Before having kids, I was sure becoming a mom would make me a more competent teacher. There is something about conducting parent-teacher conferences and IEP meetings as a single, childless, twenty-something, that made me feel slightly unqualified offering parents advice about their children.
Now, I have two children of my own, and “more qualified” isn’t exactly the term I would use to describe my career. Overwhelmed, frazzled and exhausted, however, are more like it.
By no means do I consider myself an expert on juggling teaching and parenting. Like most of us, I’m learning every day as I go. But I have learned a few strategies to help me balance the two.
Leave It at the Door
Many mornings, before even leaving home, I’ve already been through a full day’s drama. By 7:25 am, I’ve refereed a battle between my children, realized my son didn’t do his homework, endured a sobbing melt-down over taking hot-lunch, taken my younger son’s temperature because his throat hurts, weighed the possibility of staying home and making sub plans, determined it is not possible, gave my son Ibuprofen and convinced him he’s fine go to school.
By the time I get to work, I’m depleted, distracted and riddled with guilt.
Some days it takes everything I’ve got to separate home from school. I have to make a conscious decision to put my morning out of my mind and stop thoughts of it from creeping back in throughout the day. I know this is not unique to teachers. It is a challenge all parents face, but some jobs offer the privacy of a cubicle to de-stress, or the time for a quick run to Starbucks.
My commute has become critically important to my transition between home and school. I don’t have one “go-to” strategy, but some days my morning drive calls for listening to an inspirational podcast, sometimes the news, sometimes silence or sometimes gangsta rap. Whatever it takes, using my commute time wisely helps refocus and restart my day.
Let’s face it, kids drain energy. It doesn’t matter if they are your kids or someone else’s, being around kids all day is like a tire slowly leaking air.
If I have spent all day upset and frustrated with my students, it takes only the smallest infraction at the dinner table with my own kids and I completely LOSE MY MIND.
All it takes is one of my kids muttering something under his breath like, “I don’t want to,” or “No,” or God forbid, “This is boring,” and I will quickly morph into a maniac.
My children don’t know that all day I’ve listened to other students complain. They don’t know I have spent my energy pushing unmotivated students like giant boulders. They don’t know I am running on fumes.
But they know it is not fair. And so, do I.
I have learned to run a tighter ship at school since having kids. Setting and adhering to stricter boundaries has helped conserve my patience on the front end. When things get too unstructured, too crazy or too relaxed, my patience starts leaking and sometimes I am not even aware it is leaving, until it’s too late.
Consciously, I have to choose to let some things go. I have to choose to not stress about paperwork or always having things perfect. No longer can I leave Everything I’ve Got in the classroom. Patience is a precious commodity, and my job as a teacher-mom is to save some for my family.
Take a Break
There is something about spending an entire day trapped in one room, having your every move watched, with every minute of the day scheduled—right down to your bathroom breaks-- that can make this job feel a lot like prison.
The luxury of leaving the building for a lunch break or to run a quick errand, is an indulgence most teachers are not lucky enough to have. But a short break to reset has become an essential part of my day.
Getting outside is an instant reset if you can manage it. Sometimes this means pretending I left something in my car and taking a quick run out to the parking lot- only to return empty-handed. Other times I crack open a side door or window for just a few minutes and breath in some fresh air.
If I can’t get outside, I’m a big fan of the two- minute relax feature on my Fitbit. I can do it sitting at my desk while my students are working and find some much needed peace.
Spending hours in a classroom can leave teachers feeling out of touch and disconnected from the outside world. I can’t tell you how many major news events I was unaware of until the end of the school day.
Listening to the radio or music on my computer can help me feel like part of the world again. Or, if my students are working independently, and I sense I may have a few free minutes, I might read a news story, search for an inspirational quote or a find funny teaching meme.
Sometimes a good laugh, is the best break a teacher-mom (or dad) can get.