This has been a year.
The last time I wrote a post for Three Teachers Talk was last May when I was in the midst of trying to get my students to finish a research paper on the the “Positives of the Pandemic.” At the time I would never have thought that we would be teaching all school year in a pandemic and I would be trying again to teach a new research paper to students remotely (and to those in person) at the same time.
Last year I thought that teaching was hard. This year, teaching remotely and then concurrently to students in person and at home at the same time nearly broke me. I ask if you are doing okay, because it is okay if you aren’t okay. I wasn’t okay for much of this year. What we have been asked to do during this ongoing pandemic takes teaching to a new level. I thought I was a techie before (HAHA!), but boy was I wrong. I have learned so much (Canvas, Zoom, Remind, Google Hangouts, Padlet, Nearpod, Google Jamboard, Google Sites, EdPuzzle, etc.) and yet still feel like a failure everytime I am teaching my class.
This week I led a training for our 1st and 2nd year teachers focusing on the topic of our mental health and work/life balance. We read the article, A New Way to Think About Work-Life Balance, which resonated with me because until this fall I did not know what work/life balance really meant to me. I spent the first six months of the pandemic working all hours of the day and night, answering text messages and phone calls, spending hours on Zoom with administration, and by August I was burnt out and exhausted. I was not mentally in a place where I was excited to start the school year with students. In all 23 years of my teaching career, I have never felt this way before. I thought I needed work/life balance. I was not okay.
In A New Way to Think About Work-Life Balance, elementary school principal, Joe Mullikin, offers a new perspective. In reality there is no such thing as work/life balance. The key word being balance. It is impossible to “balance” lesson planning, grading, observations, family, me time, coaching, etc. all at one time, so instead we need to learn how to juggle, and know that it is OKAY to drop some “plastic balls” (responsibilities) from time to time as long as we don’t drop the “glass cups” (the things that make us who we are or are most important to us). Problems arise when we confuse “ghosts” (self-imposed, deep-seated, but nonessential expectations) with “glass cups”. Ghosts are not real and we need to be reminded to let them go.
As I started to prioritize the “glass cups”, my family and my health, and realized it was okay to juggle school responsibilities and drop some plastic balls each day, I started to feel better. Saying “no” to gave me more time for what I needed to prioritize in my life and keeping my family and my health at the center of every decision I make has made my life happier and less stressful. I also have more energy to handle the things like lesson planning and student feedback that I dreaded when I was so burnt out this fall.
As you begin take time to reflect on the 2020-2021 school year, I ask you to think about the “glass cups” in your life. Were you able to prioritize those this year? If not, what were the plastic balls and ghosts that kept you from investing in yourself? What will you do this summer to recharge and take care of yourself? What will you change for next year?
In the beginning of my post, I asked if you are okay? Please know that your mental and physical health are just as important as the care your have for the students you teach everyday. #YouMatter
Melissa Sethna lives and teaches with her husband in Mundelein, IL. In a normal school year, she is so busy coaching teachers and planning professional development (along with co-teaching her English class). This year she fell in love with Brene Brown podcasts, Studio Sweat on Demand spin workouts, coaching high school diving, and watching her own sons swim and play high school waterpolo. You can follow her on Goodreads and Twitter @msethna23.