Let’s be real here y’all. Special education teachers notoriously have poor work life balance. But between missed preps, increasing expectations and complicated caseloads, who can blame us for bringing our work home with us?!
It has taken a few (hard and stressful) years, but I have finally a system that works for me.
As I share, please keep in mind that I am a fifth year teacher, married but have no children or pets and live in a suburban area in the same district as my school.
Pick and choose which of these suggestions will work for you as you find your work-life balance.
1. Create a Routine to End Your Day
Just as you would create an end of day routine for your students, create one for yourself. These are things that you are going to do every day before leaving school, on your commute home and/or right when you get home.
Your routine doesn’t have to look like mine, it can be anything that helps and supports your well-being. Feel free to use any of my other recommendations in your after school routine.
2. Intentionally Move Your Body
Notice I didn’t say “exercise”. Some people, myself included get overwhelmed when I think about scheduling exercise into my day. Something about the connotation of exercise being hard, creates a mental block for me. Instead of “wishing I liked working out”, I found forms of movement that I enjoy.
I find I only need 20 minutes of intentional movement a day to clear my mind. You can find this at any point in your day, before, during or after school.
This might look like taking a walk outside, taking a fitness class or doing 20 minutes of GoNoodle dances with your class.
Most days, I like to start my day with 20 minutes of walking on a treadmill to ease into my day. I also will read my book or listen to my favorite songs during this time. I create playlists on Spotify based on mood, so I choose one based on what I want to call in for the day.
Moving first thing also allows me to not have it looming over my head throughout the day. Some days, I will do yoga when I get home simply to stretch and relax.
TLDR: Find a form of movement that brings you joy and do it daily.
3. Delete your work email from your phone
Or at least from your main email app. If you are going to check your emails after your contracted hours are done (don’t worry, I do this too) increase the response effort (ABA IS EVERYWHERE!)
Instead of having my work email in my mail app, I have a browser tab linked to my Home Screen that requires me to log in every time I want to check my email. While it doesn’t seem like much, that one extra step often stops me from checking my email “if I don’t have to”. I put this in quotes because yes, sometimes it helps to check your emails from home the night before. But try to limit yourself to three times once you get home from school. Chances are, you won’t miss anything.
4. Find your form of mental escape
It’s really easy to continue talking about the school day once you get home. Especially if you have had a hard day, whatever that looks like for you, it may be hard to let go of.
Here is where your mental escape steps in.
Your mental escape is going to be a fiction book, a fiction podcast, an audiobook or a tv show/movie. I like to suggest fiction so that you can get lost in someone else’s story rather than continue thinking about your own.
Most of the time, I personally choose a book. This is a book that is purely for enjoyment. Some recent favorites are Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover and Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.
If you’re more of a TV show person, Ozark (Netflix) has been a great escape.
5. Practice Being Gentle With Yourself
As special education teachers, we are more likely to be empaths and/or Highly Sensitive People (I know I am 😅) This means we are more likely to be patient and understanding with our students when they have difficult days, but we may have a hard time letting go of that energy or being gentle with ourselves when we have a tough day.
I make time for myself every day to connect to myself. As an energy worker, this is the time that I will do my reiki practice (see post about reiki linked!), journal and meditate. I find it is important for me to clear myself of the energy that I was carrying all day so that I can be the most present I can when I am at home with my husband.
I make monthly journal prompts and mantras so when I sit down to write, I know what I am writing about. If you would like to take up journaling I am more than happy to share!
Your worth is not determined by your productivity.
You’re not going to get a medal for the most number of hours worked outside of your contracted day. If you do not take care and nurture yourself first, you won’t be able to hold that space for your students. You can’t pour from an empty bucket.
Oh, take your days. Whether you are feeling physically sick or mentally exhausted and burnt out, you are entitled to used your days to take care of yourself however you please.
Happy balancing ✨