Is it still possible to have a good work-life balance as an English teacher?

Is it still possible to have a good work-life balance as an English teacher?

There are two main types of English teachers, those who are on contract and work to a fixed schedule for a school, university or institute, and those who are freelance and work privately to a flexible schedule for themselves, seeking out their own English students. There are of course English teachers who have both a contract and teach privately and this is particularly common with TEFL teaching. Each type of English teaching job comes with its own unique demands and pressures, and now more than ever we see English teachers working long hours after school and sometimes not finishing until 10:00 pm at night, especially if they’re also tutoring privately. Indeed, it has become increasingly common for teachers to work a 60-hour week. As a teacher you have to arrive early to prepare for your lessons and you then need to either stay in the classroom once your students have left for the day or work on your computer at home in order to do lesson preparation, mark work or complete your teaching admin that you didn’t have time to do earlier in the day. Furthermore if you teach English privately you might find that you have students first thing in the morning and again last thing at night, because this is when the demand is. 

Obviously you have to get paid, but this routine of long working days leaves many teachers feeling exhausted and sometimes even questioning their career choice, so the big question is is it possible to be an English teacher and still have a good work-life balance? The positive news is that we think it is possible, but it requires some good time management allied with some other tips and tricks that we’ve picked up along the way that might help make your life as an English teacher that little bit easier. Fortunately, as we’re all about improving the lives of our fellow English teachers and English tutors, we’re more than happy to share these with you:

Manage your schedule and time effectively

When you’re not teaching make sure you fill your working hours doing productive things. This is slightly different for private English teachers and English tutors in comparison with teachers working to a schools schedule under contract, but it can be equally important for both. If you’re a private English teacher or English tutor time is money so effective time management is crucial.  Ideally, you should try and schedule your lessons in blocks so that they run sequentially one after the other and in the same area of town. There is nothing worse than having one lesson at 9:00 am another at 1:00 pm and another at 7:00 pm in different areas of town because you essentially waste half a day between lessons where you either don’t really have enough time to do anything or you’re just travelling to your next class, which is a real detriment to work-life balance and can make your day feel longer than it needs to. In contrast, if you could arrange three lessons in the morning from 8:00 – 9:00 am, 9:15 – 10:15 and 10:30 – 11:00 am in the same vicinity either at your home or client’s office for example, you’ll have done the same amount of work and made the same amount of money as if you had the same three lessons across the whole day. As an added bonus you’ll also have over half the day free to do whatever you want or to even teach more classes and make more money! 

For new English teachers it can take some time to achieve a more compact schedule whilst you adapt to your new area and build your client list so patience is advisable here, but it is definitely something worth aiming for and teaching English online could also help you with this. Remember, as a private English teacher you don’t necessarily have to work all the time, just maximise the time that you do work. You set your rates so work when it is comfortable for you, and if you do find yourself with a disjointed schedule with lessons at different times of the day fill the gaps with your teaching admin and lesson preparation or take some personal time to relax and read a good book. The same applies to English teachers working under contract at schools. If you find yourself with a free period and you normally do your marking after school hours, try and fit this into your free time so that you’re able to go home earlier. We could write a lot more on managing your schedule and time management so look out for a dedicated post on this subject in future.

Form habits and routines

Habit creation and routines are a great way to improve your life and enable you to work towards goals or achievements. Routines help you naturally know when you should do something, whilst habit allows you to do it without having to exert too much mental energy. There is no fixed period of time in terms to how long it takes to form a habit because everyone is different, though two months is probably a reasonable estimate and if you schedule tasks repeatedly (routine) they will become habit over time. The great thing about habits is that they make your life simpler, for example you don’t think about brushing your teeth in the morning you just do it. Habits also require less brain capacity compared to a task that you are not used to doing, which would otherwise need more thought and possibly take more time as a result. Therefore, if something becomes a habit we can often do it quicker and without thinking about it so much, which will  help free up time and reduce that sense of overwhelm that can slow us down or cause procrastination. We can apply this practice of habit creation to our English teaching to make our lives easier too, so let’s look at some ideas:

On Monday: Detail the contents of all of the upcoming lessons for the following week so that you and the students know what you are doing and the materials required. 

You can do this for free on TEFLPA and TEFLPA will e-mail you daily lesson reminders with this exact information.

On Wednesday: Mark any outstanding homework so that you can relax and enjoy the coming weekend.

On Friday: Update student lesson records with what they did that week, their homework for the weekend and any personal comments that you may have for them from your lessons that week. 

Again, you can do this for free on TEFLPA by populating a master lesson record that automatically updates the lesson records for all individual students in that class, so if you have 30 students you only have to write out the lesson record once! You can then add personal comments to each individual lesson record where you feel necessary. Automating the process of keeping records in this way can save a lot of time and make managing your teaching admin a whole lot easier.

Make lists

Checklists are perfect for organising yourself and prioritising the things that you have to do on any day or given week. If you write down everything that that needs doing or that you want to accomplish it helps to reduce overwhelm and can give you a great sense of achievement when you complete the task and cross it off the list. Your list could include anything from finishing your lesson plans, organising your schedule, marking homework, doing your student billing or updating your student lesson records. Checklists also help you remember what you have to do that day or week, so when those things are done you can go home happy in the knowledge that you’ve completed everything that you needed to and enjoy your time with your family and friends.

Cutback on paperwork

Cutting back on your paperwork and admin time by using online tools that automate everything for you from registering class attendance, keeping lesson records, setting homework and billing your students (if applicable) can be a great time saver and help reduce the amount of stuff you have to carry around, which can make managing your teaching admin a lot easier in general.

Set and manage expectations

Managing your own and others expectations of you can be crucial in obtaining a good work-life balance and there are a number of ways that you can achieve this. As a teacher, even if you don’t have a reason to leave work at a certain time you can manage your colleagues' expectations by sticking to a regular, fixed time when you actually leave or are no longer available. You can do this by simply closing your classroom door at a set time each day and even if you’re staying on in school it can be a good way of getting some privacy to get things done. For many colleagues and students an open door can mean an invitation to come in and chat or ask questions, a closed door is a polite way to show that you are busy, unavailable or have gone home. Also, by making a routine out of when you leave work people will know that you won’t be there after a certain time so if there is something important to talk about they will come and see you about it before you leave. Provided that you endeavour to do a great job, get all of your work done and teach your English students to the best of your ability this should not be a problem and will most likely earn you the reputation of being a more efficient, successful teacher, which could in turn take you far in your career as well as giving you back some of that much needed personal time.

Limit when you check e-mail

Constantly checking and responding to e-mail throughout the day can be a real drain on your time and lead to procrastination on the computer when you could be doing more productive things such as teaching and completing those important tasks on your checklist so that you can go home at a reasonable hour. Especially as a teacher, rather than constantly looking out for e-mail it’s much more sensible to batch your time spent on it to certain times of the day, and you can then set peoples' expectations so that they know that you will only reply to e-mail at these times. If something is urgent you’ll find that people will start to come and see you or call you rather than e-mailing so you won’t have to be tied to your e-mail all day because you’ve effectively changed their habits. For English teachers (particularly private teachers) we’d recommend checking e-mail once first thing in the morning, once just after lunch and once half an hour before you're due to sign off for the day, although this last one is easily avoidable if you’re comfortable with doing so. This way you will pick up any notifications for changes to your day and can sign off happily in the knowledge that your students and colleagues won’t expect you to reply to them at all hours. For some teachers not having to reply to e-mails at weekends is particularly liberating and can be a great boost to your sense of a healthy work-life balance.

Learn to say no!

Like most teachers you’re probably more than willing to do everything that is asked of you to provide your students with the best possible English teaching and tuition, and perhaps even just to impress your employer or maintain good relations with your colleagues. After all, hard work is said to go a long way towards a person’s success. You might also be one of those people who just can’t say no. If you have a habit of agreeing to anything that is asked of you people will know that if they ask you to do something they will generally get a positive response. This is great for them but not necessarily great for you. There is no doubt that being helpful and hardworking are attractive qualities and shouldn’t be discouraged, but like many things saying yes to things should be done in moderation and sometimes you just need to learn to say no, after all you don’t need to work all of the time. If you’re able to rein back a little and not volunteer yourself for everything you’ll be able to prioritise the things that are required of you and those that are most important, and this will help you to avoid burnout and have more time outside of your working life to commit to the things that you enjoy doing that can help you relax.

Take part in an after school activity

This one applies more to English teachers who work under contract to a fixed schedule, although it can also be useful for freelance English teachers working privately because it gives structure to your day. If you commit to an after-school activity be it tennis, learning a language, pottery class or any other hobby you know that you have to leave work at a certain time in order to get there and you can also make your colleagues aware of this. By doing so you are managing everyone’s expectations including your own and are consequently able to get away from work to enjoy some of that much needed down time, knowing that you won’t be working that evening nor will you be expected to do so.

Some final thoughts...

However it may appear to you now, having a work-life balance as an English teacher isn’t dead yet, you just need to take the appropriate steps to ensure that you are doing a professional job and managing the expectations of others whilst also getting what you need in order to lead a happy and healthy work-life existence. If you’re in a good place mentally you’ll benefit long term and so will your students, so we hope that you can take something away from these ideas and we wish you all the best with your English teaching!

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