Sunday, September 15, 2013

What does balance look like?

In the first 2 weeks of my teaching career, a colleague stopped me in the hallway to welcome to me to the school.  Throughout the conversation he told me that it is now my responsibility to build myself a portfolio.  To get involved and develop "my career" in the way that an artist or investor would.  I didn't know how to make sense of this idea at the time, but it laid roots in the back of my mind, and encouraged me to say "YES" a lot.

There was no such thing as balanced.

But I was young, and full of enthusiasm.  And I was naive.  So I said "YES."  I joined a lot of committees.  And I got involved with everything I could.  I wanted to get involved with the students, so I joined Student Council and Global Issues.  I wanted to grow professionally, so I joined Developing Readers, and the Barry Bennett group.  I wanted to be part of the team, so I joined the Awards Committee and the Grade 8 Team.  I wanted to help support the kids where there was a need, so I said "Yes" when asked to sponsor Junior Girls Basketball and Ultimate Frisbee and "Yes" when asked if I was willing to join Health and Safety.  I got involved with Learning through the Arts and Apple Technology grants as an attempt to bring technology into my classroom, grow professionally, and provide my students with great learning opportunities.  Of course I had a great reason for each and every one of those things - hence all the "Yeses."  

I didn't have was the ability to find balance.  

In the middle of the rising swell of busyness and commitments, were my classes.  You know, that teaching thing I was hired to (and loved to) do.  I was still new, so I was prepping everything...from scratch (I was stubborn like that).  I was trying to develop meaningful learning opportunities, assess student work and make time to help students outside of class time.

And then I started teaching the yearbook.  

And without knowing what I had signed up for, I now was a little bit involved with everything.  And I wanted to do the job well.  More than well.  I wanted to represent the school, staff and students the way they deserved.  I believe in the power of the yearbook.  I believe it represents the best of the community and reflected a sense of who we are and why we belong.  I love the school and the students.  And the yearbook was a labour of love.  But I soon realized that trying to be everywhere, and do everything, and wear so many hats at once, just wasn't possible.

The concept of balance wasn't even on the table.  The only thing I new was survival.

So I sacrificed.  Some days, I sacrificed the quality of my lesson.  Some days the quality of the photos.  Some times it was time after school to help students, or a meeting I couldn't attend.  But mostly I sacrificed my health, sleep, sanity and relationships.  I didn't have time to be active, eat well, sleep more than 5 hours or do fun things.  And I stopped having time for people.  Coffee with friends was far and few between and date nights were non-existant.  "Time off" became an evening watching TV while responding to emails and editing photos or fixing yearbook spreads.  When deadlines were met, and I could breathe a little easier, I could reward myself with a clean kitchen or an extra hour sleep.

But exhaustion wears at relationships.  For weeks straight, I would walk past colleagues who would tell me how exhausted I looked. My husband would complain that I was too busy, and my friends would begin our brief conversations with "we never see you any more."  And I would wax on about how involved in my work I had been.  I wanted to do the job right.  Apparently, I was building a career.  

And this is the problem.  I didn't know what that meant.  I did know that I wanted to do right by the kids, and I did know that my job gave me a great sense of fulfilment.  I didn't stop to ask myself if I could do both of these things without sacrificing so much.

I didn't know what it meant to be balanced.

And so I resolved to do better.  I came back to my school on a permanent contract, a commitment to excellence, and a desire to DO BETTER.

And I thought that would be the perfect (note: sarcasm) time to start my Masters.  Because though I desired to do better (5 points for good intentions), I still had learned nothing from my past mistakes.

And two years flew by.

No.  That's a lie.  Two sleep deprived, stress filled, tear laden years slowly dragged on, while the countdown clock on my dashboard moved backwards just to torment me.

And some days I did better.  And some months I didn't.  But I made it through.  I learned a lot.  I accomplished a lot.  I survied!  And I was (and am) proud.  But I was tired.  So tired.  

But I'm here now.  At the and of one road, and the beginning of another.  My role as yearbook teacher has been passed on to another - and I'm enjoying being able to help, and share what I have learned, with him.  I have finished my Masters, and have so many ideas spinning in my head, waiting to be used.  I have hundreds of bookmarked articles and lesson ideas that I have filed, labeled and put aside, ready to be digested, applied, discarded or discussed.  And I want to dig in.  But I don't want to have to dig myself out.  And so I find myself scared.  

I don't know how to do balanced.  

I had a great weekend.  My mom came to visit.  I got up on Saturday morning, after a restful nine hours of sleep, following a  wonderful home cooked meal the night before (complete with vegetables).  My laundry was done and kitchen was cleaned.  I put on my comfy pants and curled up with my mom on the couch and gave her lessons in Pinterest and iTunes.  We stopped for icecaps and then went shopping for a few work clothes, and finally went out for dinner with my husband, before Face-timing with my dad - who's off at work in Northern Alberta.  It was perfect.  To have time for people without stress, guilt or anything pressing, was as it should be.  

This must be part of balance, right?

And then I slept again, and got up this morning.  And I ate breakfast (high-five me!)  And then I got an email.  And then another.  And then a third.  So many great initiatives going on at work.  Students looking for help with their homework.  And I started to feel bad.  Am I doing enough?  Pushing myself enough?  Volunteering enough?  Involved enough?  Am I available to my students enough?  The guilt started to build.  

Why in seeking balance, do I feel like I am failing?  

For the first time in six years, I had begun the year well.  I had limited my commitments, made time for family and friends, dedicated myself fully to a single extracurricular club, and provided my students with a great deal of availability and support.  I had also placed a premium on time to build the relationships with students (which I believe to be crucial to their education).  

And I had 12 consecutive guilt-free days.  


And so that is the battle ahead.  The battle for balance and wholeness.  With room for healing, growth, peace and persistance.  Time for creativity and quiet.  Room for relationship, health, and happiness.  Energy for adventures and silliness.  Courage to try something new.  Am I asking too much?

It's a new year.  And so, in setting my goal for the year ahead, I have picked one word.  One word for this year (because teacher run on school years....not calendar years of course).


Now if anyone can tell me the secret to balance, I'd appreciate it.