In an effort to balance my life, I decided to start volunteering some of my time. This would force me to get away from my duties as a teacher and help those outside of my classroom. Selfishly, I also wanted to be reminded that my life is pretty good, even though it hadn't felt that great since school began. I chose a cause very near and dear to my heart, violence against women. I had to go through an 80 hour volunteer program. The training took all my nights from 4-9 for 2 months, but somehow I made it through and I feel proud that I was able to "balance" it all, no matter how ugly it got at some points. This experience really showed me that somehow, some way, the work all gets done, the papers all get graded, and the kids learn just as much (if not more!) as when I spend 100 hours a week prepping, planning, and copying.
Through my volunteer experience, I've learned a lot that surprisingly applies to my teacher life. They stress that volunteers need to practice self-care above all else so that we avoid feelings of burnout, helplessness, resentfulness, etc. As we were reading about all the signs of being "burnt out," I was mentally checking off each one. I was officially and truly burnt out as a teacher. I wanted to give my all, every last drop of the 100% I had to give, but I just couldn't. I was becoming irritable (just ask my husband) and no fun to be around at home OR at school. I had little patience for my students and their misbehavior and I had constant feelings of resentment towards my colleagues and my administration for all of the pressure they put on me. It wasn't pretty, folks! I knew something had to change because I could not teach another year if it was going to continue on in this way. I was sick of Googling "What do teachers who quit teaching do?" and my kids were sick of having a grumpy and tired teacher.
I wish I had a magic pill to make it all better. If I said that overnight I miraculously found a new-found love of teaching, I would be lying. It's hard. It's a very tough job that most people THINK they can do well until they actually try it. We are so much more than glorified babysitters. We are caregivers, but we are also leaders. We are role models. We are confidants. We are motivators. We are the smile and kind message that some kids will never hear at home. The list goes on and on, but we cannot forget that we are people, too. We need support and love just as much as our kiddos do. Just as we teach our students to love and take care of themselves, we must do the same.
For me, setting boundaries and sticking to them have made all the difference. I've been leaving my work at work when I leave between 5 and 6 (still 2+ hours after contract time some days) and took my school email off of my phone. Weekends are my time to spend however I'd like. Saturday there is not one drop of school work allowed. (The hubby is so sweet to monitor this for me!) I still grade and do quick planning on Sunday nights. Someday I hope that will also change, but for right now, it's a huge improvement! I've been able to come home and be a wife and a friend and a volunteer and all the facets of myself that I've been burying under piles of schoolwork. It's not easy. There are days when there is so much grading to do, I cheat and grade while I'm watching TV, but I give myself permission to take a break and breathe. I know that when I get to school in the morning all of those things will still be there, but so will I. And for a change, I will be refreshed and ready to take on my day with a smile, because I allowed myself to be human. Miraculously, I am not any further behind in planning, grading, etc. than I was when I was working myself to death. AND my students are happier because their teacher is happier. What are some boundaries that you set for yourself? How do you practice self-care? Tell me in the comments below!
So, in the name of self-care, I am participating in a holiday giveaway! The giveaway has taken a ton of time for my sister (you know her as Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Designs) to design and put together, so a big THANK YOU to her! You can win my 'Gearin' Up for Graphs Pack' (great for grades 2-4) or a $5 credit to my store. Some other great sellers are also offering store credits and you could win a $30 Starbucks gift card! Show yourself a little self-love and enter now!