Advice to educators on life-work balance: You’re a teacher, not a savior

With crowded clasrooms and test-driven accountability, teachers are under a lot of stress. How can they create balance?

With crowded clasrooms and test-driven accountability, teachers are under a lot of stress. How can they create balance?

Among the presenters at this week’s National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in Atlanta will be Dave Stuart Jr., a teacher at Cedar Springs High School in Cedar Springs, Mich. He writes a weekly email newsletter that goes out to 12,724 educators.

Stuart will serve on several panels and roundtables at the four-day Georgia World Congress Center event that starts Thursday. One of his panels is titled “Doing More Isn’t Doing Better: How to Be a Teacher and Have a Life.”

In this column, he addresses how teachers can achieve a better work-life balance. (It’s also good advice for non teachers.)

Speaking of the convention, I’m going to interview education historian and advocate Diane Ravitch Thursday night. She will be speaking via Skype to the 6,000 literacy educators, advocates and authors at the gathering.  I am looking forward to it.

Now, here is Stuart’s piece:

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Having a life and being a teacher isn’t optional — for most of us, it’s the only way that we can stay in the profession and perform at our best.

Unfortunately, with teacher attrition rates growing nationwide, survival mode is overtaking our ability to think clearly about what it is that we do and how we ought best to do it.

Below are some things that we need to keep in mind:

Promote, not guarantee: No matter what grade or subject we teach, our work is to promote the long-term flourishing of kids. That verb, promote, is important — we cannot guarantee, force, or omnipotently deign that our students will go on to lead great lives. We are teachers, not saviors. Each year, we ought to get better and better at creating lessons, units, and classrooms that promote the long-term flourishing of kids.

Getting our identity straight: When we use what Warren Buffet calls the “external scorecard” — getting our sense of self from how well the kids perform, our administrative evaluations go, the standardized test results look, etc — we are going to tend toward overwork and emotional inconstancy. Just as a doctor ought to be emotionally constant in the face of difficult, complex, and grave decisions, so too must we as teachers. But we won’t be, and we can’t be, if our identity is rooted in the sandy soil of how things in the classroom are going.

Quit at quitting time: I can imagine future history students smirking at our society’s wide acceptance of “multi-tasking” the same way that my history students smirk at the widely accepted medical practice of bloodletting in the Middle Ages. Teachers, if you are “relaxing” at night with a loved one and a stack of papers on your lap, you are not relaxing — you’re working! Only when we set rules for ourselves — for example, I stop working at 5 p.m. every day, and I don’t take work home — can we begin to ascertain which of our tasks are necessary, which deserve our best efforts, and which can simply be abandoned.

The modern teacher is worried about everything from creating a pretty classroom to managing mental health crises to planning effective lessons. Some of these deserve our finite time, and others don’t. Unlike with money, there are no credit cards for time. We have what we have, and there’s none more to spend.

In short, the first step to having lives as teachers is to thinking clearly and rigorously about the things that seem to preclude us from living full, well-rounded lives while also being the best teachers we can be.

 

Reader Comments 0

27 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

When I began teaching in 1973, my husband complained about me "bringing my class home" with me.  A few years later, after we started a family, I had my phone changed to unlisted because of parents calling and wanting to complain or talk--but not about school stuff!  My time at home became for my family, and my time at school was for my class.  As they grew up and went off to college and marriage, I took on more and more responsibility for the extra advocacy I thought important to my students.  That is what I did till 2 years ago, when I retired. Now I volunteer about 10 hours a month and continue my advocacy.


I think teachers HAVE to find the balance that works for them.  I personally don't think 12 hours a day is healthy for anyone, but there are seasons of your life when it may work better.

SavTeacher
SavTeacher

I am a current Georgia Teacher.  Yes it can be frustrating at times.  Some weeks I choose to work between 60 and 70 hours per week, some weeks less.  This is my second career and I knew what I was getting into.  No, we do not get a 3 month vacation in the summer.  We get on average about  6 to 8 weeks.  During that time we are prepping for the upcoming year, going to workshop to keep our continuing education current and taking care of things we have let slide during the year.  It goes very fast...Teachers do have to have a balance, as all professionals, between work and home life.  If you have not been inside a classroom in the past 4 years, you are out of touch with what goes on in schools.  It is much different from when you were in school.  I agree with the blog, we have to keep a perspective on our jobs and our personal lives.  


Elisa Maria Chiara
Elisa Maria Chiara

Maureen, we are teachers: we want to do right by our kids...If TKES weren't set up the be used any way the admin du jeur sees it fit from making us into heros to villains, we would feel a little more confident at lowering our guards and letting things go.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

“Speaking of the convention, I’m going to interview education historian and advocate Diane Ravitch Thursday night.”

Hurry up, Thursday night, and get here!!

Silvia Garcia
Silvia Garcia

Administrators need to READ this big time because I think we are all tired of being asked to do a miracle, at least I am!!!! Let's see when we are more realistic about what teacher (a regular person) can or can't accomplish without the parents support (normally) and without the teacher giving up his/her own families.

wikileaks
wikileaks

This seems like the 10,000th article I've read in this space recycling teachers' union canards. 

Under the guise of discussing other topics.

But the reason there will always be a flood of qualified applicants for teaching positions is because few other occupations offer job security, excellent benefits and 2-3 months of vacation. And you get to sleep at home every night.

That's why everyone has a daughter, son, niece or nephew with an application in at the local school district.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@wikileaks Not all teachers are created equally.  There is no union in Georgia.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@wikileaks @gactzn2 Quality does count for something.  Georgia does not have a teacher's union, only teacher organizations.  

jlaw1974
jlaw1974

@wikileaks Why is there a national teaching shortage then?  What excellent benefits?  Those are pretty much non-existant anymore for Georgia teachers.  Class sizes are overcrowded and that is putting it nicely.  Parents fight the teachers instead of working with them.  Someone else is always at fault for everything that happens and there isn't even the power to discipline students anymore or to just create a tolerable level of mutual respect.  Teachers are leaving the profession right and left.  Most teachers who start now do not make it past 5 years.  People need to wake up and realize that education as we know it is in danger if things do not change.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@wikileaks @marylou_carter1855 Nowadays school gets out around Memorial day and starts back up around August 1.  That is 2 months' "vacation"  but there are required meetings and trainings during some of that time.

SavTeacher
SavTeacher

@wikileaks Not true.  The teaching colleges are showing a 40% drop in applicants going into education.  Look it up.  I have been to most of the education colleges in Georgia this past year. People are not going into teaching as in the past,  partly that tuition has risen 1,200% since 1984. People are going into other fields for more money.  Check it out.   Things have changed. 


Bryan Preston
Bryan Preston

Maureen you'll need to have Marlon call my wife on this one\U0001f914

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

They probably would have a lot to talk about as Marlon never stops working, either.

Bryan Preston
Bryan Preston

AJC Get Schooled just keeping it real. Thanks for reaching out on the post election concerns. I enjoyed speaking with Marlon...Georgia is a large state...appreciate your including South Georgia

Tom Green
Tom Green

Quit working at 5:00? I had to look at the calendar to see if it was April 1st.

Starik
Starik

Real professionals work at home.  

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik Somehow I knew your line of thinking would be out of step with reasonableness.

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @Starik Doctors, lawyers, professors all work at home. Teachers who don't continue to plan lessons and grad homework and papers (if any) have to do it at home.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @gactzn2 Do you teach? If not, stop speculating.  Some of the time, but not all of the time must teachers plan at home.  The problem is the expectation that you should give ALL of your time, including off the clock time, to the profession.  The professions you name also make well into the six figure range. Teachers do not.


Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @Starik Tell that to lawyers who work in government jobs and are therefore useful lawyers. Eventually lawyers make as much or more than teachers, but not administrators and coaches and of course lawyers and doctors work 12 months. Those jobs also require real college and post-graduate real education.


No, I don't teach. Do you?  Nobody suggests you work every night, but the job requires grading papers and tests (if any) and papers (if any) and homework (if any). The good teachers will do this. Do you?

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @gactzn2 I can tell you that for what many expect from teachers (not administrators)- the expectations are not commensurate with the salary. Bad teachers grade papers at home also- and "good" is relative.  Don't be so short-sighted.  Graduate school is graduate school- hopefully from an accredited college.  



Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @Starik Not really. Real graduate school leads to a PhD, or an MD. Law students get a JD and do not get called "Doctor." Properly so. Why do we call people with Ed.D "Doctor," especially from internet diploma mills?


You may be a highly qualified, excellent teacher, and most on this blog are in that category, but many are not. .

Robert Muzzillo
Robert Muzzillo

With TKES, Personalized Learning, Differentiation, and 30% of your evaluation from standardized testing, you had better be the miracle worker.

Page Lassiter
Page Lassiter

I stopped taking work home after I found myself taking papers to grade while on vacation. That did it for me. I shut the computer off when the bell rings till the next day.