Reflections and Priorities

The school year isn’t quite over yet, but I’m beginning to reflect on what I’ve learned and experienced during the 2020-2021 session. Obviously, this year has been unlike any other. I’ve spent much more time teaching from home or at school to students who are at home. Only recently have I returned to a classroom where a majority of my students are physically present. In addition, I resigned as head coach of the varsity boys soccer team and freshman football team. This was mostly done because I didn’t feel safe (and it didn’t feel like a responsible decision) to coach while COVID was running rampant through the country. To be fair, the decision to resign from my coaching positions was years in the making…COVID just provided the final nudge.

As a result, I’ve spent loads more time at home with my family during the past twelve months and I really think this has impacted my views on teaching and its importance in my life. I can remember, as a younger, less experienced teacher, staying up until the early morning hours preparing my lessons. In my mind, the harder I worked, the more I suffered for the profession, the better my lessons would be and the more my students would like them. Unfortunately, at the early stages of my career, how effective the lesson was didn’t really matter…I was way more focused on how entertained the students were. I can still remember, in graduate school, being asked by a professor what a good day of teaching feels like…I answered, ‘exhausting’. I don’t remember exactly what the professor said in response, but it was quite positive as if that is the sacrifice we must make to be effective in the teaching profession. In my mind, this memory personifies a few common quotes I see on cheesy teacher mugs/shirts: “teaching is a work of heart” and “teaching isn’t a job, it’s a passion” and “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. This belief of what makes a good teacher drove me during the early years of my career.

And I surely suffered for it. Stresses out. Running on empty. Choosing career over family. Priorities in disarray.

Over time, I gradually began to see the light. By this, I mean, I began to shift more time to family and my well-being while devoting less time to the teaching profession. Instead of going to bed in the early a.m., I now had my head on my pillow closer to 11:00 p.m…not great, but a lot better. Now I had to deal with the guilt. If you’re a teacher, you probably know what I’m talking about. Somewhere along the way to a teaching certificate/degree, it is ingrained that if you aren’t devoting all of your time to teaching, you should question your passion. Are you sure this is what you’re supposed to be doing with your life? Remember: if your really loved this job, it would never feel like work. The guilt that accompanies the feelings of “well…it certainly feels like work” can be quite debilitating. Most teachers never voice these feelings to other teachers for fear of judgement.

It’s taken a considerable amount of time to get past the guilt, but the past year really opened my eyes to the backwards notions I had about the importance teaching. I’m happy to report that I feel zero ounce of guilt placing my family and my well-being above my job. I have made the switch from “teaching is my passion” to “teaching is my job”. And while my job certainly defines part of who I am, it isn’t all of who I am. I am happier at home without the guilt. I’ve gotten back into running and I’m reading for pleasure much more. The level of stress I feel on a daily, weekly, monthly basis has been cut significantly.

Priorities are in order. Life is better.

If you are feeling the stress of this profession; to devote countless hours and/or to give more of yourself than is healthy, please consider examining your priorities and what this job means to you. While that conversation with yourself may be quite harsh or eye opening, it may lead to a more balanced, happy, healthy life. It’s made a world of difference for my family and me. My only regret is that I wasn’t open to the conversation earlier.

What am I not saying?

Unfortunately, I believe it important to clarify a few things, because words can be taken out of context and/or misconstrued.

  1. I’m not saying that I don’t love teaching anymore. I do. I don’t want to do anything else with my life and I absolutely love engaging with students and instructing my classes.
  2. I’m not saying that I, or any other teacher, should be unprepared for class. Just because I’ve cut my hours of preparation doesn’t mean I’m any less prepared. I’ve just found more efficient and effective ways to be ready to instruct on a daily basis.
  3. I’m not saying that coaching = poor balance of priorities. Coaching wasn’t necessarily the problem. In fact, coaching provides adults with an opportunity to see students outside the classroom and presents many different scenarios for positive impact in a student-athletes’ life. High school coaches devote a lot of time and effort for very little pay. Nothing but respect for coaches.

Last bit, here: None of this would’ve been possible if my family wasn’t just the best. If your home life isn’t in good standing, the transition to more time at home with the family may not be a smooth one. If my wife wasn’t wonderful and my three children weren’t a joy, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to write this blog post. Make sure your home is in order.

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

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  1. In many other countries team sports are not part of schooling. Instead, they are managed by municipal governments or other community groups. Don’t know if it is better that way, but it seems to me that it could have two advantages: first, there may be less confusion about the mission of the school — it is academics — and, second, there may be less stress on teachers from multitasking.

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