I was sharing a little about my thoughts on going back to school in my Instagram stories this morning and as it usually goes I had more thoughts the longer I sat and thought about things.
If you missed it there, I was saying how around the second week in August the pull to go into my classroom and start getting ready (i.e. organizing, prepping some materials, maybe decorating) happens. Usually though the first time I go in I end up running into a colleague and we spend the majority of the time catching up and I leave having done pretty much nothing. But I was also saying how I wished I had time built into my actual contracted start date to do all those things before students return. I think this year I have two PD days which will inevitably end up booked with meetings and very little time to do the things that actually help me have a solid start to the year like meeting with my grade level team, planning those first few days for 9th graders start to finish, etc.
I can’t speak for all teachers out there. For me, however, the unspoken expectation that teachers work during their summer isn’t something that I want to accept anymore. For years it’s been “what we signed up for”, “just the way it is”, or “what comes with the territory”, but now all of that just irritate me. It’s certainly glamorized especially on social media and I feel for new teachers and for teachers still in their training programs. A couple years back I wrote a card to a graduating senior pursuing English education in college. In it I told her that the most valuable thing she could do to survive, love, and find fulfillment in this career was to spend time getting to know and accept herself. There are dozens of influences pushing and pulling us around our work all the time. There will be comparisons and moments of feeling inadequate. I don’t know if those things are avoidable. I think we all experience them. So self-acceptance truly becomes a necessity for making it.
I guess this brings me to the topic of the elusive work-life balance and how my relationship with my job has changed pretty profoundly over time. If you don’t know, back in 2015 I completely burned out and resigned from my teaching job in Brooklyn mid-year. I wasn’t sure that I’d go back to the classroom and spent that second half of the year freelance writing and starting this blog. I’m obviously back teaching now, but a lot has changed especially around what my purpose is and what my boundaries are in order to stay doing this work.
I don’t think work-life balance exists in the way we assume and I also think it can become a source of guilt or another cause of feeling inadequate. How in the world are we supposed to give our best to more than one thing at a time? We try to do it all the time, though, and I don’t know about you but it exhausts me. My friend Sara’s biggest argument every year when we have to set goals (which we’re then evaluated around) is that forcing us to set so many is pointless if we want anything to be done thoughtfully or successfully. If you’re an educator or have any educators in your life you’ve probably heard them complain about all the things they have to do when all they really want to do is teach. We desperately just want to be great for students, but it becomes harder and harder when we’re expected to balance being our best and giving our best to our craft AND meetings, PD sessions we didn’t design or volunteer to be in, requirements for family communication, requirements for submitting unit plans and lesson plans, and so on.
So what is balance?
It’s dedicating ourselves to one thing at a time. Sometimes it will be work, sometimes it will be family, sometimes it will be ourselves. It sounds so simple that way, but we aren’t conditioned to live like this. I can remember looking at colleagues in the past and wondering how they had it all together and why I wasn’t like that. The ones who could create curriculum, have amazing relationships with students, be on all the committees, volunteer for all the things. I felt really, really sub-par in comparison so I would push myself to do more to alleviate that feeling, only to be backing myself into a corner.
I’m working on creating more space for me to do one thing at a time as best as I can. Right now it’s writing this post while William is still asleep. It’s being okay with not being front and center at work, not always leading the charge, doing all the things, backing myself into that corner again.
Now, for me, balance is saying no more often without the guilt.
I’d love to hear what balance means to you. Thank you for reading.