Setting personal and professional priorities

I teach fifth and sixth grade science, and I’m finding it hard to balance teaching, grad school, and family responsibilities. Are there any secrets for this? —E., Washington

Everyone’s situation varies, so unfortunately there are no universal secrets. It may help to prioritize activities into essential, nice-if–you-can-get-to-it, and back burner.

Your family and your health are essentials. However, teachers realize that some family celebrations have to be rescheduled for the weekends, and “vacations” are often spent at informal science sites for personalized professional development. Teachers often attend their kids’ sporting events with papers to grade or reading to do. Some housework and hobbies may have to go on the back burner for now, but please make time for exercise and non-academic interests to maintain your mental health.

Many teachers use time before or after school to prepare lab activities, contact parents, or evaluate student work, freeing up evenings and weekends for other responsibilities. When I was in your situation, these were on my backburner:

  • Afterschool coaching, club advising, or tutoring (instead, connect with students by attending events as your schedule allows)
  • Elaborate bulletin boards (post student work or ask teams of students to create a display)
  • Grading every assignment
  • Using a complicated, time-consuming reward system

For your graduate work, a study group can help by sharing resources. Schedule specific times for homework. Online courses allow you to control the timeframe. Take readings to school for when you have extra time (as if teachers ever do, but you never know). Limit yourself to one course per semester, and skip a semester if you’re overwhelmed.

Your degree has an end date! At that point, you can reprioritize some of the personal or professional things that were on the back burner.



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