A few weeks ago when I wrote my #onewordONT post on play, I actually had a different word in mind. I was finally going to look at balance. I know that it appears as though I’m not good with “balance.” I spend a lot of time on classroom work, and even in the evenings and on the weekend, I’m usually doing something for school. This doesn’t mean that I give up on non-school related activities. I love going out with friends (especially for brunch on the weekend), I’m a passionate reader (and always find a few minutes to read, even if it’s really late at night), and I’ve decided to get back into some exercising (devoting at least 30 minutes a day to riding my stationary bike). The problem is, I kind of want it all. And there are only so many minutes in the day to do everything.
Earlier this year, I took a Teacher Leadership Course through our Board. When the course began, we also had a student teacher in our classroom, so much of the prep time that I spend on documenting and reflecting on student learning, I now spent with our student teacher. It didn’t take long for me to start to feel overwhelmed with all of the work to do. Between our weekly course work, school work, and student teacher support, I found myself lucky to be getting four hours of sleep on most nights of the week … and I’ve been so much better at getting at least 6 to 7 hours of sleep after reading Sue Dunlop’s blog post a few years ago. I was beginning to wonder if taking the course was the right decision for me. Did I need to find a way to achieve some balance?
When my student teacher finished her placement, my routine went back to normal. Even with the course work, I was really only tackling one late night a week. Once again, I was settling into the flow of my new normal: course work + teaching work + life. And then the Leadership Course ended, and I was enjoying a little extra time in my days. Is this what “balance” feels like? It wasn’t long though before I was presented with a conundrum. I noticed that our Board was offering Reading Part 2, and I was eager to take it.
- I loved the first reading course.
- I know that reading is still a priority in our schools.
- This course would just expand on my knowledge of reading instruction.
I didn’t need the course, but I wanted it. Here’s my problem though: it’s a Part 2 course, which likely means a heavier workload, and at a time when I’m just settling into a nice groove between work and life. How will this course impact on my attempt at “balance?”
I vacillated for a long time, but in the end, I registered for the course. Why? A question from a Starbucks barista was actually what helped me solidify my answer. One morning, I went in to get a coffee on my way to school. The barista asked me, “Where are you off to so early in the morning?” I had to stop to consider my answer. Do I say “work” or “school?” The truth is that teaching for me is about so much more than a job! I know that it’s what I get paid to do, but it’s what I love. Teaching brings me more joy than I can even describe. I think of this experience with my teaching partner, Paula, at the end of the day on Friday. It’s now around 4:00, and we should probably be packing up to go home, but here we are getting our ice organized for Monday morning. This ice making experience actually had me crying from laughing so hard.
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So after creating some “ice” to freeze this afternoon, @paulacrockett and I brought the trays down to the freezer after school. Paula was especially excited that the sensory bin fit perfectly between the two tables. How awesome is this?! Then came the problem of fitting the ice cube trays into the freezer. Some spatial reasoning at play. We might have been a little surprised by the books in there! 🤣 I think that might have started our giggle fits. I thought that freezing the ice could be a good way for our kids to problem solve come Monday. Something new to try! The best line was when I said, “I wonder if we could dump the extra water in the sink,” and @paulacrockett replied, “Let’s try!” We all need teaching partners like this. I may have been laughing so hard that I was crying by the time we were through. 🤣 SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #cti_scientificinquiry
When it comes to teaching, I’m not good at looking at a clock. Some may say that this is not good for mental health or a work/life balance, but it’s actually the thought of putting limits on my time at school that causes me more stress than just doing the job. I think of this tweet that I saw from Zoe Branigan-Pipe back in November. It’s actually one that I keep coming back to.
Thinking about Mental Health- So, I am no longer using personal cell phone at all during work day and deleted my work email off of it and my home computer. It’s definitely changed my anxiety/need to be always “on”.
— Zoe Branigan-Pipe (@zbpipe) November 13, 2018
I can totally understand and appreciate her reasons for these choices. Maybe there’s a part of me that wishes I could make the email choice that she does. The truth is though that the thought of removing my work email from my iPad, and not responding to work emails at home, actually causes me more stress than answering them. Even just thinking about this possibility is making me feel stressed. A backlog of emails is overwhelming for me, and if I can solve a problem at the time, instead of later, I like to do so. Sometimes removing work from my plate actually makes me feel less balanced than adding it on.
I think this is how I decided that the Reading Part 2 course was one that I needed to take, for it’s not about increasing my workload, but instead, learning more about something that I’m passionate about. If this means that one day a week, I need to publish our Daily Blog Post as a two-part post the next day, then I will. Likely though, I’ll find a way to get it all done because the act of reflecting each day actually makes me excited about what is coming next. It reminds me of all of the positives in our day, which is a wonderful, happy feeling to have before heading to bed. The more that I think about it, if anything, my additional stress comes from trying to get out of school before 4:00 to make it to the Board Office on time versus a slightly later night once a week.
And so, comes my real look at balance, which may not seem so balanced at all. Recently, I added a comment on a blog post of Sue Dunlop’s about community involvement. Her comment back to me gave me that uncomfortable feeling that also helped inspire this post.
Here’s the crux of the problem: as I try to separate school and life, I struggle, as in many ways, school is my life. It is not the only aspect of my life, but it is an important aspect. In the work/life balance paradigm, the kind of comment does not bode well. How can this be good for my mental health? But what if it is? What if finding joy, drive, and even friendship, comes from my work, and what if balance then becomes harder, as work and home intersect so much? I’ve always been made to feel that this kind of overlap is a negative thing, and so I find it hard to admit what I’m feeling, but I wonder if it’s time to look at “balance” in another way. Does it have to be the same for everyone? If something is bringing you joy, do you have to restrict the amount of time you spend doing it? In its own way, I wonder if teaching (and all of the work that comes with it), actually helps me self-regulate. Imagine how this might flip the balance paradigm on its head.
You ask tough questions, Aviva. Right now, the only thing that pops in my head is a question in return: what will happen when you retire? I know that’s a long way off, but I know a lot of teachers for whom their social circle, their friends, their hobbies, all were centered on teaching. When they retired, they were lost. I’m not saying that will happen to you, but this is just my “I wonder”.
Thanks Diana! It’s a really good question, and one where I’m not certain of the answer. As I said to Sue in another comment, I used to volunteer at a retirement home and do some canvassing for charities. Maybe something to explore again before and during retirement. Also, most of my friends will be retired when I retire. I could connect with them. A friend of mine now is retired and volunteers in our class once a week. Maybe I can do some school volunteering then too if that’s what interests me. Or, I think of someone like Doug Peterson, and his involvement with a ECOO: another school, but not school, connection. I’m unsure of the perfect hobby for me, but I do know that teaching brings me such joy. Reducing my time connected to education seems to just increase my stress instead of decrease it. I wonder if anyone else out there feels the same way.
Aviva – only you can decide what’s best for you! Once you do – own it!! It’s your life and your right and privilege.
Thanks Sue! This process has been a good reflection one for me. Lots still to think about.