The Quest for Teacher Work-Life Balance

By Bernie Froese-Germain and Richard Riel
June 13, 2014

Teachers’ work has become more intensive and complex over time. As a result, work-related stress experienced by teachers can contribute to a sense of imbalance between their home and work life. The effects of such work-induced stress are associated with reduced physical and mental health, lower job satisfaction and commitment, and have implications for teacher recruitment and retention. The factors which influence the conditions of professional practice for teachers can also have an impact on the education students receive in the classroom.

In February and March 2014, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) conducted an online survey of elementary and secondary teachers on issues related to work-life balance. The purpose of the survey was to obtain teachers’ perspectives on:

  • issues that contribute to work-related stress and work-life imbalance.
  • factors that may contribute to improving teacher work-life balance.

The survey was distributed to teachers through CTF’s Member organizations. The response to the survey was overwhelming. We received over 8,000 responses from teachers across the country, the largest response to a CTF survey to date.

These are among the key findings:

  • The vast majority of teachers (over 9 in 10) told us they feel torn between their teaching responsibilities and their responsibilities outside the workplace, including 54% who indicated significantly.

  • 8 in 10 teachers believe their stress related to work-life imbalance has increased over the last five years, while only 4% said it had decreased over this period.

  • 85% of teachers reported that work-life imbalance is affecting their ability to teach the way they aspire to teach, including 35% who indicated that it was having a significant impact.

  • Teachers were asked to identify sources of stress associated with their conditions of professional practice. Among the identified stressors, the top stressor in their work environment, reported by 95% of teachers as being significantly or somewhat stressful, was the inability to devote as much time as they would like to each of their students. Other important stressors included:

    • issues related to class composition and students with special educational needs, including development and implementation of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) as well as program adaptations or modifications for students who do not necessarily require an IEP, or have not been identified as needing an IEP.

    • lack of time for planning with colleagues.

    • lack of time for marking and grading student work.

    • insufficient human and material resources to support the curriculum.

    • lack of preparation time.

It is noteworthy that lack of time is a theme that cuts across several of the stressors identified by teachers.

  • Regarding teacher autonomy (defined in the survey as teachers’ ability to exercise their professional judgment in their daily work), respondents indicated that they felt they had the most autonomy with respect to pedagogical approaches in their classes, extra-curricular activities, and student assessment and evaluation practices. They told us they had the least autonomy in terms of curriculum development and implementation, professional development and workload.

  • While over half of teachers (among those teaching for at least five years) felt that their professional autonomy had decreased (either somewhat or significantly) over the past five years, about 9 in 10 respondents overall told us that enhancing their level of professional autonomy would have a positive impact on their overall work-life balance.

  • Outside of the work environment, most teachers reported that they experience stress related to having insufficient time to spend with their own children, spouse or partner; for caregiving for family and friends in need; or for recreational pursuits.

  • Respondents were also asked to select, from a list of 14 items, the four top priority areas they felt would improve their work-life balance and enable them to become a more effective teacher. While some respondents told us that they found it difficult to choose only four priority areas, the top four priority areas reported were as follows:

    • Reduce class sizes

    • Improve support for children with special educational needs

    • Increase the time available for planning and preparation

    • Reduce non-teaching demands (administrative tasks, paperwork)

Teachers had the opportunity to offer some of their own thoughts and views with respect to achieving greater work-life balance. These are just a few of the many insightful comments we heard (comments remain in their original language):

Smaller class sizes at all levels will help to deal with the varied ability levels and behavioural issues that are now being seen in the classroom.

Classes trop nombreuses et manque de temps pour corriger et pour donner un appui individualisé aux élèves avec des besoins particuliers.

More support for students is … important, but I believe it goes along with class sizes. If class sizes were smaller, less support would be needed.

Reduce class sizes so teachers can actually manage their classes more effectively, and deliver the curriculum with more authenticity and diversity to the benefit of each child ... it’s just common sense!

On nous demande un enseignement de qualité qui respecte les styles d’apprentissage de tous les élèves, mais on n’a pas le temps de tout préparer et on n’a pas les ressources humaines pour nous appuyer.

I truly believe that increasing teachers’ sense of work-life balance will directly and proportionately translate into improved student achievement. Feeling less stressed will increase teachers’ ability to be more ‘present’ and attuned to the current academic and personal needs of their students, and to be able to better address those needs.

Teachers, much like other Canadians, have become more aware of the necessity of balancing their working lives with their personal lives. They also understand that those factors that affect teachers’ conditions of professional practice have a direct impact on their students’ learning conditions. It stands to reason that in order to improve the quality of education for all students, more attention needs to be focused on improving teachers’ working conditions.

Bernie Froese-Germain and Richard Riel are researchers at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF).

Canadian Teachers’ Federation
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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

Editor In Chief: Francine Filion | Translation and Editing: Marie‑Caroline Uhel and Marie‑Hélène Larrue
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