Touching the Earth

When I went through my teacher classes in college, a professor once told us that it takes five years for you to really get the hang of being a teacher. Obviously the first year is all about survival, but then as the years go on after that, you slowly come back down to the earth until you get to the end of your fifth year. It is only then that your feet finally touch the ground again and you truly feel that you can do this whole teaching “thing”. I’m very proud of the education I received at the school I attended. I learned so many things that I still remember, but honestly, I think Dr. Swanee was wrong about the five years. For me, it has taken 15 for me to truly find my groove. But oh how glad I am that I have found it!

You’d think it would have been easy for me to really get the hang of teaching, considering all of my 15 years have been spent educating the youth of the world at the same school. I haven’t taught the same grade though. Eight years were in a third grade classroom, four years in fifth grade, and now I’m on my fourth year teaching middle school English. As I have built up years of experience, I have also built up a long list of extra duties that I am responsible for. I don’t have children of my own, so anytime there was a need for a teacher to take on a committee or extracurricular club, I raised my hand….every….time. I felt that because I didn’t have anybody at home besides my husband, I had all the time in the world to work on the yearbook and plan activities for the arts and crafts club. That is, in addition to what teachers always have to do, write lesson plans and grade papers. It was fine for many years, but at the end of last year, the burnout was real. I seriously questioned my career choice. How could it be fair that teachers have so much extra work that they have to do at home? Why is it so easy for other teachers to not bring work home? By the end of last year, I knew I had to make a change. I could not see myself going another school year with such a long list of responsibilities. If there was ever a perfect opportunity to drop some off of the list, the end of the year was the time to do it. So I did. And it really hurt. I was admitting defeat–that I was not the super teacher I thought I was. I felt more anxiety than relief about giving up three things on my list.

Even as a new school year began in August, I still felt the sting of giving up those activities. However, as I am now approaching Christmas break, the halfway point of the school year, I am absolutely certain that clearing some things off my to-do list has made a huge difference in my life. I vowed at the beginning of the year that I would be the kind of teacher not chained to school work at home at all hours of the day on the weekends. If my husband and I wanted to be spontaneous and go on a trip, we would go. I wouldn’t use school work as a reason to stay home. Granted, most of our weekends this school year have been pretty tame. Trips have been planned well in advance and the two races I ran were local, so no travel needed. But I know a difference has still been made. I noticed it the most last night. Usually my Sunday evenings are reserved for the papers that I avoid grading all weekend. Avoided for good reason–I have hobbies. They always take a backseat during the school year, but not this one. So yesterday, when hubby had to go to his office, about an hour away, to do some last minute things to prepare for today, I tagged along to help. I figured we would be back in enough time for me to get some papers graded and some other school work done before the new, post-Thanksgiving week started. But it took a lot longer than anticipated. We didn’t get home until after 8:00. I knew that I had truly changed as a teacher, because it did not stress me out one bit that I didn’t get my work done last night as planned. I got most of it done today during school.

It has taken me 15 years, but I get it now. I still don’t have kids of my own yet, but what I do have is personal time at home. I knit, I crochet, I run, I read, I do things with my husband. I don’t have infinite time in my life, nobody does. So why would I spend so much of that precious home time doing work? Granted, there is some work that I will always have to do at home, it’s the nature of the job. But I’m loving the fact that I am just now realizing how to enjoy all of the non-summer break months of the year. I can’t live my life only during June and July, that wouldn’t be much of a life at all.

I don’t regret how much time I put into my job for all of these initial years. I have a passion for teaching, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I wouldn’t have put so much time into it if it wasn’t a career that I loved. But I am certain that regret would enter the scene if I hadn’t made the choice to have that separation from work that allows me now to look forward to Christmas break knowing that I won’t dread going back after New Year’s. It took this long to figure out what I had to do, but the time it took was worth it, especially for that wonderful feeling of my feet finally touching the earth again.

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