Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Decisions Series: Knowing When to Turn Off the Light and Shut the Door

Today at 5pm, I turned off my classroom lights and shut my door.  This was the last thing I saw as I left my room:

I felt a sense of satisfaction as I walked through the door.  I GOT the job done, and now I get to enjoy my last weekend of summer before I meet my new students on Monday during Meet the Teacher and then on Tuesday when classes start.

I won't lie... I spent a LONG time getting my room ready for 2017-2018.  Since early August, I have spent an hour or two (or three) almost every day unpacking Rubbermaid bins, reorganizing and refurbishing my classroom library, arranging furniture, making my classroom decorations, pumping yoga balls, making lists, and making plans.  I met with my new classroom assistant (whose kids I had when I taught 7th grade) and met with the preservice teacher who will be joining me for her fall semester clinical.

But there comes a time when you have to decide you're finished - or at least finished enough.  Teaching is a profession that can easily consume you if you let it.  There is always that pressure to do one more thing, read one more book, complete one more form, grade one more paper.  I had to learn early in my career that it didn't do me any good to stay at school until 9:00 at night.  And once I had kids, I had no choice; I had to leave in time to pick them up from daycare, get them fed, and get them to bed.  I had to learn what I could reasonably do in the time I had and just be okay with leaving things unfinished.

People talk about work-life balance.  I'm not sure such a thing is ever truly possible, at least not for me.  When I'm at home, I'm thinking about school, and when I'm at school, I'm thinking about all of the things I need to do at home or all of the places I have to drive my daughters.  If I'm caught up at school, then my house is a mess and vice versa.  When I see people who seem to have it all together, I wonder how much is real and how much is a great cover, put on because of pressure to be perfect.

So here's how I come as close to balanced as I get:

  • My house is tidy (mostly) but not perfect.  I have help every other week with my heavy cleaning.  This was my gift to myself when I returned to work after Abby was born. I do not feel guilty about not being a great housekeeper.
  • I try to do as much of my planning and grading as I can during the school day.  This can be difficult, especially on days when meetings are scheduled during my daily plan time.  I find that I am more productive in the morning, so I try to get to school as early as I can.  My goal for this year is to have plans and copies made before I leave on Friday.
  • I no longer do my daughters' laundry.  They are 13 and almost-16.  They can use a washer and dryer.
  • I make a plan for meals for the following week and my grocery list on Friday night (I know.. exciting) and then Dan and I do the shopping on Saturday or Sunday morning.  Making the plan helps me spend less at the grocery, and we're less tempted to go out to dinner during the week.  I'm also more likely to cook healthy meals.

Ever since Molly was in Kindergarten, I have taken the Friday before school started and we've done something together.  When the kids were little, that meant heading downtown to the American Girl store and having brunch in the restaurant followed by some shopping.  Now that they've moved past dolls, we go to a museum or head to Woodfield to finish up our back to school shopping.  It doesn't matter what we do; it matters that we're together.  This is non-negotiable.

So is EVERYTHING finished for my first week of school?  Mostly.  I have a few things I'll do this weekend, but they're small.  Do I feel ready?  Mostly.  I've never in my career felt completely ready for the first day.  Is my classroom done enough?

You bet.