Why Protecting Your Time is Unselfish

I just finished publishing a 10-part series on how teachers can prevent burnout by vigilantly protecting their time.  Over the course of it, I recommended not grading homework, not creating new content, not taking student writing home, and saying no a lot more often.

One might read those articles and get the impression that I’m advocating for teachers to be selfish. To only look out for number one. To not do anything that doesn’t benefit them.

Clearly, a school can’t function if every teacher acts only in her own best interest. Compromise is essential. Many hands make light work. No organization can succeed unless it’s composed of more givers than takers.

But schools also don’t function very well if they’re full of burned out teachers. And the data suggests that lots of teachers are burned out or well on their way.

It’s hard to find research on how many teachers experience burnout. But we do know that six in ten teachers describe their job as always or often stressful. Only 30% say they are engaged at work. Just 15% “strongly agree” that they’re enthusiastic about the profession.

We also know that the great majority of teachers don’t stick with the job long enough to collect their full pensions. According to pension expert Chad Aldeman, only one in five teachers reach retirement age (Check your state’s numbers here). In spite of a financial incentive to remain in the classroom, only 20% do so. And one has to wonder how many of those are merely hanging on, teaching because it’s all they’ve known or because they’re old dogs who don’t want to learn new tricks. It seems likely that a lot of teachers burn out before they’ve spent 30 years on the job.

Protecting your own hours is important for career longevity, but it’s about more than you. It’s also about helping others. Just as people who have taken intentional steps to accumulate wealth have more money to give to others,  teachers who proactively protect their time and energy have a greater capacity to give at school. Who do you feel less guilty about asking for assistance, the overwhelmed rookie or the veteran who always seems to be two steps ahead?

The best thing — the most selfless, giving thing — that teachers can do for their coworkers and their students is to protect their time and energy. They should go home shortly after the kids have left, and find ways to reduce the amount of work they take with them. They should detach from work and eat an early dinner, followed by exercise, relaxation, fun, or time with people they care about. They should get at least seven hours of sleep. Happy, well-rested teachers, like every other professional, are better at their jobs. They’re also in a better position to help others.

There’s a tweet I read a couple days ago that sums it up perfectly:


If you’re struggling with this mindset or you just need practical tips for how to effectively cut back on the hours you work, you’ve got just one more day to sign up for the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make for yourself. It’s also a great choice if you want to have the time and energy to give more at work. Enrollment ends tomorrow, January 9. Act now!


One Reply to “Why Protecting Your Time is Unselfish”

  1. Loved the 10-part series, thank you for that! How do other teachers deal with the angry looks or suggestions of not being a “team player” from others if you shut your door to protect your planning time from interruptions? It’s something I’ve been doing for a while now and find myself to be way more productive, but like many others my school encourages “collaborative” planning time that ends up feeling like all people do is gossip or complain.

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