up with were slightly less obvious, and all of them revolved around self-management.

1. Consistently do the thing that makes you happy and is uniquely yours.

For those of you with long commutes or lots of kids, this is a harder rule to live by. But even small doses of life-affirming activities are enough to reframe and reinvigorate. For me, this activity was running—it was my moment to break away from the persistent drumbeat of others’ needs, get lost in my thoughts, and sweat out the toxic energy that found its way into the corners of my mind. For my husband, this was hikes with our dog into the recesses of the woods, animated by the sounds of frogs, bubbling brooks, and pine needles crunching under their feet. For both of us, it was about solitude—and gratitude—in a life full of people and noise.

2. Be assertive about what you need at work.

Fitness instructor Robin Arzon is famous for her tagline, “Boundaries are sexy.” In the working life of a teacher and parent, they are downright sultry. While you don’t have the luxury to set your own hours or work a hybrid schedule, you can be deliberate about how you direct your time while in a school building. My husband was fiercely protective of early morning hours in the classroom, which he used to prepare the room for student discussion, and he was diligent about holding after-school office hours for students so he could be accessible without compromising his coaching duties and family dinner. Of course, there were exceptions, but the ability to exert control over how he spent his time outside of class boosted his agency and energy.

3. Lean on your support team.

Partnerships are made, not born. While you are accustomed to imbalanced ratios (i.e., one adult to many kids) in the classroom, self-reliance in all realms shouldn’t be the goal. If you are fortunate enough to have a support system, ask for help. When I was young, my neighbors were part of our extended family, especially on days my parents couldn’t meet the afternoon school bus. My husband and I have relied on supportive colleagues and friends to help us when we were overwhelmed, underwater, or running late. This requires a willingness to cede control. It also requires you to consider a new yardstick when measuring success. It’s not about how much you alone can accomplish; it's about what’s possible when you invite others into the process.

Your role as a teacher demands every ounce of energy you have. And if you’re caring for kids at home, you need even more fuel to reach the daily finish line. This summer, as you sink your teeth into a strawberry, try naming a few self-management practices that you can test as school gets underway. See if they help you recharge, regroup, and reinforce the vital role you are playing in so many kids’ lives. And, if they do, commit to making them habit when the opening week of school arrives. If my dad and husband are any indication, these practices will help you rock the classroom and the living room in ways that bring you joy, too.

For more on leadership and work-life balance, listen to Emily's episode of the Extraordinary Educators Podcast™ and this episode with seasoned educator Jamilah Hud-Kirk.