I read a blog post recently about the grayness of February. In the post, the author told of a reporter who went to see her doctor because she was feeling “blue.” The doctor replied, “It’s February.” The poster was from some northern Midwestern state which is in the midst of winter storms. I’m here in the so-called sunny South, but recently it has been cold and gray and rainy, and I suppose I, too, am feeling the winter blues. On this chilly Saturday afternoon, however, the sky is blue and the sun is shining. The weather reporters are saying that by the end of the week, we have high temperatures in the upper sixties and perhaps even as high as 70. I am reminded of Shelley’s line, “Can spring be far behind?” from “Ode to the West Wind.” Can spring really be just a month away?
There have been so many blog postings about how stressful this school year has been for teachers, administrators, students, and families. I don’t need to add to that discussion other than to say that I am feeling the stress. I have not solved the problem of trying to teach both in-person classes and providing remote learning experiences for students who are quarantined or who are absent for extended periods of time. Trying to teach in-person and virtually at the same time is, for me, trying to choreograph a three-ring circus. Yet, the “new” reality of education may be figuring out how to do just that.
The one thing, though, that has worked for me to reduce the stress is to set clear and firm boundaries. I teach part-time. I have four classes (out of a seven-period day), and I finish my school hours at 1:00 p.m. When I get home, I allow myself two to two and half hours to do school work, including responding to emails and text messages from parents. After that, as the saying goes, I am off the clock. The rest of the afternoon and evening is “mine.” Like so many families, I have to juggle my work and my family. My husband and I have aging parents, and his mother is an invalid with Parkinson’s disease and has had a stroke which has taken away some of her ability to communicate. With his brother and sister, my husband and I provide meals to his parents twice a week. I know this story is not unique to any of us. I use my time away from school work to pursue my own creative pursuits–paper crafting, knitting or crocheting, photography, reading, writing, making prayer beads for friends. This conscious decision to set boundaries has been a game-changer for me. I am a better teacher because I am not doing school (although I confess, I often think about school and get ideas while my brain is supposed to be resting!).
Good teachers plan. Better teachers learn to balance the planning, the teaching, and living their lives. The expectation that teachers are on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week is one that we teachers need to put to an end. I have started putting an “out of office” email every evening, or when I think to do that, that states that my office hours end at 4:00 p.m. and that I will respond within twenty-four hours or the next business day. When I began teaching in 1980, there was no email and certainly no cell phones or apps like Remind which, today, seem to give parents access to parents twenty-four hours a day. Not all parents abuse the privilege these technologies give them, but some parents will and expect teachers to be at their beck and call. (I had a parent complain to the head of school that I did not respond to an email she sent me at 10:30 p.m. I’m in bed by 10:30 p.m. during the week!)
I just realized I’m on my soapbox again!
It’s February. Spring is a month away. Let’s enjoy the sunshine when we get it. Let’s set boundaries. We will survive the winter blues