For Melissa Wendorf, an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles, work doesn’t end when school does. On a typical weekday, she tutors individual students until the early evening, has a quick dinner with her fiancé, and then grades assignments or answers emails from parents before going to bed.
“I don’t have kids yet, and my thought every day is, ‘how do teachers who have children come home from work, make dinner, and help their own kids with homework?’” she says. “I’m just here with my fiancé, and I can barely get by myself.”
According to a recent national survey of more than 1,300 educators, teachers spend a median of 54 hours per week working. That’s almost two extra eight-hour days at the office, each and every week, a perpetual motion machine of planning, grading, coaching, supervising clubs and after school activities, meeting with colleagues, and interacting with students and parents outside of the classroom.
“People think that teachers work from, say, 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and they’re free to go when the bell rings,” says Ron Grosinger, a high school STEM teacher in New Jersey. “Well, yes, I am free, but most of the time I stay at the school because there’s a student to talk to or something to take care of.
“Even in the summer, you’re thinking about students, like, ‘sure, I could spend one more day at the beach, or I could go into school and make sure every detail in my classroom is dotted and crossed and ready.’ Because you know that will mean one more kid you gave your 100 percent to.”
Create a daily and weekly schedule. Slot your work and non-work activities into fixed windows of time—and then stick to your plan as much as possible. “I wake up now at 4:30 in the morning to make sure I can fit in exercising, because that’s important to me,” Wendorf says. “I also make all my breakfasts and lunches for the week on Sundays so I have more work-life balance.”
Prioritize what matters now—and leave the rest for later. “One thing that I try to do is remind myself, ‘is this something that I have to do now, or is it something that can wait to the next day?’” says Miesha Medford, an elementary school assistant principal in Texas. “With [work-life] balance, it really comes down to prioritizing the must-dos and the things that can be done later.”