Has your workload created a huge strain on your family, friendships, and/or marriage/partnership?
Being a teacher often means making an impossible choice: when you’re focused on your loved ones, you feel like you’re neglecting your students. When you’re focused on your students, you feel like you’re neglecting your loved ones. Trying to add on your own wellbeing and self-care just compounds the guilt.
My encouragement to you today is to think about the relationships you have that enhance your confidence, wellbeing, and energy levels. Who are the people whose presence is caring and life-giving to you? How can you choose to prioritize interactions with those folks?
You might strengthen those relationships through a quick daily text message, or a deeper conversation on the phone while you’re cleaning or exercising. You might be having a cup of coffee together every other week, or carve out some time each Friday night to be together.
This isn’t just about how good it feels to be connected with folks you love. That’s super important for lots of mental health reasons, especially right now when so many of our relationships are strained by the pandemic.
This is about investing your time and energy into something meaningful and lasting that is NOT tied to your profession.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the urgency of our work in schools: the kids need so much, and we’re running out of time this year to do All The Things.
We can often spend the whole weekend worrying about this student’s reading level and that one’s standard mastery and what’s happening at home for another one.
All of these things matter. Your students matter. Your work matters.
But sometimes it helps to remember that teaching is a career, and your career is just one part of your life.
Being a teacher is not your entire identity, and it’s crucial that you never let it become that.
In a few more week’s time, these children who fill your every waking thought will no longer be your responsibility. In most cases, you will no longer have any influence over their lives. You will be releasing them to the work of other educators down the line.
There’s a tremendous sense of peace that can come with this perspective. It can help you remember that your job is to support students, not save them. You are one adult figure out of many they have had and will have in their lives.
In other words, you will be replaced by another teacher for your students next year, and your students will be replaced by other kids.
But you have deep connections with other people in your life (family, partner, friends) that you hope to grow even closer to next year.
Those relationships deserve nurturing, and they require it if you’re going to sustain your work as a teacher.
Students will pass in your doors and back out again, over and over for years to come. Who are the people you want by your side during that process?
I was talking about this with a 40 Hour Teacher Workweek member named Christie, whose marriage was really suffering due to the amount of herself she gave to students. She wrote,
“What changed for me was the day after Spring Break. I went back to school and realized that as much as I love them, those students would be out of my class in 10 weeks, and in reality, most won’t give me more than a passing thought for their entire lives.
My husband will be with me every night for the foreseeable future. Do I want a happy marriage for the rest of my days, or do I want to continue putting all my time, effort and energy into teaching?
As much as I love teaching, I realized that having a happy spouse allowed me to teach. I couldn’t afford to teach financially or emotionally without his support. So I realized that I needed to put more time, energy, effort, and thought into our relationship. Like you say in your materials, Angela, you don’t always get your priorities right, but you can keep starting over and recommit to doing fewer things, better.”
Prioritizing relationships apart from school will look different for each person, of course — this is simply Christie’s story.
The question is, who matters to YOU?
Whose love and support sustains you in your work?
Who do you want to prioritize in your life?
Reach out to that person. Tell them you miss talking with them, and suggest a time when you can spend time together (even if it’s a really short block of time or done virtually).
Don’t make relationships “one more thing” you have to squeeze into your schedule. Don’t tell yourself you’ll have more time in the summer. Just figure out the easiest step you can take that to nurture your connection, and do that. A small step in the right direction will get you on the path.
Simply notice when you’re tempted to put school work before your relationships, and experiment with a different choice. Pay attention to those moments when you’re tempted to check school email for the 300th time in the evening, or spending way more time than necessary on a lesson plan.
Ask yourself, “Who could I be spending time with if I weren’t doing THIS?” Weigh the trade-off carefully rather than always defaulting to school work first.
See how this goes over the next few weeks, and watch out for self-inflicted guilt trips. There’s no bad or wrong choices here. Choosing now to reprioritize a relationship that’s been on the backburner is not somehow an admission that your priorities were wrong before. This is much more nuanced than a good/bad binary will permit.
You’re simply experimenting with your time, and looking for easy ways to enjoy being with the PEOPLE you love, so those relationships can sustain the WORK you love.