Leaving School at School: How to Enjoy ALL Parts of Your Life

I can honestly say, that during my time in the classroom I felt exactly like Beth. Finding balance was, and still is, a challenge for me. At the end of the day, we need to make time for ALL people (and sometimes things) we love. That may look like cutting down what seems important at the moment, to fill the need of something else of greater importance. Being a teacher is hard. Influencing young lives is a huge reasonability with endless rewards. But, so is being a mother, partner, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandparent, and friend. Finding balance in life is a trait we can all work on. My newest teacher friend Beth, has given some great insight on finding balance. I hope this helps you think through your own balancing act as school begins!

From Beth’s perspective:

Recently I have been realizing more and more the importance of balance. Balance may not always be fully accomplished, but I do think that the areas in which we choose to spend our time should reflect what is important to us. That being said, I have been a “take things home” teacher my entire career. I am also in graduate school, so if I’m not planning, I’m studying or writing papers. I can even say it’s gotten to the point where I simply do not feel accomplished if I’m not being consistently productive. This may seem like great drive or good work ethic, but it is getting to the point where it is detrimental.

This summer, when watching my 2-year-old bundle-of-joy daughter Ladi (Law-dee), I felt awful about myself if I didn’t finish doing the dishes, putting away laundry, working on graduate school work, or planning for the school year to come. She would even climb up on my lap, scooting my laptop over so I would shift my focus to her. It broke my heart, but it also helped me realize the changes I need to make.

I am learning that there is an art to doing nothing, and that without those times, we aren’t able to be at our best in other areas. If we are trying to do everything with 100% of what we have to give, we aren’t giving 100% to anything. We need to make sure the expectations we set for ourselves are healthy and doable. Overall, I know that something needs to change. As I started thinking more about it, I realized that I need to learn new strategies for balance and apply them. Below are some things that came to mind.

Commit to change and stick to it!

  • Write it down. Set goals and record what you will need to do to achieve them. Also, make sure to celebrate your small steps toward that goal along the way. Let yourself rejoice in the little wins, not just the final goal completion.
  • I know it’s cliché, but find your why and live in a way that makes that why obvious to others.
  • Schedule what evenings and weekends might look like. Delineate family time, schoolwork/planning time, and time for yourself. Recording this schedule in detail may be a great place to start. For each event, be fully present in that moment, not thinking about the next thing you need to get done.
  • Create short (1-3) item to do lists, don’t expect anything more, and commit to doing nothing more. Celebrate when each task is finished, and don’t forget to experience the full satisfaction of crossing those items off your to-do list!

Focus your energy on what’s important.

  • Show your family your love by fully focusing your energy on them when you are with them. Limit time on your phone too, even kids notice when your focus is elsewhere.
  • Be okay with doing nothing, even when there are things to be done. Rest is good for you!
  • Get enough sleep. Teachers need energy to make it through each day at their best.
  • Be intentional about what you grade. You don’t need to grade everything! Grading should guide further instruction, not require tedious percentages. Even simple anecdotal notes from observations are a great way to assess student understanding.
  • Formative assessments can be speedy and meaningful. Exit Tickets use a simple 2-3 questions to assess student understanding at the end of lessons. Quick sorts are short formative assessments, like exit tickets, that require just a glance and grouping into 3-2-1 piles. Students are in the 3 pile it they achieved mastery and may need enrichment, the 2 pile is for proficient learners, and the 1 pile denotes a need for remediation.

Fully utilize your plan time.

  • Close your door and work at work! Do as much as you possibly can with the time you have been given.
  • Don’t distract yourself with your phone, social media, etc. during this time.
  • Plan each subject all together (Monday through Friday). This keeps you focused instead of jumping from one subject to another- helping keep your train of thought.
  • Plan for hands-on, engaging, authentic work. It requires less copies, better instruction and deeper learning.
  • Group tasks like copying, office correspondence, etc. so you can make only one trip to each destination. This is a way to make time use more efficient.

Take a break!

  • Get out of the classroom! Say hello to a friend, get some air, truly enjoy your lunch and remember that breaks increase productivity when you return to work.

*Tip: If you choose to eat in the lounge, make sure to exit if gossip trickles in…* You don’t need that negativity impeding your positive focus.

Ask for help if you need it and say no when needed.

  • Teammates and other co-workers are usually ready and willing to share ideas, plans and strategies. Reach out in times of struggle or plan a time to get together for collaboration.
  • When a lot is on your plate, don’t be afraid to say no. You know what you are capable of in various phases of life, so don’t overload yourself.

Practice self-care.

  • Find things that make you happy and do them! Make sure not to lose who you are as an individual amidst work and other obligations.
  • Plan “me” time/self-care. We must nurture ourselves in order to nurture others. Remember the oxygen masks on planes? You must put yours on first, so you are safe and prepared to help place a mask on others.
  • Schedule coffee dates and make sure to attend. Spending time with loved ones is fulfilling and life-giving. Don’t become a hermit during busy times. Friends and family warm the heart and nourish the soul.

The tips above were first written for myself, but I realized others may benefit from them as well. They are not in order of importance, but all are important to at least consider.

Each year I strive to identify a clear goal to help me become a better educator. In the past I would choose a subject and focus on improving my instruction in that area. But this year, my goal is to find more balance by leaving school at school and being fully present when I am home with family and friends. In doing this, I know I will be growing as a teacher, wife, mother, daughter, friend and human being.

-Beth Olsen, Third Grade Teacher

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