Beating Teacher Burnout—10 Tips for Work-Life Balance

teacher work life balance burnout

If you’re a frequent reader of the news, you will likely agree with me that the conversation about teaching in the last few years has been telling.

With headlines such as “Teacher Stress is Killing My Profession” (CBC), “Overwhelmed Canadian Teachers are Quitting in Droves” (The Epoch Times), and “Frustration. Burnout. Attrition. It’s Time to Address the National Teacher Shortage” (NPR) circulating the press, we know these are troubled times in teaching.

In 2013, the Atlantic published an article entitled, “Why do Teachers Quit?” The author wanted to know why “anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of [American] teachers…leave the classroom within their first five years,” and why that attrition statistic is 4% higher than other professions. In the 774 comments– and growing– that followed the article, teachers and former teachers offered many possible reasons for teacher attrition which I call the “deadly five”:  1) lack of respect from students, parents, society; 2) lack of autonomy on the job; 3) lack of adequate compensation; 4) lack of resources to do the job properly; and 5) lack of work-life balance.


The lack of time, adequate compensation, respect, and the enormous stress that comes with the job are enough to push thousands of teachers out of schools each year. The teachers that stay put—though miserable—are what I call bottom-dwellers.

Bottom dwellers live in a dirty mental basement. They complain about their teaching job to any willing listener. Easily and frequently, they’re roped into gossip. They resent the hours at home spent marking and lesson planning. They resent the hours that simply slip through their fingers while they tutor, coach, and devote their own personal lives to their students. These bottom-dwellers are still teachers, but their soul is all but squashed.

I know, because I was once a bottom-dweller.

A bottom-dweller need not remain a bottom-dweller forever, living with the anger, frustration, and resentment. With a few mindsets, techniques, and time-saving practices, any teacher can regain his or her joy. Over the next four weeks, I’ll be sending tips to fight each aspect of difficulty in our jobs.



  1. Automate tasks as much as you can to make your week easier. Iron all your work clothes for the week on Sunday. Clean your place on the weekend. Have your dinners cooked and ready to eat. All the time-consuming tasks you would rather not do during the hectic school week, do on the weekend.
  2. Come in early to mark and plan. I come in to school between 6:00-7:00 AM. The hours of complete silence before school are a time of supercharged productivity.
  3. Set a timer and stick to it. Give yourself one hour to mark a set of papers, and you will do it. Parkinson’s law is this: “Work expands so as to fill the time set for its completion.”
  4. Increase peer and self- assessments. Guide students in assessing their own writing in class and let them give themselves a grade. Limit the amount of summative assessments you have to mark without compromising student learning.
  5. Finish strong on Friday. Don’t leave work with loose ends you’ll have to do on Sunday at home. You’ll resent working at home, and so will your family. Stay after school on Friday to mark instead. Even if it means you leave at 8 pm.
  6. Save and recycle. Save emails and notes you send to parents so that you can re-use them with other students in the future. I have a whole file of these for various purposes (e.g. student was rude, student lacks effort, praise for a student, etc.). You’ll stop wasting time writing emails.
  7. Accept imperfection and drop the “shoulds.” “I should have a PowerPoint lesson for every class”; “I should have all assignments marked within a week at all times”; “I should always leave a paragraph of comments on every assignment.” Does this “should” thinking seem familiar? Experiment with a universe that is grey rather than black or white, failure or success. While it would be wonderful if you could do all of these things, you can’t always do them. Drop the “should” and say I “can” and I “might” instead. Recognize your limits as a human. Embrace imperfection!
  8. Make friends with basic teaching methods. When you drop the “shoulds,” you will drop the unreasonable expectation to always have colourful, picture-filled, and highly engaging PowerPoint lessons and games every single lesson. When you can’t reasonably prepare these PowerPoints, embrace minimalism: you, the whiteboard, a whiteboard marker, and the students can achieve a lot. A few  no-prep, easy games  can make your lesson dynamite.  I’ve  been surprised how many times I’ve opted for the minimalist approach and actually attained better results with students than when I masterminded a lesson for hours.
  9. Learn to say “no.” Have a few phrases ready when someone comes to ask you to join yet another committee or coach another club. A chipper, “I don’t think I’m the right person for that, but thank you for thinking of me!” works wonders.
  10. Use 100% of your planning time. Shut the door and turn off the lights if you must. You must avoid getting sucked into mindless chit chat. Others’ busy work when you could be getting your work done during work hours– that is a dark hole.  Be social during your lunch time, but when it’s time to work, work.

Teachers, you don’t have to be a bottom-dweller or fight burnout alone.

We can put our minds together to get you out of it.

Stay tuned for next week’s advice for fighting another teacher problem: lack of adequate compensation.

To your teaching success and work-life balance,

Patricia Sacawa