In education, we have a lot of buzzwords. What “synergy” is to white collar industry, “self-care” is quickly becoming to education.
For a lot people outside of education, they go to work, work, and come home, commencing “life” upon clocking out at 5pm. Work doesn’t often jump in the passenger seat beside them as they pull out of the parking lot and it rarely tags along for weekends or vacations. Most people don’t check work email after hours or on weekends, nor do they spend their “off” time thinking of ways to improve business or engage more clients. They rarely go in early to work or stay late beyond what they’re scheduled. There’s no threat of losing their position because they left work on time or came in just in time for their shift to start.
Teaching is a little different. And teaching tall poppies is another animal altogether, because the intensities of the kids and adults is often both beautiful and draining. Setting boundaries for yourself is critical.
“Tonight, I will stay until 6pm and work solidly without interruption.”
(Telling colleagues your plan and emphasizing the lack of interruption is critical for this to work.)
I notice colleagues setting timers, locking doors and drawing blinds, hiding away in dimly lit classrooms to ensure that they can work, and enlisting spouses and significant others in the phone calls to remind them to come home because time’s up. I notice their bags expanding rolling carts with full sets of writing and math journals as they sneak out later than they anticipated. Others come in early, hiding out in classrooms hoping no one will notice their car in the lot. And others choose to work at home, further blurring the line between work lives and home lives.
After a while, this begins to wear thin and “Why can’t I just go home at a reasonable hour?” begins to rear its head, screaming at the top of its lungs. Resentment builds, and envy of those friends who can go home after an 8 hour day and enjoy frosty beverages on their porch with friends until 11pm without worry of what that will cost them the next day begins to grow. Guilt comes for tea and stays a while. Am I being a good mother/father/wife/husband? We begin to cling to our teacher friends and colleagues more–they get it. And they know we’ve jammied up in the first 30 seconds of being at home before we’ve even fed the furs without jobs–they don’t ask us to do anything after work. They know. We begin doubting–is this really what I want my life to be?
This isn’t how things should be.
I’ve been a morning person my whole life. My love wonders how on earth I can stay up late with him and then get up early to go to work and be remotely functional. See, I get up before God is awake and I’m out the door before the sun is even considering its first cup of coffee. The coffee kiosk down the street from school and I have an unspoken understanding after 9 years. They start my drink about the time they figure I’ll show up (it’s almost always the same) and it’s done soon as I drive up–they can see me coming. Large peppermint hot chocolate…every day. It’s my reward for getting to school at an ungodly hour by choice.
I’ve spent 12 years doing this work and I’ve always come in early and stayed late. And resentment creeps into my mind much faster every year. I don’t like it. It doesn’t suit me at all. I love my job and the kids and adults I work with and when resentment shows up and parks a lawn chair down with an icy glare, I worry that the love I have for what I do will disappear.
I can conquer resentment. I’m stronger.
Two weeks ago, I did something I haven’t done since I began teaching.
I took a day off to do something fun.
We bought concert tickets for 2 nights and decided to spend the weekend away, leaving early in the afternoon for the first night’s concert.
I didn’t take any work with me. No computer, no bag of books, no emails. I set my away message in my email days in advance so I wouldn’t forget. The only thing that made the cut was my passion planner. I wanted to be able to journal. I brought only my purse and a weekender bag with weekendy stuff in it like flip-flops and distressed denim and tops with spaghetti straps.
Over a long weekend, I did it again. I worked late Friday out of necessity, and closed the email tab before I had even left for the night…it was a reasonable hour–an hour at which most of the world had shut down their work day, knowing that it would wait until the next work day. I didn’t do anything that could be construed as work all weekend. I went to a football game and to lunch with a friend. I bought paint and painted my bedroom and part of the hallway. I made meatloaf and mashed potatoes with peas. I lounged on the couch with a cat on my belly and watched hours of Britcoms. I took myself to breakfast and planned my week in the quiet of a coffee shop. I used a pen in my planner. (ooh…teacher risks.) I slept until I woke up…and then I napped twice before dinner because I could.
It felt good to just BE….to be a human BE-ing.
A part of me worried about the price I’d pay.
I adore my job and I truly love the people and kids I get to work with every day. But I also love the way that spending a weekend away with my love feels–I’d seriously forgotten how that felt. I enjoyed painting a room in the quiet of my home with no tv or Pandora or anything playing. I enjoyed remembering who I am as a person with a particular job… The work I do is part of who I am, for sure…but it isn’t all I am.
I am a teacher, a coach, and technically admin. I am a writer, a presenter, and an advocate for gifted kids. I am a lover of Britcoms and cheesy documentaries about the possibility of alien life on Earth. I am a woman who likes college football a few Saturdays a year, concerts where people stand and dance while they sing along, and consuming mass quantities of glorious fried Southern food made in tiny dive restaurants in strip malls with the person I love most in the world. I am a lover of books of all kinds, 80s movies that star one or more members of the Brat Pack, and good music that speaks to my heart. I’m a future wife and only daughter. But most of all I’m a human BE-ing and I’m entitled to a little time to just be that.
So are you. You give your whole heart and soul to your profession, to the kids you serve, to their families, and to your colleagues. Don’t set aside your human BE-ing in favor of grading a paper for everything….25 times. Set your boundaries. Go home at a reasonable hour most of the time. Honor the time you are in the building well and know that support doesn’t always look like “doing for.” Sometimes it’s just telling where to find or who else might be able to help. Honor your time and others will too. This is our season of sacrifice, however it doesn’t have to be the only season we embrace.
Don’t forget there’s a reason we’re called human BE-ings. Sometimes we just need to BE.