In the middle of proctoring at the state Knowledge Bowl tournament, alternately texting our dear art teacher who was standing in for me at the State Math Championship and reading questions, I knew things had to change. I was so tired. Spring break loomed on the horizon but so did a week out of school for Science Bowl Nationals. It was that weekend when I decided to quit coaching the Math Team.
At a small school, I knew that no one else was that interested in coaching the team, I didn’t want to give up on our amazing mathletes but it just wasn’t healthy for me. Quitting something like that goes against the norms of teaching. We donate time, money, and sleep to our students’ well-being we don’t abandon them when they need us. I felt guilty, but also relieved. “I’m not even a math teacher!” I told myself.
Sitting down to lunch with a dear friend and fellow teacher this summer helped me work some of these feelings out. She asked about my teams and I mentioned resigning from the Math Team due to feeling overwhelmed. She said, “Ooof, me too.” As the Link Crew Advisor, and multiple club advisor not to mention managing a full load of AP Calculus classes, this gal is busy, but she’s only taken on when she knew she could handle and she explained the struggle so perfectly.
“I realized that this is a job I want to do for my entire life, and I’ve never had that before. You get to high school and think, okay I can work hard for four years to get into college, then you go to college and put your nose the grindstone for another four, but it’s okay you’re going to graduate. Then you decide you want to become a teacher and you go to grad school and student teach, soon you’ll have that sweet teaching job, you can sacrifice! By the time you get into the classroom, you are so used to throwing everything you have at your work that you don’t know any better. But it isn’t sustainable, so I’ve backed away from things, I let stuff go. It’s okay, this is my life, not a job.”
This hit me right in the gut. We need to look at a teaching career as a something that fits into a life, not takes it over. To confess, even typing some of this made me feel selfish as I am still working with feelings of guilt. But, I’ve been able to build up a few boundaries to save myself, but I think it’s worth it I want to teach for the rest of my life.
So this year, I made some changes. Most of it came down to managing student expectations and knowing what was reasonable to expect of myself. Here we go:
Problem: I was emailing students back at night when it wasn’t really an emergency. They were getting pretty reliant on being able to immediately fix a concern and I wasn’t always paying attention to Game of Thrones. (I did read the books, but this became a serious problem in Season 6)
Solution: While I joke about GoT, responding to work email at night seriously digs into family time. This year, I told my students to give me 24 business hours and have started explained how email works! This was a serious d’oh moment when a student asked me if emailing the principal at night was appropriate and I realized that he thought of email like texting. Anyway, that’s a whole other blog about Millennials vs. Gen Z-ers. Now that I have changed their expectations I don’t feel pressured to check my work e-mail away from school.
Problem: I let students come in before and after school on any day of the week to reassess their test questions (I use Standards-Based Grading.) The day that I did not have a prep period I was always harried to get them all ready.
Solution: My no prep day is on Thursdays, now students can’t reassess on that day. Sooooo nice. I now offer drop-in tutoring that day after school, which is something I don’t need planning time to do and allows me to give my full attention to the students that need extra help on that day.
Problem: I would be setting up a lab in the morning when a student would come in and ask for help. I would say yes and the lab wouldn’t be organized OR I would say no and they would be unhappy.
Solution: Mornings are now available for tutoring by appointment ONLY. I’m incredibly happy to help students, but some days I just can’t. This blanket rule is allowing me more control of my time. I had a student come in for help the other day, I reminded her that this was a schedule-only time and it was no. big. deal. She came back that afternoon when I had open tutoring. I was then 100% ready for first period.
So, how is it working? It’s fantastic so far. Do I still get to work a half an hour early? Absolutely. Do I still leave way after my contract day ends? Definitely. But, it works for me and I am starting to feel less guilty.
What boundaries have you set with students that enable you to have a healthy teaching life?
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