Teachers, this one’s for you, because we get it.
The start of the school year can bring excitement, but we also understand there are frequently other emotions bubbling just below the surface.
Today, we are interviewing one of our very own staff members to discuss her experience with the challenges that often come with work/life balance as a teacher. She understands the struggle and also has some great tips to help motivate you as you prepare for the year ahead. Sarah Crawford is our current office manager here at Cornerstone; she has a passion for mental health, childlike joy, and connecting with people and loving them well.
1. Sarah, tell us a bit about yourself and history as an educator.
Well, before joining Cornerstone I was an elementary school teacher for 5 years. First and second grade–I love those little guys! They’re the perfect mix of curious, sweet, and a little spunky. Plus, they start to pick up on wit and humor around 7 years old, so we had a lot of fun.
2. As the school year approaches, what are some things teachers may be beginning to think about and feel?
Oh goodness, how do you describe the back to school dread? (Laughs). As with most emotions while teaching, it’s a back and forth of highs and lows. Teachers are experts at balancing many things at once, including how we feel!
You get this feeling of excitement for the new year, but also a sense of… I’m not sure if it’s sadness, exactly? But it’s a blue feeling you can’t quite put your finger on. Maybe it’s apprehension, or stress, or worry? I think it changes depending on the person, or even depending on the year.
I noticed that the more burnt out I was from the summer, the more dread I felt for the coming Fall. Some years it was a day or two of that feeling, and then just pure excitement. Other years it felt like a prolonged anxiety–grieving the loss of summer rest, and stressing over Fall prep!
I wish I could hug every teacher and tell them it’s okay to feel lots of things at once. That it’s okay to take care of yourself, and you can have “Both, And” emotions. Both excited for the year, and sad that summer is over.
3. What are some of the greatest challenges that teachers face in regards to work/life balance?
For me personally (and I think I can speak for every teacher I know) you teach because you love it. And when you’re putting your heart and soul into every day, it can really take a toll on your energy!
One of the biggest challenges for me was time management. I often found myself planning lessons, buying supplies, and grading papers until late at night, and completely forgetting dinner (oops). By year three, I had actually set up a “cutoff time” for emails and grading, and created routines outside of the classroom to interact with the rest of the world and people I loved.
Which brings me to the next challenge–social life. When you spend all day caring for little humans, it’s difficult to gather the energy to go out with friends or family, join church groups, adventure, etc. Ohh and then the guilt you feel for not doing all the social things you feel like you “should…” I think that’s true for anyone who works in an industry helping others. I wish I could start a Bible study/spa treatment group for teachers. Think that would go over well?
We also struggle with stress management, coordinating family activities, and carving out space for self-care in all its forms. At our healthiest, we are masters of balance! But when we’re feeling burnt-out or drained, it’s difficult to find that healthy place again.
4. Would you share a few things that have helped you and other people in this field to improve work/life balance and overall quality of life?
Discovering your boundaries and sticking to them was by far the most helpful tool for me! Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud was a game-changer. (It’s in audiobook form too, which was great! I rarely had time to actually sit down and read).
Along the same lines, using time-management strategies helped me feel like there was more day in my day, outside of the classroom. Setting limits on when I answered emails, taking one weekend day completely off, and scheduling in when I was going to lesson plan/shop/grade reminded me that any extra work fit into my life, not the other way around. But you have to stick to a routine. It’s easy to blur the lines and think “well, just a few more minutes…” and then I’d totally lose my schedule.
Make friends, too. Friends who get you, and the teacher life. You don’t have to go out and be extroverted to find them, generally you can bond for life over a meme on Facebook (laughs). Because of the stress, it’s easy to fall into negative thought patterns and conversations. Finding a positive support system was so important. They kept me sane on my worst days!
I once had a fellow teacher remind me that there was always going to be something to do, but it’s okay to just do what you have in front of you.
I found that when I had good boundaries, structured my time well, and was interacting with a positive support group, I felt healthier. There was more excitement and passion for my work, and less of that feeling of dread.
Teachers, you can do this! Like Sarah, we want you to feel equipped to fight and conquer the “back to school dread” and to create rhythms that will help you to stay energized and balanced throughout the year to come. Need help with that? Contact us here for more information and one of our office staff will reach out to you to help answer any questions you may have! And cheers to all that you do, you are so appreciated and valued!