During my first year as a graduate teacher, I did not have a social life.
I arrived at school at 7:30 am and left at 6 or 7pm. I was working from home on weekends and, as a result, I spent the first week of term one holidays completely exhausted on my couch.
I wanted to do well, so I was creating a huge amount of resources to match the needs and levels of my students. I was eating lunch at my desk so as not to waste any time. I was replying to emails straight away, and I was going above and beyond because I wanted to be a great teacher.
It took me a while to understand that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. I could simply find resources online and modify them. I gradually realised the importance of having something outside of school to support my wellbeing and nourish my heart and soul.
Over the years, it became a lot easier to reach that balance, to spend less time at school and to not take mountains of work home with me.
I wish I had put in place the following practices straight from the beginning. So, here are my tips to help you achieve your work-life balance:
Physical activity. Make sure to go to the gym, do yoga, dance, do tai chi, swim... whatever physical activity you enjoy. When I made a point to go to at least two yoga classes per week (on top of my daily home practice), I felt a lot happier and less stressed. It allowed me to recharge my batteries so that I had extra energy to share in the classroom and with my colleagues. If you feel the need to squeeze some yoga during the day, I designed a 5 minute yoga desk sequence including 6 easy poses you can do at your desk to stretch and feel refreshed. You can see it here.
Lunchtime. Eating your lunch consciously is very important. I know that sometimes the day goes by quickly and unexpected things come up, but please – do not skip your lunch break. Pack healthy snacks like nuts, raw food, or last night leftovers. Take at least 20 minutes to eat your lunch mindfully (i.e. do not work at your desk at the same time. Enjoy your food).
Checking emails. Tim Ferries, author of 'The Five Hour Work Week', recommends to check your emails a maximum of three times per day, at specific times. This was a very valuable tip for me. I do not have my inbox open all the time and so do not feel the pressure to reply straight away. I set times throughout the day during which I am able to organise, prioritise and respond to emails. Sometimes I am able to respond on the spot, if not, I flag or highlight messages for a later response.
Resources. You don’t have to create them from scratch all the time. Use online resources and adapt them. There are some excellent resources compiled here, on the Language Teacher Helpmate. Start off in the languages-specific resource section.
Home life vs school life. Try to keep them separate. I am well aware that this is not always possible (marking, report writing, professional reading, etc.) but it is very important for your sanity and wellbeing. I believe the separation happens naturally after a few years of teaching, when you have thousands of lesson plans under your belt and more confidence in yourself. The trick is to schedule ‘me time’ in your diary for activities that you love and that inspire you. When they are marked in your calendar, you are more likely to do them.
Social life. Make time for the people who matter to you and who lift you up. Catch up with your friends regularly. You need to disconnect from teaching and talk about something else every now and then. Bonus points if your friends are not all teachers, so that you can talk about other topics.
Ask for help. You don’t have to do it alone. Ask your mentor, your colleagues or more experienced teachers. Ask for help when you need it. You will save time and frustration, and you will get things done quicker.
I hope these tips inspire you, and encourage you to balance your life and time in a healthy manner. The best way to achieve and maintain a healthy work-life balance is to look after yourself and to listen to your body. Pick one or two items from the list above and commit to practising them daily. It's the frequency that matters and that will bear fruit.
Nadège Debax has spent seven years as a French teacher in Australia and Norway. She is also a certified yoga and meditation teacher, mindfulness instructor, life and empowerment coach, and reijukido therapist – as well as an advocate for establishing mindfulness programs in schools. Find her online at www.theboxofhappiness.com.