I am going to lay it all out on the table. I am failing big, at work life balance. The irony is that I consider myself a champion of work life balance. I am always talking about how to achieve it (I gave a talk to +1500 plus teachers this summer touching on this very topic), but the truth is I am having a hard time taking my own advice. Thanks to my mother, I watched too much Oprah as a child. I remember an episode where Oprah talked about how life sends you messages and it will send them subtly and then eventually if you don't get it, life will start screaming at you until it gets your attention. Well, this weekend, my child handing me this amazing piece of art. Yes, that's me, staring at a computer, ignoring her because I was, you guessed it, working. So universe, consider yourself heard. I am from this moment forward going to recalibrate my life. At least I am going to try and I am going to start by heeding my own advice. If you are a teacher (or heck, a working parent) looking to do the same, read on.
This job is a passionate grind
Teaching. Educating. It's a grind. Quality teachers cannot possibly cram their workday into the 7.5 hours allotted. It just doesn't work that way. There are lessons to plan, papers to grade, parents to email, and meetings to attend. The result: we get there early, stay late, skip lunch (or eat it in the hallway while the next class is walking in), and all too often work on the weekends and weeknights. Often, I wonder -- why am I doing all of this extra work when I never get compensated for it? We all know why. We do this job at 100 percent, because we care about kids. We put kids first and the result is that we often put ourselves last. It's a grind, a grind I wouldn't trade, but a grind nonetheless. To write about work life balance without acknowledging that this job (for those who do it well) requires a lot of uncompensated extra time would be ignoring the elephant in the classroom. And if anyone outside of the educator world wants to mention summer, winter, and spring breaks -- don't -- we don't get paid for those and our salaries reflect it.
Okay, it's a grind, so now what?
So now I am going to give you advice, in the hopes that I will take it because I know that I should. Here goes nothing.
Monitor your Screen Time
We spend our days monitoring screen time. Do the same for yourself. Set a time when you don't log onto the computer or the phone. Maybe it's certain hours in the day; maybe it's certain days of the week. Ditch the device and consequently, ditch everything that goes along with it so that you can breathe.
Leave work undone
It will never all be done so set a quitting time and stick to it. For example, I am leaving at 6 pm and then I am done. Or, I am grading for one hour and then when the timer goes off -- that's that. Set limits. You deserve it.
Tell your students you are not a robot
Students: "When will we get our tests back?" "When will our papers be graded?"
Me: "They will be graded when they are graded. I am not a robot. I am a teacher, a wife, and a mom..." Also, explain the time allocation. I teach 130+ students so if it takes me 10-20 minutes to grade and essay --you get the idea. Show your kids you are human and that like them, you have a life outside of the school. I mean that in the best way possible. Model positive work life balance for them.
Remember that kids aren't robots either
This is a cycle. If we overload our kids with work, then we get overloaded with grading. So don't. Sure, some subjects require more grading, but there is always room to rethink homework, classwork, and the like to achieve balance for ourselves and our kids. Less is often more.
Crockpot, I love thee
Dinner can be soul crushing so set your alarm 10 minutes earlier in the morning and throw the food in the crockpot at least once a week. Consider this a favor to your future self because when your tired teacher-feet hit your threshold and you remember that your dinner is already made: A+! I don't believe in extra credit, but this might qualify.
Just say no!
Keep the main thing, the main thing, which means you have to say no. If it doesn't fit into your personal priorities -- it's a no. You can't be your best self (be it parent or teacher) if the answer is always yes.
Beg, Borrow, and Steal
Teachers need to lean in. Sharing allows us to work smarter so if you have things share them and if you need something ask. I will give any teacher in America anything I can to help them out. No lie. We are stronger when we share. So do. Please. And also, don't feel like you have to reinvent the wheel (especially if you are a new teacher). You don't. Borrow stuff, steal others ideas (just give them a heads up and shout out) and then get on with the instruction in your classroom.
Accept your village and expand it
Friends are crucial. They pick you up at the airport, watch your kids in a pinch, water your plants when you are away. Let's all stop acting like we have it all together -- be vulnerable -- ask for help and then give it in return.
This doesn't need an explanation. We should. I don't enough but hopefully if I follow my other advice (see above), I can make this actually happen on regular basis.
My husband and I hold Foldfest on most Sunday nights. This means we watch a tv show and get all that laundry folded. Make it a ritual. I actually like Foldfest because I get to watch tv and hang out with my husband.
Set aside a family night that is for family only. No friends. No work, just your family. Pick a fun activity --maybe a board game or a movie or a craft. Let different members of the family choose the activity each week. Don't let the endless carpools and racing to activities get every ounce of your family's time.
Don't beat yourself up
The picture my darling daughter presented to me (see above) was cringe worthy, but I also know in my heart that I do a lot of things right. (For what it's worth, she maintains the drawing is supposed to be a joke. I'll hold fast to that). I am home to greet her every day when she gets home from school. I am here to help with homework and to get her to all of her activities. For all of my short comings as a working parent, I am doing a lot right and so are you. I have to remember to focus on the positive and not be too hard on myself. Negativity will get me a person nowhere fast.
Don't lose yourself. We need you to be on this educational journey for the long haul. The kids need you. Your colleagues need you, and not to get too sappy, America needs you. This is a big responsibility, this job. So take care of yourself. Don't let a day go by without some you time. Maybe it's reading a book, listening to a podcast...or writing a blog.
So to all the educators who are a part of this passionate grind we call teaching, I challenge you this week to pick two things from this list and to commit to reworking your work life balance. You are worth it. We all are.
If you do, you might just find that your kid hands you a picture that looks like this. That's me, still looking frazzled but earning a Super Mom caption. I'll take it.
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