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We MUST relax!

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Like so many of you right now, I am tired. I have not blogged in over a month (I'm sorry Teacher Magazine). I haven't made dinner in over 10 days, scrubbed the bathroom since winter, and my jiggly arms attest to how many workouts I've canceled with friends. This is because like so many other educators, I've been working 80-plus hours a week to improve teaching so all kids would learn (a lot). However, according to my fiancee's not-so-subtle hints lately, "I have so much to do" has become an inexcusable excuse for not enjoying life.

While I realize part of his perspective stems from eating hummus and cereal for every dinner last week, I also realize that like so many of my peers in this profession dedicated to serving kids in low-income communities, I'm prone to working really, really, really hard for a really, really, really long time without coming up for air. Or scrubbing the bathroom. And that is partly what leads to burnout, an all-too-common phenomenon that contributes to our lower retention rate of teachers and leaders in this fight for education equity.

I realize new teachers, especially those teaching in high-needs schools, may be feeling drained and disillusioned as school lets out, and may be asking whether this is even possible as a long-term career. You're right-- this is time-consuming, challenging and exhausting work. I don't have answers, but I truly believe it's possible and that we absolutely must stay to make it work in our most challenging schools and districts in order for any changes to really happen.

Now, I am the last person in this business who would advocate working less hard. I believe that a lack of intelligent hard work was part of what led us down this whole achievement gap road in the first place. But I think I am now advocating that we take on less and do it really well (no, I can't coach cheerleading, Ms. Barney... really.)... and that we be OK with getting a B+ (or even B-) on certain projects (like that art class I taught where the kids only sewed because my mom had given me a box of needles and thread. I had been busy working on a reading unit plan rather than planning the art curriculum, thank goodness).

I'm reminding myself that we need to reflect more on whether all the hours we put in are truly purposeful (like the time I spent 6 hours on a weekend making a paper hot air balloon and puppets because I was convinced that was really the way I was going to engage my kids... as opposed to having a really tightly managed lesson plan with clear key points and checks for understanding. Right. You know how that one ended.)

And whenever I panic that "omigod, it feels like I'm doing the job of 3 people," I know it's because we actually need more talented people to join us and stay in education in low-income, under-performing communities.

As the summer rolls around and we open into my busiest work season (training new teachers and planning for the upcoming year), it'll be easy to make 85 hour weeks the norm. I have to remember, however, that while thought of slowing down terrifies me, what's scares me more is the image of me losing energy, enthusiasm and desire to engage in this work in three, four or 10 years. As my wise executive director reminded us this past week, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. This summer (and beyond), I'm committing to deliberately enjoy my life both in and out of education. For me, that means blogging and writing more, spending my Saturdays cooking, putting down the laptop to take a 20 minute gym break, and making "wine on the porch with Bill" a part of my To Do list. I make no promises, however, that there will be scrubbing of the bathroom.

3 Comments

Congratulations on getting through another school year!

Yes, pacing yourself is important. I make sure to spend at least one hour every day doing exercise, mediation or stretching so that I can keep myself strong enough to keep going. Your friend who said to put your own oxygen mask on first was right!

The good news is that you will never have to look back and wonder what you were doing with your life. Now, if you can learn to creatively incorporate those "wine on the porch with Bill" breaks into the rest of what you have done and are doing, then you will not only do good, you also will do well.

PS - A happier and more well-rounded teacher also provides their students with a better educational experience!

Several years ago, as we were recalling all the wonderful things we had done in the year of second grade, one of my students actually said, "Mrs. S., you have a sign on your desk that says, 'Do Less, Do it Better." "Yes?" I replied. And then...respectfully, kindly, gently, Nick said, "Do you ever READ it???!!!!" How I laughed! And, yes, if you don't make time for you, either your enthusiasm or your commitment or your relationships will suffer...and you need them all. Good luck!

Jessica, work smarter and not harder. Although school stops at 3:30 most "good" teacher work way past quiting time. To better your students you must first better yourself. So take a time-out, do something for you. The better you are to yourself the better you will be to everyone around you. So as you said put on your oxygen mask and take a breathe.

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