Monday, February 3, 2014

The work/life balance right now...

Tsh of The Art of Simple has a new book coming out tomorrow focused on the importance of slowing down and living intentionally.  I look forward to reading it, and think that some of you may also be drawn to her message. 

But today she posted some writing/reflecting starters, and I thought that I might try and just take 15 minutes tonight to do a little "out loud" processing.  Come back soon for a little report on our weekend in Seattle if you would rather just hear about my amazing kids and fun adventures.  But stick around if you want...and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

So, here's the question I feel drawn to tonight:
  When it comes to your work, what is your definition of “enough”?

Oh boy.   That's a minefield right there.  Especially as I head into this week when our union will be taking a strike vote on a contract that diminishes my ability to do my job well.

I am a middle school language arts and social studies teacher.  Even after 15 years of doing this work, I could spend every waking moment lesson planning, grading, contacting families, supporting websites, researching latest methods, keeping up with literature, and generally thinking about the 32 students in my care. There are many times when I feel exactly like that is what I should be doing. Every child in my class is just as precious to their parents as my boys are to me, and that means they deserve my best every day we step foot into the classroom.

But there's the rub.  My boys.  If I give every bit of everything to my classroom, what do I have left for home?  Not much. But how can I be a good teacher if I don't do it all? And how can I be everything for everybody?  Because it seems like that is what all my fellow moms are asking themselves lately.  Even those who are "at home" - the balance feels impossible.

Very early on in this parenting gig, I learned that my personal work/home balance would have to shift.  A lot. I started by taking less work home.  It meant I had to give up a lot of the socializing with my colleagues so I could get more grading done during the work day.  There are MANY days now when the only people I speak to at work are my students, because the rest of the time I'm there, I'm grading or copying or planning or emailing.

I also learned that I couldn't read or research or try everything.  I had to find the methods that rang most true for me and my belief in the purpose of education.  And if that means I am not on the cutting edge of the latest and greatest technology or methodology, then so be it.   I still enjoy taking classes and trying new things, but not every bandwagon has me on it, and that saves me a lot of time.

But the biggest thing I have done to help find balance was switching to working halftime.  I work 5 mornings a week, and simply must leave at 11:30 in order to pick Luke up on time from kindergarten.  It puts an automatic limiter on the time I spend in the building and therefore, the time I spend working.  Because once we get home, I'm spending my afternoons working on the rest of our lives - soccer, gym time, errands, meal prep, house cleaning.  And when I am being mindful, I also get to "get a lesson on automobile building with magna-tiles" and hear all about the books the older one is reading in class. And the day goes by without the time to get back to the work of teaching.  Sure, I respond to parent emails after the boys are in bed, and quiet time is spent lesson planning.  But the simple factor of my schedule gives me greater balance than I ever could have asked for.

These limits mean that I am not the best teacher on the planet.  And there is definitely guilt that goes along with that.  Some days I'm not even sure that I am as good as I was a few years ago.  But I can say that I am a different teacher since becoming a mom.  I am more sympathetic to the pressures of homework on family time.  I understand that the children in my class don't always represent all the fabulous parenting they have had at home - but they are still so incredibly lovable.  I understand the vital importance of school and home working together.  Because I have a busy and rich life away from the classroom, I can bring those stories to my teaching.  And there's nothing more that my students love than the days when my boys come and spend  the morning in the classroom.  SO some days, the balance works.

And sometimes, with a lot of hard work, time management, and a few fingers crossed, it feels like enough.