You Know This Story
It’s Wednesday evening (not afternoon, mind you), and I trudge to my car after another long day at work. It was dark when I arrived at school, and it’s dark as I leave school. Thankfully, the parking lot lights scare away the shadows. I might be physically leaving school, but mentally I’m still there.
The end of the semester fast approaches despite my attempts to ignore the looming date. I missed my workout session with the other gals because I had a student who wanted to stay after to discuss a grading rubric. This isn’t a problem. It happens from time to time, and I’m more than happy to talk to students who take the time to come after school to ask questions. However, as I walk to my car, it’s one of the few left in the school parking lot, which is the same scene five days out of the week. This year, I have refused to take things home to grade, so I’ve been staying later in order to work on it. I arrived at school at 7:15 and I’m now leaving a little after 5:00. Thankfully, I only live four minutes away from work.
We all struggle to find that ever elusive work-life balance, but the truth is that finding balance is a myth, along with multi-tasking. These are unicorns, so there really is no such thing, especially when you are a teacher. You put in a 40-hour work week (sometimes many more), then you go home to grade or plan and it keeps going for ten long months. It’s frustrating and one of the many causes of teacher burn-out. So what can you do to keep from feeling the pull of misery that sucks you down into the Pit of Despair and makes you dread getting up each morning? Let’s take a look at some options.
- Do Your Work at School: Stay as late as you want at school, but don’t take anything home to grade during the week. Home is home; work is work. Doing this will help separate these two important aspects of your life. The workload is already extreme, so why take your papers on a field trip to and from your house when you know that eight times out of ten your papers will stay nice and cozy in your backpack? Additionally, grading takes longer because you are distracted by other tasks that suddenly have to be done now even though they’ve been calling to you for days.
- Know How Long It Takes to Grade: I’m pretty sure I’m the world’s slowest grader. It’s really hard for me to concentrate on grading essays if I don’t comment a lot on them. Commenting keeps me focused, but that means I’m reading and re-reading to make meaningful comments. And I know that it takes me an average of 20-30 minutes to grade one essay. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. That equates to 9 hours of grading for a class of 25. I know it takes me 30 minutes to grade vocabulary quizzes and an hour and a half to grade advanced vocabulary quizzes. When you know how long assignments truly take to grade, it can help you decide which day of the week to assign them or if you need to stagger some lessons. It can also help you decide if adding those five extra questions is really worth your time to grade.
- Plan Your Weekly Hours: If you know that you need to put in a fifty-hour work week in order to keep on top of your workload, then make sure you spread that out if you struggle working in long chunks. Let’s face it. If you teach a subject that has a lot of reading in order to grade, or you have a lot of planning, you’re probably scoffing at a fifty-hour work week. This is where you have to think about how many hours of your time you are willing to give that will also keep you from being miserable come progress reports, parent-teacher conferences, or semester’s end.
- Find Ways to Cut Down the Grading: I really struggle with this one, so I’m going to have to defer to some of my colleagues’ practices. One gal I work with simply doesn’t grade most practice. If she happens to, she gives it a pittance of a score for completion. She also has students regularly self-evaluate and finds that many times they are much harder on themselves than she is. Another gal uses a lot of rubrics and doesn’t put any comments on student work. She tells them to schedule an appointment with her if they need clarification that the rubric doesn’t provide. A couple of our math and social studies teachers have homework packets that are not required to be completed unless a student does poorly on a test and is looking to attempt a retake. Then the student must complete the packet, turn it in, and earn a certain percentage. All of these could potentially work for you depending on what you are working on at the time.
- Find Your Hours Somewhere Else: Maybe you were researching something for school and received one of those pesky notifications on your computer that one of your friends tagged you in a Facebook picture. Naturally, you open up Facebook and proceed to spend the next two hours looking through your feed. Those baby goats get you every time. We love to tell ourselves that we don’t have enough time, but that’s another myth for another post. We have 24 hours in every day like every other person. But we don’t have our crap together. My DVR is my time-suck. When I look at what is truly important, I’m ashamed at how much time I spend daily on things that really aren’t as important to me. It’s time to be honest with ourselves. We’re behind sometimes because we didn’t work on our priorities and values first. We opted for fun and regretted it later. Much like that pair of shoes you had to have that now kill your feet. Fun now, painful later.
You could potentially do all of the above or just one of these to have a little more piece of mind. But you will never find that mythical 50/50 balance. You have to find what works best for you and your priorities and what fits into your life. You also have to be mindful that balance one week may not look like balance the next week. Sometimes, work may be more important than what’s going on at home.
Kill the Unicorn
If you are like I was just a couple of years ago, you’ve been trying to figure out how to find balance. Stop doing this and just kill the unicorn already. Something has to give, and it can’t be your health, your job, or your home. You cannot balance it; you must juggle it. A juggler doesn’t balance anything. He or she focuses on one ball at a time while the others are in the air. Focus on your one priority task at the moment (health, job, home) then move on to the other one figuring out how long you need to make your life comfortable.
You probably keep telling yourself that you’ll get better next year about keeping on top of things at work and at home. Isn’t this the same thing you tell yourself every year? Stop looking for balance and figure out what needs to be done and how much time you’re willing to give to the task, then get it done with laser focus.
If you have a time-saving strategy, please leave your suggestions in the comments.
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