I have rarely been successful at finding a work-life balance.
I have a hard time turning off work so that I can enjoy my life more.
However, I am happy to report that I have gotten better about this over the last few years. I’m not sure what was the turning point or the event that forced this change to happen, but if I think about it a little bit, it was probably the year I had Frank (not his real name) in my classroom because I requested him.
Frank was the kid nobody wanted to deal with. He was the kind of student I thought I could save. Save from what? I’m not sure. Maybe from himself? Maybe I was trying to be a martyr. Play the hero. Be the one who could get through to him.
Frank was an aggressive child and nothing I did was going to change that. I didn’t believe that at first and I threw myself completely into the challenge.
That year was probably my worst year as a teacher. My health was in bad shape. My personal life was a shambles. The rest of the class, bless their hearts, suffered because of Frank’s outbursts.
I don’t know how I survived at all.
In the end, did all of my worry and perseverating about this one child, 24/7, make a difference in his life for the better? Probably not. It was too much for me, or anyone else for that matter, to handle at the time.
So, at the end of that year, consciously or not, I began to make changes. I started to change my conversation about school in more positive directions, or I didn’t bring it home at all. I tried to stay in the moment so that I could be present for my family whom I had ignored for the year that Frank was in my classroom. I started to see all that I had missed. I vowed not to do that again.
Since then I have realized that I’m not a martyr; I can’t save the world by myself. That’s not even my job. At least, it’s not in my job description!
I am committed to my students, my profession and my learning. I will always strive to be better than I was the day before for myself and for the students in my classroom. But it bears repeating: I am not a martyr. I am no good to anyone if I’m not well. That has been a hard lesson to accept.
And, reflecting on this now, so many years later, I wish I’d been able to accept these lessons sooner: it is so important to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Teachers are notoriously not good at this and so many of us end up with stress-related illnesses. Even with all of the information out there about the importance of work-life balance, so many of our colleagues stuffer from an unbalanced life. I wish I could take them into my confidence and say, “Don’t. It’s not worth it. You can be an effective teacher and be healthy at the same time.” It’s just a matter of knowing ourselves. Knowing when to stop. Knowing what gives us energy and joy. Yes, teaching gives me energy and joy, and when it doesn’t (the year of Frank was that year for me), then it’s time to regroup, reevaluate, remove yourself and start again.
You will be grateful you did. I know I am.
This Spring Break I will be going to my oldest daughter’s baby shower. The anticipation of that celebration brings me unbelievable joy.
What will bring you joy during the upcoming break?