Sometimes it feels like being a public school teacher is ALL about time management and prioritizing. You don’t have time to get everything done. You just don’t. If you want to do this, and enjoy this, you have to learn to live with that reality.
It might not be specific to teachers. It might just be a universal truth of adulthood.
In the life of a teacher, at least, you never get everything done. At some point, you just have to stop anyway and go home. I seem to be naturally predisposed to fight against this truth. I don’t want to accept that things won’t get done. When things “fall off my to do list,” as I say when I write something week after week, I take it as a personal failure.
I’m working on it.
One thing I’m recognizing recently is that there are three general paths in the day-to-day grind. You can experience the weariness of staying a couple of hours after the students are gone. Or you can experience the scramble of coming in early and working for a couple of house before the bell rings. Or you can experience the immersion of taking work home. Choose your adventure wisely.
This path is my healthiest path. The weariness of going home at 6:00 instead of 4:00 and knowing that everything is in its place for tomorrow is a good weary. Like getting in a hot shower after a hard workout. Like packing up your instrument after a long day of music performances.
Like napping in the Colorado sunshine, with your niece asleep on your chest, with a mountain in view, after a week of hiking in the heat of the Utah desert.
At 4:00, I always want to just go home. Always. The trick is to have a snack, and get moving forward. Knock out a few things on the list for tomorrow. Start crossing things off. Keep going until everything for tomorrow is crossed off.
Then I go home, without a work bag, tired and hungry and weary, and whatever I do with my evening, I’m free. It’s a good rest, the freedom of knowing there’s nothing I should be doing for work right now. “I did everything I need to do” is my freedom mantra.
In the morning, I’m saved from the immediate feeling of anxiety that hits me if things aren’t ready for the day. I feel free to have breakfast. I feel free to get into God’s word, to sit still in His presence for a bit. I feel free to go into work at 7:30 and plan for next week, or wander in at 8:15 and chat with people who are standing in line for the copier until the bell rings. Either way, in that moment, it’s a pure choice, not tainted by stress and overwhelm.
On the other hand, I know colleagues who can come in at 6:30 every day, and do their prep in the early morning hours. I’ve had seasons like that. For them, getting out of school as soon as possible is key to their rhythm, and they don’t seem to be bothered by that ticking clock in the morning. The scramble in the morning is energizing. At 4:00, “It can wait until tomorrow” is a freedom mantra for them.
The third path is immersing yourself in the teaching life, 24 hours a day. These colleagues appear to arrive at 8:00 and leave at 4:00, day after day. They carry big bags of work almost daily. Some need or enjoy the flexibility of time, doing their work after their kids go to bed or after their partners leave for a late shift job, or they simply catch a second wind late in the evening. Some prefer to do their work in their pajamas, on their couch, watching TV. I call this immersion because there appears to be no line between working and not working in a giving day. They are a teacher today, or they are not. Teaching is an identity.
The truth is, there is a little bit of each story in all of us. Being prepared is a good feeling, and early morning hours can be magically productive, and teaching is absolutely a part of one’s identity. All of those things are true, together, no matter what I choose to do today. I know my best choice is usually to stay at work through the late afternoon, leaving my classroom ready for tomorrow, and bringing home nothing but my empty coffee mug. But sometimes, circumstances – or my attitude – convince me to take a different approach.