Sunday, October 14, 2012

First Year Stories: Walking a Fine Line

I think the hardest part about being a teacher is that you never leave your work at school.  I'm used to being a very busy person, so I didn't mind bringing home 100 tests to grade on my Tuesday night or staying up until way after my bedtime to plan an activity for next week's class.  To make matters worse, in an age where anyone can reach us at any time through email, it's even harder to break away from work.

I've been trying to leave more work at work over the past few weeks.  I try not to stay at school later than 5:00pm and I try to stop working at 10:00pm.  Of course, there are nights where I just need to grade the quizzes from 1 more class...and then I'm working until 11:00pm and of course can't fall asleep until much later than that.  I realized I needed a change this weekend when I let 1 parent email almost ruin my whole Saturday.  It actually took a second parent email to spur me to set rules (not guidelines) for when I should be doing work.

I have noticed the stress of my job affect my health and my personal relationships.  The wonderful thing about teaching is that it's more than a job, and that yes you do take hours of work home with you because the planning, grading, and emails never end.  However, in most other professions, work stays at work, and teaching should not be much different.  My mentor told me I need to make the students fit to my schedule, not the other way around.

So, I came up with a list of rules (not guidelines) I plan to follow.  If you're a new teacher, you need to read these.  It's already October and I'm unbelievably stressed out.  These rules are meant to keep your sanity, improve your mental health and relationships, and teach you to segregate work and your personal life.

1. Don't check work emails between when you leave work on Friday and when you sit down to do work on Sunday.  I try to avoid doing work serious work on Saturday (maybe some light planning), and after I let this parent email ruin my Saturday, I realized I needed to have a day just for myself.  Plus, that second email I received from a parent pushed me to create this rule, since she flat out told me not to check my work email on the weekends.  Good advice.

2. Don't stay at work later than 5:00pm.  The school is not your home, your home is your home.  Spend time after school getting ready for tomorrow's lesson(s) and gathering the materials you need to bring home to work on and then go home!  For me, this also means not checking work emails after 5:00 either.

3. Stop doing work at a set time.  Because different people have different home schedules, the time where you decide to stop doing work will be different for you.  If you have kids at home, you may decide to do a couple hours of work after they go to bed.  I try to stop doing work by 10:00pm, but I'm probably going to bump that up to 9:00pm.  You cannot spend your entire week working.  It's unhealthy.

4. Make a point to do things for you after school.  I'd put off going to yoga, watching MNF with friends, or going for a run because I had too much work to do.  You need to make time for you - remember those things called "hobbies" you used to have before the school year started?  Schedule 1 or 2 activities after school, even if it's just going for a 10 minute run or meeting friends to watch the latest episode of Glee.

One thing I noticed when I set these guidelines/rules for myself is that I was much more productive during the time I set aside to create lessons, do some unit mapping, or grade tests.  As a new teacher, the hardest thing is being able to balance your life with your job, and the line between the two becomes very thin.  Following these guidelines will certainly help keep those boundaries and keep both you and your relationships healthy.  If you have any more tips to add to this list please comment below!

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