The outside world can often have a skewed view of what being a teacher is and all that it entails. There is major focus on the amount of time we have off for holidays and vacations and a complete disregard for the unpaid overtime hours that we put in every week. Not to mention, the sheer amount of PD that we have to take. Now, I digress because this post is neither meant to discourage teachers or disparage non-teachers. Instead, I want us to consider the word balance and some steps that can be taken to achieve the ever elusive “balance” we often speak of.
1. Self Care
A few months ago I wrote a post titled Taking Care of Your Teacher Heart in which I share ideas on how to care for yourself. Read that post and try to implement some of the ideas suggested. I think that we often think of self care as visiting a spa or taking an entire day just for ourselves, but I think self care goes beyond that. Self care is when we are able to do things that bring us joy. Spending an entire day with my kids and away from school work is self care because it means that I am filling up my soul with something that brings me joy. That’s not to say that a spa day isn’t welcomed, but it’s not the be all end all that we sometimes make it out to be.
Sit down and make a list of the things that truly matter to you. I mean, that TRULY matter to you. When you have a clear understanding of what you care about and what your heart desires to dedicate time to, all other things become secondary. When everything is important, nothing is important. How can one determine what needs to get done and what is time wasted when one doesn’t know the difference?
So, go ahead! Take a break from this post (don’t close it because you have to finish reading), and go grab a paper and pen. Write it down. You have to write it down! What matters to you? What is truly important? Then ask yourself why. Why is it important? Maybe putting in 3 hours of prep time after school is on your list of priorities. Ask yourself why. Why is that a priority? Why do you need 3 hours of overtime to get that done and what are you having to give up because of it? Maybe your extra 3 hours of prep a day takes away from something else that is on your list of priorities and is now causing you to neglect it. If your top 3 priorities are somehow getting neglected, you have to ask yourself WHAT and WHY. What is taking the place of your priorities? We seldom realize that the things that take up our time are sometimes not even on our top 5 list of priorities.
These are hard questions. These are soul searching. I tell you this, because I had to ask myself these questions. We can’t continue to say that teaching is taking up all of our time and we are burned out, if we are not making a concerted effort to understand the how and the why our time is being consumed. Up front we may need to put in the work and the hours, but that lifestyle is not sustainable and the sooner you can sit down and narrow down your priorities, the better.
Ok, so your list should already be completed. You should have thought about what matters to you and the why. Now comes the next step (this one is my favorite).
This is the part where you put on your bossy pants and lay down the law. This is where you say “this is not up for discussion”, while looking yourself in the mirror. Grab that same list you concocted moments ago and determine what you will NOT negotiate.
Let me give you an example: A couple of years ago, my husband and I realized that every evening we found ourselves up to our necks with work and responsibilities. The girls would approach us wanting to play and we would have to respond with a “not now, I’m _________”. After a while, this got exhausting. We had two beautiful girls that we loved, but we didn’t spend nearly as much time with. We decided to set up a non-negotiable. We declared Thursday evenings “Family Night”. Making it a non-negotiable meant that barring sickness or an emergency, family night would never be interrupted. That meant that we needed everyone to know that Thursday had become an uninterruptible day for us. In addition to working our secular jobs, my husband and I are pastors. Members of our congregation know that our Thursday evenings are dedicated to our family. I do not bring any work home on that day. We put all devices away and do not go on social media or answer any calls. It is a NON-NEGOTIABLE.
You need non-negotiables. It is those actions/events that will help to balance you. Maybe your non-negotiable can be that you will not stay at work past a certain time or that you will not bring work home on a certain day. Whatever non-negotiables you set for yourself, you have to be loyal to it. You have to understand that you can’t work around what you set. Once you start not following through, it is no longer a non-negotiable and moves on to be something else that falls off of your priority list.
Your non-negotiables have to come as a result of creating your priority list, because then you can ensure that your priorities are truly being met. The moment our priorities make it to the back burner is the moment our lives become unbalanced. That is the case for many teachers. We become so wrapped up in the day to day needs of our students, schools, and admin that we quickly put them at the top of our list and forget about all the other things that matter.
Don’t let that be you.
Find balance for yourself. Do you have your list? No?! Get to it. Your balanced life awaits!
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