The chat for December 10th focused on Life/Work Balance – Is It Possible? @FNGraham and @PrincipalSmart moderated a lively discussion as participants shared ideas and insights about trying to develop a balance.
Over the years I’ve often struggled with balance, as many participants also mentioned. Too often I was looking for balance without taking a much needed step back to assess what exactly was happening. Sometimes I’d feel like I was able to manage but, all too often, I felt there was too much happening with different commitments pulling me in all sorts of directions. With all those plates spinning, some were bound to hit the floor.
Eventually, I needed to do something. I was being torn between family commitments, teaching commitments, administrative commitments, coaching commitments and community commitments. The image of the Teacher Superperson was someone I couldn’t live up to. I didn’t have any super-powers and all the stress and anxiety took a toll on my health and my family.
I was afraid to admit that I couldn’t do it all. In the secret tales that teachers tell, those who admit they can’t do it all are scorned and weak. There is a bravado that is displayed all too often – bragging about how few sick days a person takes “I’ve taught with one foot in the grave” or how little sleep one survives on or how many committees or teams one coaches or…. it’s often like Facebook on steroids. The myths that circulate about what one should be able to do as a “good teacher” – a mythical creature who has endless energy and patience, knowledge and understanding – have seemed to increased in size as teachers are exposed to the “amazing” teachers who do it all.
Unfortunately, these people don’t exist but the myth grows. Instead, I believe, if we truly want students to learn from failure and be okay with struggling to learn, teachers need to show all sides, even their weakest.
“The fear of losing something makes you weak, lose it and gain your strength”
― Farid F. Ibrahim
When we embrace failure there is opportunity to learn from it, to use it to grow and improve. If we resist failure, too often we stop short of achieving what we could because we do not want to take the chance of it not working. In his book Rejection Proof Jia Jiang outlines how he sought out rejection as a way to become open to the possibilities that are present in failure (You can look at his amazing journey at fearbuster.com),
I rejected my own ideas before they could be rejected by the world. Giving up at the first sign of rejection felt much after than putting my ideas out there to be further criticized. It was so much easier to do the rejecting all by myself.
Sound familiar? We continue to do what we have always done, working at breakneck speeds within a system that continues to keep teachers busier and busier with busy-work in a system that rewards those who listen and follow, both students and teachers.
Sometimes I wonder if teachers somehow feel guilty for having “the summer off”! Is this one of the reasons that the myth of the always working teacher martyr has grown. In a world of busy-as-badge-of-honour could the “image” that teachers have it easy – “you only teach” – drive teachers to adopt a “I’ll show you how hard I work” attitude?
Yes, I know that part of teaching is the caring for others but what are teachers trying to prove by working themselves to the point of burnout or breakdown. Joe Bower does a great job in his recent article on teacher workload of trying to explain that the workload consists of many different aspects that aren’t so easy to quantify or tally.
As the participants in the chat discussed, taking care of oneself is important – we tell students all the time about living healthy lifestyles yet, often, teachers are not providing examples of this. The work of teaching is important but doing that work in such a way that is individually healthy and sustainable is also important.