Questions & Authors: Keeping teaching and life in balance

April 15th, 2009

TeamWorkMany new and veteran teachers struggle with keeping their professional and personal lives in balance. The authors of TeamWork: Setting the Standard for Collaborative Teaching Grades 5-9 know this all too well. During their years of team teaching, they have learned many tricks for setting aside the time they need for planning their classroom activities, and for meeting their personal obligations to themselves and their families. Amanda Mayeaux, one of the coauthors of TeamWork shares some of these tips in this latest installment of Questions & Authors:

“A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself
to light the way for others. ”  ~Author Unknown

True, but most of our families would not be pleased if suddenly in the middle of grading papers while sitting on our couches, we were consumed! The question we are often asked by teachers struggling with the overwhelming workload is how to manage all of the responsibilities of work. Add the responsibilities of children and a spouse on top of your workload, and being consumed may sound like a great escape.

Our book, TeamWork, is not only about teaming, but more about the relationships we had with each other and our students. What truly made the teaming concept work for us was — and is — the collaboration which helped all of us learn to depend on each other so we could balance our professional and personal lives. If you are in a school without the structure of teaming, you can still benefit from the basics of collaboration. Learning to balance is about keeping your priorities straight, planning, and learning to lean on and support others.

If you are in need of some balancing, first, set your priorities. If you don’t take care of you, you can not take care of others in your family or your students. Your family is crucial. If you are struggling to make the list, think about who will be at your deathbed. These people are your priority.

List the things you and your family need to function properly. These may include being with your family, exercise, eating right, spiritual time, and recreational adult time. Many of these can include your family. Maybe you eat a healthy meal together three nights a week or maybe each Saturday morning regardless of what needs to be graded, you play in the park.

If you are struggling with fitting it in, consider having a family meeting each week to set dates for the week and anything important that may be coming up in the next few weeks. Knowing the important events that are coming up will allow you to know when you can take the lead at work and when you need to move back a little. For example, when Kathryn was getting married, Monique and Amanda knew we had to pick up some extra duties during the week leading up to the big event. Likewise, when Kathryn knew when Monique and Amanda had responsibilities with their children that may require a little extra help from her. How you manage your family is personal. Our families have moved to online calendars, but traditional paper family calendars work well also. Your students are important, but your families are you lifeline. You should plan with your family first.

Second, think about your professional priorities. Our best trick for keeping life in balance is planning ahead, setting a timeline for what has to be done, and then getting it done. As a team we plan quite a bit during the summer by planning our major unit timelines, planning parent and other events, and preparing anything we can prepare ahead of time. We also only focus on one major change a year. For example, one year we decided to add more parental involvement activities to our team. We planned during the summer, assigned roles to each person, and then spent the year implementing. We did not create another big push until we had this one under control. Chapter three in TeamWork illustrates the various elements of this initiative and has resources for anyone wishing to involve parents more often.

Of course every teacher has numerous demands thrown at them. Decide what is critical and what is not. Yes, some things are not. If you are overwhelmed, do not be afraid to talk to your administration or a mentor. Sometimes administrators do not realize things that may be on your plate personally. If there is an important event coming up in the life of your child or spouse, don’t be afraid to tell your administrator. Being up front about what you can manage and what you can not will assist everyone in getting the job done.

Finally, connect with your colleagues. If you are part of a team, then you are so lucky to have people with whom to share the responsibilities of calling parents, managing attendance records, conferencing with students, setting up special events, and many other things. Again, planning ahead will save you a great deal of time later and reduce your headaches.

If you are not part of a team, you will benefit from having someone you can talk to. Find a few teachers with whom you connect. Maybe these teachers teach the same subject or the same grade level. Maybe you are all in graduate school together or completing National Boards. Maybe you just like this person. If planning time during the school day is unavailable, ask if they are willing to talk over coffee after school once a week or once every two weeks. Amanda has a friend she meets on Saturdays when her daughter is dancing.

Before you begin the talks, set some rules. In chapter 1 of TeamWork we have some ideas for building a team. These questions and thoughts will help any group in the beginnings of collaboration. We believe the establishing core beliefs are crucial. Ours are listed in this chapter for your benefit.

Even though we are not teaming together anymore, we still get together with each other and with a few other teacher friends, because one of our core beliefs is that learning is a lifelong endeavor. Our meetings are not complaint sessions. We talk about issues, but we focus on solutions. We may talk about professional books we are reading or ask questions about an issue we have in the classroom. Sometimes we even talk about how to manage a personal issue or two. Adding a wise mentor to the group is a great idea.

We also collaborate with online chat sites and email. With Monique and Amanda moving to a new school in the district, we found the internet to be a way to remain connected. As lifelong learners, we are enjoying finding new ways to engage our colleagues and even some of our former students.

Teaching is an all consuming profession. Having someone or a small group of people to talk to about your challenges and thoughts will save your family the fate of hearing about school day in and day out. Great teachers should burn brightly, but please don’t burn those around you or they may blow you out.

Entry Filed under: Classroom practice,Questions & Authors

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Questions & Authors: &hellip  |  March 30th, 2010 at 10:29 am

    […] for getting parents involved in the life of a classroom. Revisit Amanda Mayeaux’s tips for keeping work and life in balance and Monique Wild’s advice on putting students in charge of their own […]

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