Finding Work-Life Balance as a Teacher
Meet the Teacher of the Year who has achieved a “beautiful balance” in work-life management
It is no secret that teaching is hard work. Like other professions, a sustainable teaching career requires establishing healthy boundaries that prioritize the well-being of both students and teachers alike.
Kylie Atlier, the 2023 Louisiana Teacher of the Year, a Teach For America alum (Alabama ’13) and wife and mother of two, is one prime example. After a decade of teaching, Atlier has achieved what she now calls “a beautiful balance.”
“My goal has always been to help as many children as possible, to love as many children as possible. But honestly, my goal was also to put my family at number one and not let teaching consume me as it had in the past,” Atlier said.
“I thought I was going to become a worse teacher, but in so many ways, I think it made me a much better teacher.”
That consuming feeling that Atlier described is a frequent hardship teachers face, as their roles and responsibilities expand. Even for Atlier. To win Teacher of the Year in Louisiana, she had to demonstrate teaching expertise, innovative leadership practices, positive relationship building, inclusive teaching tactics, student growth, community impact, and everyday inspiration.
So, how does a teacher accomplish all this while achieving work-life balance? In Atlier’s case, she forged mutually-rewarding relationships and leaned into her community to create a collective impact, which in turn, balances her workload into manageable tasks
“My goal has always been to help as many children as possible, to love as many children as possible. But honestly, my goal was also to put my family at number one and not let teaching consume me as it had in the past. I thought I was going to become a worse teacher, but in so many ways, I think it made me a much better teacher.”
What Makes a Good Teacher: A Balance of Power
Atlier, who in the past won other teacher awards as a highly involved, first-to-arrive last-to-leave type of teacher, acknowledges her teaching style changed significantly while raising her children, Gabriela, 4, and Booker, 2, and moving states in support of her husband, Garret, whose dream job led them to Louisiana.
“I used to be that teacher who all summer was setting up the perfect classroom, making it beautiful, making it magical. [This time] I couldn’t do it,” she said.
“I had no time to decorate my class. I remembered this thing in grad school called a student-generated classroom where the kids make everything and it’s hanging on the wall … When I started doing it, I looked around my room and it was a thousand times more meaningful to my students. I had put in minimal work. All I had to do was take their stuff and hang it.”
That was the beginning of her shift of power.
Atlier leveraged her students’ energies, such as imagination, curiosity, and hunger for collaboration and belonging as dependable resources to balance the work.
“When I started giving up that power and giving it to my students, it exponentially took my workload off,” she said.
The benefits of sharing power don’t end there. “More importantly, I feel like it allowed their voices to be louder in the classroom,” Atlier elaborated.
Essentially, Atlier created a space where students dive deeper into their education and share responsibility in fostering a positive learning environment. The classroom belongs to the students as much as it belongs to the teacher.
Students experience one-of-a-kind moments thanks to their teacher
To Teach Louisiana Students, This Teacher Turns to the Community
Realizing the power of student interests in leading the classroom, Atlier initiated a series in her class called Genius Hour, during which her students devote time to researching passion projects.
Their passions vary widely from fashion to gymnastics to herpetology and much more. In fact, their passions are so expansive that it is unfeasible for Atlier to educate and nurture all of their individual interests on her own.
Centering the balance of power again, Atlier turned to community near and far to fill those knowledge gaps that her students crave. She invited experts of various fields into her classroom. The response has been so positive.
Notable professionals such as the author of Narwhal and Jelly, Louisiana State University (LSU) gymnasts, urban agriculture specialists, herpetologists, and local fashion writers made virtual and in-person appearances in Atlier’s classroom. They conducted mini-lessons and engaged with students who shared their passions.
This teaching technique serves to connect students to their learning on a much deeper level and frees up Atlier’s time.
“I used to spend a lot of time doing things like classroom transformations and I would go home and learn a lot so I could then turn around and teach it,” said Atlier. “But when I stopped being the center and I let the community fill those gaps for me, it was huge. I can still create magical moments again without me being the magic."
“I used to spend a lot of time doing things like classroom transformations and I would go home and learn a lot so I could then turn around and teach it. But when I stopped being the center and I let the community fill those gaps for me, it was huge. I can still create magical moments without me being the magic.”
From Novice Teacher to Teacher of the Year
Part of creating a communal learning environment is setting up the systems and expectations for students to follow, that is, classroom and behavior management.
Atlier, who has always taught first grade, found she is more successful when she is true to herself and not demanding obedience. Atlier recalls that in her first years of teaching, she was still finding her footing.
“I have never been a natural at behavior management. I don’t walk into a room and command respect. I know this about myself now 11 years in. I view this as a big strength of mine,” Atlier said.
“I think I got a lot of feedback from mentors around me that was like ‘You need to change who you are’ and, you know, ‘You need to get strict’.”
But pretending to be something she was not made it harder to achieve workplace wellness.
Following the guidance of her Teach For America coach, Atlier began to implement “no nonsense nurturing.” This was exactly what she needed to lead her students to follow directions and partake in productive learning.
“I was okay to be me. I learned how to be a good manager of a classroom without changing who I am.”
By bringing in her authenticity and allowing relationship building with students to be the cornerstone of every decision, Atlier changed her whole trajectory from a struggling teacher to Teacher of the Year and she has impacted many lives along the way.
She now lives happily in Baton Rouge with her family working in what she describes as “the best job in the world”—teaching.