Achieving a healthy work life balance is extremely difficult for teachers working today.
Many complain of low pay, a lack of support from senior leaders, and difficulties parenting their own children – due to the workload required in a modern classroom job.
A recent National Education Union survey found that 80% of classroom teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past 12 months - because of working conditions.
And each year a large number of experienced teachers leave the classroom looking for a happier, healthier life elsewhere.
If you’re feeling disillusioned with your teaching job, if your family aren’t seeing enough of you – if you are struggling financially ..
.. or if you know that your health is suffering because of the job you do, then let me outline the options that you have to fix your life.
Because there are really only 7 choices available to you ..
1. Fix You
A modern teaching job can be extremely demanding and a lot of work ..
.. especially if senior leaders are focused on performance improvements, over staff wellbeing.
But the first place to look for solutions is inside you.
Fixing you means improving your ability to cope with stress – but doing this isn’t an admission that you are the problem. Far from it.
Instead, what you achieve by putting YOU first, is space to breathe and a clear head to focus on what you should do next.
In an all-consuming job, often we work so hard that we stop being able to see things clearly. Add to this the overwhelmingly negative feedback we get from managers – and you have a recipe for depression and burnout.
By fixing YOU, you improve your capacity to deal with the workload and pressure of your job, improve your own self-image - and give yourself space to think clearly about your next move.
How can you do this?
The goal here is to improve your capacity to cope with the stress of your job and reach a place where you are thinking rationally more of the time.
This often begins with talking to others in a similar situation and sharing your feelings with those close to you.
As you do this, recognise that it is your job that is broken, not you. Trying to work harder (or smarter) won’t change this.
To fix yourself, you need to regain the ability to think clearly about the challenges you face.
Some strategies to give you this mental space are below:
- Time off – I call this ‘tactical sick leave’. It means taking time off your job to give yourself a break – BEFORE your health suffers.
- Holidays – Teachers have been relying on holidays out of term time for YEARS to recover from the demands of the job. These are important times to put yourself and your family first.
- Weekends – Having at least a day at the weekend completely OFF, is essential to manage a stressful job.
- Keep doing the things you love – often our hobbies and interests are sacrificed as we work harder in our own time to keep up. This results in a loss of perspective and increases stress.
- Share how you feel – with friends, family, co-workers, and in the 'Leave Teaching - and Smile' Facebook Group. Realising that you are not alone with how you feel, is important.
- Meditation – don’t underestimate the power of meditation and mindfulness to increase your resilience and happiness. It has quite literally changed my life. I have created a guide to explain how and why this works - available as part of my stress mini workshop here.
The bottom line is this – if you don’t focus on fixing YOU, managers in your teaching job are unlikely to do it for you.
Many senior leaders are far too focused on whole school data, to lift their heads up and see that staff might not be coping with the impossible job they have created.
Don’t let yourself get affected by the constant negative tone of management either - they would not be able to do your job!
2. Fix The JOB
The second option to consider, is if it's possible to fix your job.
There might be opportunities to change elements of what you do, to reduce workload – and make your job more manageable.
But I don’t mean this in the sense that your manager at school will do ..
If senior leaders won’t admit the job is broken – and fix it - then WE need to do it ourselves.
Fixing your job can be easier said than done – and it is often the go to ‘solution’ handed down by senior leaders that don’t care.
The quote I have heard far too many times over the years is to “work smarter not harder”. The implication being that it is US that are the problem – not the ridiculous demands of a broken job.
My response to this suggestion most of the time is unprintable!
But this option is worth mentioning - not to increase your capacity to fit yet more in - but to create space for your life.
How can you do this?
The goal here is to identify some strategies which satisfy most of the requirements managers make of you – and save some time to spend on YOU.
Effectively this means prioritising what you do intelligently, so you can identify what you are going to let ‘slide’.
If you think about it, this makes sense ..
Because school leaders will always tell you to improve something – using this strategy you choose what that something is.
Some strategies for fixing your job include:
- Stop doing EVERYTHING – Realise that is it your job that is broken and decide not to let this break you too.
- Lower your standards – a small dip in your standards in specific areas need not have a huge impact on your students, but it can create time for your life.
- Adopt a wider range of marking and feedback strategies – marking is the biggest bug bear of many teachers. Investigate ways of marking books in lessons – 3 great suggestions are explained here.
- Collaborative planning – Why reinvent the wheel? Visit the many teacher resource sharing sites and use existing resources as planning templates to save yourself time.
- Pick your priorities carefully – Prioritise your school’s ‘latest thing’ .. and let other things go a little. Do this well and you will be seen as ‘cooperative but overworked’ rather than ‘difficult’.
Some of these suggestions fly a little low - but what are the long-term consequences to you of continuing to manage an impossible job?
If you become a casualty of your classroom, you won’t be much use to your students - or your family.
Prioritising what you do intelligently should help you avoid becoming the focus for bearish senior leaders with a focus on ‘improvement’ over staff wellbeing.
3. Go Part Time at Work
This may not be an option for you financially, but it is worth mentioning ..
.. as fewer working hours will create space for your life.
If you forget for a moment how crazy it is that we are considering reducing our hours and pay, to cope with a broken job .. this option could make a lot of sense for you.
And it might be more of an option than you think.
Have the conversation with your family and play with your finances to explore the possibilities.
Many teachers find that part-time work limits the impact the job has on their life.
In the past I have found schools very dismissive of part time applications – but times are changing.
The more people that make these kinds of applications, the easier schools will find it to employ people to work part time timetables.
Recent employment legislation in many countries has made it a requirement that employers take seriously any applications to work non-standard hours.
Legally your school might have to consider your application if you approach the process correctly.
How can you do this?
Here are some tips on making your Part Time application:
- Get familiar with the policies & laws around flexible working in your country, district or school. There might be a particular process to follow, or evidence to gather to support your application - and you might only be able to apply at certain times.
- Gather together your justification - focusing on the positive qualities you bring to the job, and the benefits to the school.
- Ask around your school – if other staff are feeling similar things, a job share with someone you know could make your application much easier to approve.
- Keep an eye open for part time work in other schools. As more teachers make requests like this, a greater number of Part Time jobs are being advertised.
If you get a Part Time role at your school ..
Be very protective of the time where the school is NOT paying you to work. It is very easy to slip into catching up on work on your ‘off days’.
Just because you work 3 or 4 days in an impossible job – doesn’t mean that senior leaders can suggest you use unpaid time to catch up either.
It is worth noting that working Part Time in many schools can count you out of the race up the promotion ladder.
And make a note of any bad attitude you get from senior leaders because of your part time status – this should be challenged alongside other forms of discrimination.
4. Retire Early
For many teachers, early retirement is simply not an option – but for others it might be.
If you are approaching retirement age or have an alternative income which could substitute for your teaching salary .. then retiring from teaching early might be a good solution to fix your life.
Retiring early doesn’t have to mean waiting until you are just about to pick up your pension. There are other ways to achieve the same effect.
You could get a job outside of teaching to bridge the gap between your current situation and collecting your pension.
Or you might be able to readjust your retirement investments to provide an income at an earlier age.
It is worth checking out the possibilities if you’ve been teaching for a long time and know that you have a respectable pension saved up.
For those not yet able to consider this, early retirement might be something you want to plan for.
Start to look at investments that you could make which would allow you to retire early – and what income you might realistically need to do so.
Teaching jobs rarely get easier as you get older – it pays to have a plan if things change for the worse.
How can you do this?
Check out the situation with your pension, especially the dates when different portions of your retirement earnings will be paid out.
This is particularly the case if you have been working in the profession for some time – as you might have an earlier possible retirement date than you realise.
- Keep an eye open for redundancy or early retirement opportunities in your school. These offers are made available occasionally in schools going through big changes. This might include academisation, or the merging of schools together.
- Be intentional about retirement. It isn’t something that ‘happens to us’ when we hit a certain age – it is a life stage which you design to suit your own priorities.
Careful, retirement doesn’t always mean an easy life ..
Leaving a teaching job isn’t as easy as waving goodbye to an office job – particularly if you’ve invested a lot of yourself in the children you teach.
Managing your own motivations and purpose after retirement is important too.
Stopping a stressful job with nothing at all to replace it might sound like heaven - but many people in this situation suffer depression and experience feelings of loss.
So be aware of your feelings, question why they are there – and keep talking to people about how you feel.
You might find starting a small business or getting a part time job doing something else, helps you to manage the transition period better.
Going from having a focus, to none at all – can be a challenge.
5. Look for Alternative Teaching Positions
There are schools run by compassionate employers who have a better balance between accountability and staff wellbeing.
Employment in a different school could produce a life which you will enjoy more, and a job where you feel more appreciated.
Just because your current employer has impossible demands of you – doesn’t mean that all schools will do.
The problem in many cases isn’t the ‘modern’ target driven system, but the way many senior leaders implement it.
It can be difficult to accept that your job and school is broken to such an extent that it is best to find a different classroom to work in. But for many teachers this is a solution which saves their career and their health.
Moving into a different teaching job can feel harder than it really is – most teachers who make a positive move elsewhere can’t believe they didn’t do so years earlier.
How can you find teaching alternatives?
Ask around your local area. A good start is to investigate what other teachers think of working for the schools within reach of your home.
- Twitter is a good way to do this – your profile doesn’t have to identify you and teachers are usually very keen to help each other on the platform.
- Set alerts from job sites so you know what’s out there and talk to agencies about what is available too.
- Applying for jobs that are advertised is one approach, but because what you are looking for is not another job – but the RIGHT SCHOOL, there is nothing wrong with approaching schools directly and asking about their future plans.
- Prepare a CV and covering letter which reflects the skills and experience you have – and ‘sells’ you as a positive and hardworking member of staff.
- Make sure that you have a personal reference from your current employer. It is sometimes best if this is a past member of staff who worked with you - when things were better there.
Most managers & head teachers are happy to provide references for past employees – particularly if you worked well together.
When at interview ..
Ask direct questions about staff wellbeing and assess the responses you get.
Many employers won’t be expecting this question and if they take exception to it, they weren’t the right school for you anyway.
A compassionate school will be able to list specific strategies they take to reduce workload – as they prioritise wellbeing in their improvement plans.
Do not feel bad or disloyal about wanting to work elsewhere. Most students are very adaptable and will bond with your replacement perfectly well.
Looking for a job which suits the life you want to live is important. You don’t want to look back at an awful lot of wasted time, effort and stress while you committed yourself in the wrong job.
You deserve to have a life too.
6. Look for a Job Outside of Teaching
You may already realise that a job outside the profession is the best option for your future happiness.
The good news is that you have developed many valuable transferable skills in the classroom which a new employer will benefit from.
Many teachers feel trapped in their classroom job, unable to work outside the profession because of a misconception that they would have to start from the bottom again anywhere else.
In reality, the skills which we develop in the classroom are much more valuable than many teachers realise.
Have a look at these common traits of a classroom teacher and then realise just how employable they make you in all sorts of different alternative jobs:
- You work hard
- You learn new things fast
- You are a fantastic communicator
- You are organised and used to working to tight deadlines
- You are resilient and determined
- You react positively to change
- You have great people skills
- You are a natural leader
- You are a creative problem solver
- You use your initiative
If you offered that list of attributes to most employers, they would bite your hand off!
How might you get a job outside of your classroom?
Take a measure of your positive qualities and transferable skills and start to see where the skills you have honed every day in the classroom, might be used elsewhere.
- Create a CV which is aimed at the type of job you want to apply for, which translates these transferable skills in the context of their job.
- Talk to employment agencies to broaden your possibilities and upload your CV to various job sites.
- At interview go prepared, with examples of your highly transferable skills to insert into the interview. Don’t be afraid to bring notes in with these things written down. The fact is that most employers don’t really understand how hard teachers work or just how much skill you have. These examples will help you demonstrate this for them.
- Get used to valuing yourself again. I am sad to say that in many schools the negativity of management rubs off on most teaching staff. This can easily result in good teachers not realising their skills and qualities – and believing they are not good enough.
- Remember, it is the job that is broken – not you. Don’t get dragged down by the constant scrutiny and judgement – it reflects the awful state of the profession – not your level of worth to the world.
- Look for courses and qualifications that can help you use your teaching degree in a different way. The path out of teaching is well trodden - universities and training providers are aware of the number of teachers that want to retrain elsewhere.
PDF: 373 Alternative Job Ideas for Teachers
- Discover just how employable you really are!
- Reveals the jobs best suited to your role, and existing experience level
- 373 ideas and inspirations for teachers seeking a fresh challenge
7. Start a Passion Project
A Passion Project is an additional income which you develop at home which could grow to replace your classroom job.
The skills you have as a teacher are very well suited to starting commercially successful Passion Project.
Becoming your own boss gives you total control over what you do to earn a living, and when and where you work.
And if you’re intelligent about it, you can begin to earn an income from your Passion Project while you still work your classroom job.
What kind of Passion Project could you start?
An obvious choice for many teachers is to create learning and sell it online.
The market for online courses, and live events is huge and growing fast – and most of the people currently teaching online don’t have your classroom experience.
The internet makes delivering this kind of online learning easy, and once you have created a course, you can sell it over and over again on autopilot - leaving you free to spend your time on the things that really matter to you.
It’s teaching – but on your terms.
Teaching an online community of learners provides the buzz of helping people – without the expectations and workload of a traditional teaching job.
How can you begin?
- Find your passion. Examine your skills, passions and experience to find a subject you could teach online which reflects who you really are. (Your teaching skills can be applied to literally anything!)
- Know your customer. Get VERY clear about who you are designing for – and create a course or learning experience which gives them a valuable real-world result.
- Create something small first - to test the demand for what you want to offer - before you create anything substantial.
- Offer a freebie – Demonstrate what you can offer for free, and let your potential customers know it’s there. Helping people first is the key to the success of many Passion Projects.
- Calculate your freedom figure – the income you will need to earn to stop teaching altogether .. and use this to design products and services to replace this.
I am creating some training to help you do this:
The Passion Project Workshop – Walks you through my process for creating a Passion Project which could grow to replace your teaching job.
Reserve your place on this free training series and discover:
- How everyone has a Passion Project in them - and how to find yours!
- The 7 essential elements of a commercially successful Passion Project – so you can quickly earn an income.
- How to build a Passion Based Business, simply by helping people.