I'm suffering from what I call "the educator effect"... all wrapped up in the endless work, that I often lose site of keeping a healthy balance between work and life. For me, the driven educator that I am, the work is never finished, I rarely feel like I'm caught up, and even though I don't often have a minute to spare, I often feel that I could be doing more. I am constantly reflecting on my choices as a school counselor; what could I have done differently, what might work in this situation, how do I reach this kiddo, how do I present this topic, how do I advocate successfully, and on and on and on. The days are emotionally/physically draining in urban education and often there is a challenge at every turn. I leave the building exhausted and quickly come to the realization that I have a few more hours of work to do after dinner.
Let's be honest...over the past few years it has been increasingly difficult to be excited about being a public educator. It is often difficult to be proud of the work I do when someone in the grocery line, or the car dealer, or the pizza place strikes up a conversation and ends up saying to me, "oh, you work there?" or "you're making my taxes go up" or "lucky you, you have summers off!" or "what could an elementary school counselor possibly do anyway?" or "that's a cushy job!" Yes, these are all statements I've heard over the years.
Advocating for our jobs, explaining to folks outside and inside the education system what we do on a daily basis, and fighting for what is best for students is an exhausting and seemingly fruitless task. Folks are making decisions about what is best for kids without talking to those who educate or work with them - face-to-face - on a daily basis. Folks are making decisions about severely cutting educational budgets without fully grasping the long-term effects this will have on the future of this country. These drastic cuts to programs and positions will greatly impact students, our schools, our communities -- but where is the public outrage from our leaders? Funding and money is talking more than ever and doing what is best for educating young people is falling by the wayside. While some districts are making minor reductions/changes due to education budgets, other districts are extremely impacted.
It is often a thankless job; we're often portrayed as the bad guys in the media. Our hard earned pensions are at risk, more cuts to education are upon us and more furloughs are right around the corner. Folks believe we don't work enough hours, have too much time off, and believe that the job is easy money. Some parents are not willing to work with you but against you. My professional opinion doesn't seem to really matter as much as it used to. And, everyone wants you - the school counselor/educator to do more and more and more during school hours and "off the clock"!
Yes, we may have contracts that outline our required hours, but our work does not stop during those required hours. I put in so many hours (outside of the required school day) that this year I began to document just how many. I'm doing this partially as a learning tool for myself, but also to use when I am faced with any of the usual negative comments about having holidays and summers off! I'm not getting paid for these hours, not getting paid overtime, and usually no-one notices the amount of "extra time" I am putting in to create meaningful learning opportunities for kids.
All of this has worn me down this school year. I've had an extremely difficult time staying positive and I have definitely lost maintaining a balance between school/work life and home life.
The Wasted Day...
So, that being said, I was profoundly affected by a comment a close teacher friend said to me recently. We had the opportunity to go out for lunch and had a great time catching up. She asked me what I had done the day before and I responded, "I wasted the entire day! I visited my parents, I took my dog for a walk, I did some shopping and some cleaning, I watched some TV, and I played around on the computer." She looked at me and stated, "Did you hear what you just said? You just said you 'wasted the entire day'! How did you "waste your day" when you did life things - with your family, with your dog, for you...?
Oh my! Her statements and the conversation that followed really threw me for a intellectual loop. I had equated work - school work, work as an adjunct, etc. as taking precedence over anything else. The anything else was "wasted time!" Certainly, my school/work and life were not balanced then and it is a work in progress now!
The planner I am, I needed to take some steps to begin to rectify this issue. Maybe some of these steps will be helpful to you -- as you learn to find a school/work vs. life balance.
- I keep track of the number of hours I spend at school working and the number of hours I'm working on school things from home. Numbers speak to me...I need to see the numbers. Try keeping track of this...the numbers will astound you!
- I am working on limiting the amount of hours I'm working at school and at home beyond the school day. This same friend suggested to me to set the timer. However much I get done in the allotted time is IT. I'm not quite there yet. So, in the meantime, I've determined which daily tasks I feel need to be finished before I leave the school building for the day, what tasks need to be finished for homework, and what needs to be finished the next morning before the students arrive. My "to-do list" is huge, but it sure is fun to cross things off!
- Much of our jobs require paperwork, record keeping, report writing, filling out paperwork, note-taking, data-collection, emailing, etc. I sometimes feel guilty when I'm working on these things and not meeting with students face-to-face. I can't do that anymore...this stuff needs to get done and I'm squeezing it in anywhere I can during the school day.
- I'm scheduling time with people -- to laugh, eat, shop, catch a movie, whatever.
- I'm using this blog as a way to connect with people..it may be in a virtual sense, but it has been so helpful to be a part of sharing and chatting with others in the field!
- I love TV -- preferably mindless TV when I'm so drained in the evenings. So, I've scheduled my time with some favorite TV programs each week. As silly as it sounds, I found a fun puzzle game to play (via Facebook/iPhone - Candy Crush) that feeds my competitive appetite. This just makes me giggle because I'm not a video/game player!! Find a game and some TV you love!
- Spring and more daylight are coming...I so look forward to getting outside to take care of my yard and getting my dog (and myself) to the park! Warm sun!
- I've been taking more breathers to read a magazine, give a friend a call on the phone, watching some college basketball on TV, call my family....me time!