Career, Change, Life, Rambles

Work Life Balance (Part I)

As June begins, former colleagues are wrapping up their work year, preparing for their “summer off”. This will be the first time since I started school at 5 years old that I have not done the same.  Many of my years spent in education I wrapped up the school year, took a few days, then jumped into my summer school teaching opportunity.  There have been only a handful of years that I remained unemployed over the summer.  Those years, I attended training workshops for teaching AP courses, special needs students, or technology improvement. From 2003-05 I attended classes for graduate school.  Summer 2016 and 2017, my husband insisted that I take the “summer off”.  By “summer off” I mean I did not get paid for any of the work I did, and relaxed a few hours each day.

Disclaimer: This is not a complaint. I chose the path and I chose to work without pay. This is more of an explanation or evaluation of my time in the classroom…

Why work for no pay?  Short answer= Long term planning to make my life easier.  Long answer, keep reading.

In 2015 I went from teaching AP, IB, advanced, and general classes at the high school level to teaching, 7th graders.

Culture. Shock.

Middle school was new to me, a complete surprise, and extremely difficult.  There was NO time.  I had never had so many meetings. I had never had to watch students during my 25 minute lunch. With only three minutes between classes, where students still had to be supervised, there was no time to relax or take care of personal needs.  Life in middle school was a considerable adjustment. My teaching style had to change. Not a new stumbling block, but there was no textbook. Every resource I had for World History was too advanced for this group. Since planning periods were reserved for meetings at least three days each week, I was spending immense amounts of time planning before and after school.  Work-life balance had been completely destroyed. Grading and planning were nightmares, nothing new. Middle school parents? Vastly different. It is very difficult for some to allow their child to grow and accept personal responsibility.  I was not prepared for the level of difficulty and extreme change middle school brought.  Fortunately, I had an amazing teammate who was my sounding board and middle school adjustment counselor. Others were also helpful with resources, and guidance. At least there was a support system, and one that I desperately needed.

Middle school students cry rather easily. Their parents pounce rather quickly. The transition to increased personal responsibility is difficult for both student and parent.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know this, I simply did not grasp the magnitude until I was too far in to get out!

After that extremely stressful school year, I vowed to not struggle like that again. My “summer off” was spent gathering resources, planning lessons, and building my entire course in Canvas LMS. When August came, I was ready. The year was planned and I was not planning on spending all of my personal time, after school hours, working.  Yep, I felt good about the upcoming year.

Any teacher reading this knows what’s coming. It happens all the time and there is little to be done.

My principal called.

School starts in less than a month, and I’m assigned to 8th grade.  “Do you mind?” YES I MIND!  “Well, all of my plans are done for 7th grade and I already have the course built in Canvas.”  After explanations of being needed etc…  “No sir, of course, whatever is needed. Thanks for letting me know of the change.”  RIGHT BEFORE CLASSES BEGIN AND NOT AT THE BEGINNING OF SUMMER TYVM!  “Yes, you have a great rest of summer too.  See you in two weeks.”

In hindsight, I should have said no.  I should have insisted. Despite explaining how 7th grade was 100% planned and I was ready for the school year teaching world history, I was needed in 8th grade. I politely tried to maneuver out of the change. I did not insist.  Would, shoulda, coulda.

August was spent scrambling for 8th grade. At least it was predominantly US history and I would figure out the state component.  The bulk of my career focused on US.  That was why the change was “needed” and crucial that it be me.  Yay, experience.  I still should have said no.

My first year in 8th grade was not as difficult as my previous middle school year.  Despite abandonment by my middle school adjustment counselor who chose to pursue new adventures, I still had great team mates and I have come to a place of forgiveness for said abandonment. There was still a support system and the content was much easier. The year was still difficult, and I still hadn’t found my way out.

2017-18 was to bring new challenges. The school was moving to a brand new building, the other team went from 4 to 3, and all would have to teach social studies on top of their regular preps.  All were inexperienced with the curriculum. The bulk of planning and course guidance fell to me.  I embraced the challenge.  Why should they have to struggle with the extra prep? I have to plan for myself anyway and it is mostly done.  In an effort to reduce the upcoming chaos we met as an 8th grade and as a social studies PLC numerous times during the summer. I outlined the course pacing, matched it with state and local requirements, and took the Canvas course from the previous year and improved it.  By August, we had met several times over the summer and the team was essentially planned and ready to go for the year. It was a great “summer off” and I was starting the school year prepared. Just like I like.

Summer work and summer planning make the school year smoother. Summer workshops bring new ideas, and reinforce known tactics.  Training is an accepted part of any profession.  In education, sometimes it is paid for by your district, and sometimes not.  You become a borderline hoarder of ridiculous materials…just in case you find a lesson use.  I can look on my side shelf now and see a gallon bag of marbles, a tub of beads, and a container of pipe cleaners.  I used marbles as currency once. Beads and pipe cleaners were part of an assembly line simulation. Last week I consolidated my books to a single bookshelf.  I have various US History textbooks, each presenting a different perspective on the same topic. With difficulty, I donated many of my grad school books. It’s been 13 years, I didn’t enjoy them the first time I read them, and I wasn’t planning to read them again. I kept my favorite history reads, a few classics, and books that I want my children to read to their children. Most of what I read these days, I read on my device. It is portable and I have an unlimited library through a monthly membership service. What I describe here is a characteristic of most teachers. Books and lesson plan materials are what we collect.  Our minds always on our students. Consuming knowledge and collecting supplies. It never stops. From August to June we harbor guilt for papers ungraded and time spent not preparing for the week ahead.

From 1999 to 2018, I suffered from an unbalanced work-life.  The above very long explanation is only a snap shot. My entire summer was not spent planning and creating. Only a few hours each day. I still had some to do during the school year, but it was reduced and manageable.  The summer sacrifices made the work year more balanced. Grading was the only major concern. Grading is like laundry, it will always be there for you.  During my teaching years, my mind was always on school.  It was constant, and I couldn’t turn it off.  Common teacher problem.

Now that I have left teaching, I clearly see how unbalanced my work-life was. January of 2018, I reclaimed my personal time. In the six months I have been out of the classroom, taking work home has been minimal. There is no longer Sunday stress, prepping for the upcoming week. Grading is no longer looming over my head, inspiring guilt and building stress.  I don’t know what I could have done differently in my teaching career. The last several years were mostly easier than the first few years as a new teacher.  You learn how to manage.  Middle school threw a wrench in that for me, but adjustments were made.

Changing careers has been the #1 factor for me restoring work-life balance. Stress is reduced. Enjoyment of personal time increased. Evenings and weekends are mine!  Even without “summers off” I am happier…and probably easier to live with.

My next step is to take a look at what work-life balance means in this new world I’m in. Right now, I’m feeling pretty balanced.

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