Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Wasted Day!

I've been "writing" this post for a week or two now...I keep typing, revising, typing, deleting, typing, adding, typing re-reading, and then I hit "save" instead of "publish." It has been a challenging few months professionally, and news of the serious and devastating budget cuts leaves me trying to wrap my mind around it all. Sure, the adults are effected, but the students...they deserve far better. So, this post talks a bit about my frustrations; frustrations  with the state of public education and budget cuts and frustrations with balancing life and balancing this job.

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.
  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. I'm scheduling time with people -- to laugh, eat, shop, catch a movie, whatever.
  5. I'm using this blog as a way to connect with 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!
  6. 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!
  7. 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!
  8. 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 time!
As I continue to make an effort towards regaining some balance, I'm also attempting to come to grips with what next school year will have in store for us. I'm discouraged, but somehow I continue to slowly plug away in order to help others.


  1. Thank you thank you for posting this. This was just what I needed to read right now!

  2. Andria Cassel/ Cheyenne, WYMarch 17, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    Exactly! And I too have indulged I'm candy crush and college basketball this year. Both of which have actually made my time one on one with kids more productive, because they have relieved me of the burnout factor, and forced me to leave work at work. When I was"forced" to schedule in some time with my husband and kids top travel to/watch games, obviously I couldn't be working from home!

  3. You have hit the nail on the head!!!! I actually had someone tell me that they were paid hourly--not like the teachers whose contracts were for the year--which meant we were expected to put in time 24/7??? I explained that the teachers contract was for 185 days from 8-4. She was shocked when I explained that. I also explained that we don't get paid summers, that our pay for those "9 months" is divided by 12 months, so we actually are getting paid 3 months after we have done the work. How many people would do that? Not many! FORTUNATELY the percentage of people I talk to give our teachers and counselors a huge amount of admiration for all we do. AND many have said, "I could never do your job!" We are blessed to touch lives---but we do need to remember that we also have our own life and our family to put in there--hopefully on top! THANKS for putting things in perspective!

  4. I'm sorry you're feeling discouraged! I've been feeling the same thing recently - day after day the last person out of the building and still hauling work home, and knowing that there is not way that everything on my to-do list is going to get done before school gets out in June. I've promised myself that this year I'm actually going to take my personal days, which I haven't done the past two years. I'm also really trying to think about some of the little successes and focus on the great things that kids say. Just the other day I got a note saying that I was the "best happy-maker," which really helped make a challenging day better. I'm sure you're the best happy-maker too! I hope that reminding yourself of that helps make things a little better! Thinking of you!


  5. It must be that time of the year because I was feeling extremely discouraged as well and have really had a hard time balancing work and life. While I feel for you, it was also comforting to read your post and know I am not the only one feeling this way. The most difficult thing I have dealt with is not seeing kids 24/7 and taking time to get some paperwork done so that I don't bring it home anymore. While I am still working on this, I have noticed sleeping better and having more quality time with my husband. Don't get me wring - I am still stressed about upcoming budget cuts in our county and what that means for us as school counselors. But I remind myself everyday when I leave that I have done the best I can and I will try not to sweat the small stuff. Thank you for posting; I love your blog!