My career as an educator bleeds into every part of my personal life. While reading with my children, I often ask them open ended questions, requiring them to use claim evidence reasoning. One Thanksgiving, I began a clapping pattern, expecting more than 20 guests to match the pattern and give me their undivided attention. Sometimes it’s even challenging to go out in public. My students are seemingly everywhere. While pushing my cart down the aisle, I occasionally hear “Ms. Morey” echoing behind me, and I suddenly tense as I realize the spheres of my personal and professional lives are not all that separate, but intermingled components of a Venn Diagram with a vast area of overlap.
This overlap is most often recognized by my children. They’re sitting beside me as I work through the papers I bring home, prepare for the upcoming week, and strive to stay on top of email and social media updates. My ability to prioritize my role as mom is often compromised by the intense work I engage in at home. When it comes to creating a clear separation between work and home life, I admit, I find it a challenge.
There are positives to my teacher-workaholic mode. No one can deny my dedication, attention to detail, and timeliness — all aspects that make me a dynamic educator and colleague. Yet, the downside of the drive I have in my work is that I take away from my most important role — mom of two amazing kids.
Courtesy of Mandy Chiappini Photography
While I’m thankful my children see a mother who works hard, I also want to model a healthy balance of work and honoring personal time. I want to model balance. In a country that celebrates the extended workweek and pulling all-nighters to study just a few hours more, I’m worried that my children are developing an understanding of work before family, rather than family before work.
This trap is so easy to fall into. Nearly all teachers want to be well-received by parents, students, colleagues, and administrators. In fact, there’s a competitive nature in schools where teachers feel it’s important to come to the table with new ideas to make them stand out from their peers. I think many of us are looking at the “Distinguished” component on the evaluation system and obsessing about how to exceed the standard. This is especially dangerous for me because my perfectionism encourages and supports this imbalance, so I work hard to intentionally break this personality trait.
This month, I choose to value my personal time in the following four ways:
Choose One Night To Work Late
This year I’m selecting one night to stay late at work. It’s challenging to finish all of my work within the confines of the school day. However, I’m unable and unwilling to stay for hours after school every day, even though the amount of work on my plate seems to demand it. Instead, I’ve selected Thursday night as my late night — working an extra hour or so to prepare any materials I’ll need for the coming week so my weekend can be as free as possible. And, I will not feel guilty about establishing this boundary.
Eliminate Or Reduce Your Biggest Mental Stressor
I’m a single mom and have trouble keeping up with housework, laundry, yard work — the list goes on and on. At times, it overwhelms me so much that I’m unable to fully function. Like a proverbial dark cloud, it even follows me to work and ultimately impacts the classroom. The more disorganized I become at home, the more disorganized I become at school. When my house is cluttered or dirty, I’m nearly paralyzed with an inability to do anything productive at all. Conversely, when my house is clean, my brain is free to think and generate new ideas.
With little time and little help to maintain a clean and orderly house, I took steps to eliminate this stressor by hiring a house cleaning service every month. Like many of you, my budget is tight. That said, I was struggling with keeping my house clean to a point where it was impacting my overall well-being. For me, budgeting for a house cleaning service was worth my peace of mind and clarity. This month, determine your biggest mental stressor — the one that impacts your efficiency — and make it a goal to eliminate or reduce it, even if that means hiring or asking for help.
I recently accepted a new job. Within a few weeks of beginning the position, colleagues came asking if I could help with Associated Student Body (ASB) for the year. While I would’ve loved to interact with students to shape the activities and events at the school, I knew I was already at my maximum capacity with my work and family commitments. Taking on another commitment would tip my balance into a negative stress spiral. When another teacher showed interest in the opportunity, I encouraged her to take on the role, mindful of my own limits. In honoring your time, begin by saying “no” to opportunities that will overwhelm your schedule or impedes your growth in your focus area.
Honor Others’ Personal Time
When speaking to other educators at work, I try my best to limit unnecessary conversations that make them less efficient. In my role as a coach, I set up a math materials area along with instructional materials for our teachers to use. In thinking about saving their time, I made a flipped video to inform them about where the materials are located, how they’re organized, and how they can give me feedback on iterating the instructional routine. Selfishly, not engaging with others when they’re in flow creates a better mental flow for me, as I continue to be very focused on my work, rather than engaging in conversations that have the potential to go off-topic.
When I first started teaching, I remember meeting a teacher whose colleagues had nicknamed her “super teacher.” For the past 10 years, I’ve worked so hard to earn this title I lost the ability to balance and prioritize my personal time away from school (both physically and mentally). These four efforts won’t solve my super teacher addiction entirely, however they will help me take small steps to regain a healthy control of my life.
Over time, I hope to model a sustainable work ethic with above average impact. By creating balance, my children will get to see more of their mother, I can engage in private reflection, and I will be more mentally and emotionally available for all who hold an important place in my life, my children and students alike.
I hope you’ll join me in seeking balance to protect your personal time this month.