Don’t Forget to Take Care of You This School Year

Don't Forget to Take Care of You This School Year

I drove home from a Saturday professional development event, my brain full of all of the things I needed to get done in the next three days before the start of school. I had a new course that needed a year plan and brand new syllabus, lesson plans to write, and a paper assignment to create. I thought I just might get started on those things once my kids were safely tucked into bed.

When I walked into the door, I asked my husband what the plan was. “How about we go to a soccer game?” He pulled up the available MLS tickets on his phone, showed me where we could be sitting, and then left the decision in my lap. For fifteen minutes I raced around the house trying to figure out what else needed to be done for a Saturday. Surely I had laundry to fold and dishes to do and then there was the course planning I had intended to do into the late hours of the night.

I stopped myself. The kids had already started school. I was going to be starting school soon. And the next afternoon my husband was boarding a plane for a business trip that would take him out of town just as we were getting into the swing of a new school year.

Work could wait. My family couldn’t.

It’s a lesson that has taken me far too long to learn. I remember walking into my principal’s office during my third year of teaching, struggling to keep my head above water, overwhelmed by the pile of work that never went away, and tired of having a roommate instead of a husband. I told him that something needed to change because I was afraid my marriage was going to fall apart at the rate I was going.

“I understand that you’re struggling but there’s nothing I can do. This is just the way that it is here.”

I knew then that I was either going to have to find a new teaching position or get out of teaching entirely

Thankfully I found a new teaching job in a new city that better suited my husband and me. While the workload didn’t necessarily decrease (it actually increased when I was talked into taking over the theatre program), I was happier with what I was doing and it usually seemed manageable. We went camping with a friend shortly after we made the move and he commented that I seemed a lot more relaxed than I had in the past, and it was true. I wish I could say that the cool, calm state remained for the next several years, but two years later I found myself spending an entire Christmas break grading writing portfolios, only taking a break on Christmas and our wedding anniversary so that I could celebrate with family.

My overall situation may have changed, but I was still allowing the job to run every aspect of my life, often to my own mental, emotional, and physical detriment.

When we’re young, we teachers are easily swayed into being “voluntold.” Those above us in the food chain convince us that if we don’t do it no one else will and because we have a passion for education and our students, of course, we want to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.

And it isn’t just those above us in the field of education. In movies and on television, business executives and lawyers and doctors are shamed into repentence when life cirumstances teach them that their families need to come first. Teachers? We’re told through the use of masterful storytelling that sacrificing our personal life for the benefit of our students is worthy of praise. I’ve watched Dead Poets Society and The Freedom Writers enough times to know that all too well.

Somewhere along the way, we allowed everyone outside of education to convince us that it is not only laudable but preferable for teachers to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of education.

It isn’t.

Consistently putting our teaching duties (many self-imposed) ahead of our families isn’t noble.

Putting our student’s emotional needs ahead of our own isn’t noble.

Refusing to take a break from our job because we’ve convinced ourselves we don’t have time isn’t noble.

Most of us went into teaching because we love kids, we love our material, and we want to make a difference. And because we love our students, we love working within our subject area, and we desperately want to change the world around us, we often lose sight of what makes us the people who went into teaching in the first place.

When we lose the things that make us who we are, we lose our authenticity. When we lose our authenticity, we lose our credibility. And when we lose our credibility, we lose what makes us good teachers.

It took me many years, but I’m finally learning the importance of stepping away from the classroom, planning, and grading so that I can spend quality time with my family and with myself. I’ve learned what needs to be graded and what needs careful feedback and what doesn’t. I’ve learned to be intentional with everything that I assign to my students so that they are getting the full benefit from the assignment and I’m spending the appropriate amount of time assessing what matters.

I still spend some weekends working to make deadlines. I still occasionally stay after school until after my hallway has cleared focused on making sure that everything is ready to go for the next day. And some nights, I sit with a laptop and grade book open while my husband and I try to sneak in one episode of our favorite shows before we head to bed.

But I’ve also scheduled two camping trips over the next two months. It may take me all semester, but I plan to read at least one book that has nothing to do with my job. I’ll sneak in three-mile runs and weight workouts between watching my kids play soccer and basketball and reading them bedtime stories. I will do all of that because my students need a mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy teacher standing in front of them.

And maybe if we give ourselves permission to take a break so we can remember who we are outside of our classroom, we will remember to give our students a much-needed break as well.

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Senior Member

Sarah is a high school English teacher and yearbook adviser in the Houston area. When she's not lesson planning, grading, or revising yearbook pages, she enjoys biking, running, reading, writing, and camping with her family. She spends her "free" time writing about camping, faith, family, and occasionally politics on her personal blog Accepting the Unexpected Journey.

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