“One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.”
– Attributed to Viggo Mortensen
Welcome back to Term Four, the downhill run of the school year and what I am discovering on Stage Three is an incredibly busy time. I have not written an article for some time for a huge variety of reasons. The primary reason, of course, being my amazing now eight-week-old daughter. She arrived on August 25, at the end of week six of term three. The timing could not have been better. I took four weeks off which lead into the two weeks of school holidays and thus was able to spend the first six weeks of my daughter’s life being there. I became incredibly used to spending time on the couch at four in the morning with her sleeping soundly on my chest after an hour of crying, or having had a feed but not wanting to go back to sleep.
I will be honest. I did not want to return to school for term four.
It has not, as any parent can attest to, been easy. It has been very tough at various points and Mrs C21 and I have battled through the lack of sleep, the incessant worrying, the fear that we had done something when she was diagnosed with developmental hip displaysia, the frustration and resentment and anger when we could not settle her down after two hours of hysterical crying and the worry about returning to work and not being able to support Mrs C21 and Youngling as I return to work full-time (my job share partner has gone off on maternity leave herself!). There have, truth be told, been times where I have wanted to put my daughter down and walk away. You can only take hysterical crying at two in the morning for so long before it gets under your skin and you are crying yourself with a mixture of each of the neutral and negative emotions. But as a team, Mrs C21 and I got through it. She is a rock, though she does not see it, and is far stronger than she gives herself credit for.
It has been a stressful return to school and there are so many interruptions to the week it is amazing anything is achieved and I am finding that to be incredibly stressful. I took some maths diagnostic tests home to mark on the weekend, something I could do while Audrey slept in the ring sling on my chest so that Mrs C21 could go out and have some time out from being a mother. I got my marking completed, but it took the whole day. Mrs C21’s mobile phone stopped working last week, so a new one was in order. She asked if I wanted to go out with her (I had literally not left the house since arriving home on Friday at this point) and I responded with I need to get x and y done, sorry.
It was a powerful moment for me.
My wife wanted to go out and spend some time with me, something we are finding difficult to do now that school has returned, on a Sunday afternoon and I said no. There was a moment of disappointment and hurt and I realised that I was falling into the trap of burying myself in work, in I need to get x done. I felt horrible for being the cause of that and realised that I was falling into the trap of just burying myself in work. As a teenager, I had a friend with a father who did that and it destroyed the marriage and his relationship with the children. I do not want to be that kind of father.
I was two minds while I was on paternity leave. One part of me was excited by the prospect of the time off and the thought of how much I would be able to achieve vis-a-vis planning, programming and developing of resources. Another part of me wanted to completely disconnect with work and just focus on my daughter and my wife. In the end, I got nothing done for school until the second week of the school holidays. Part of me resents teaching for taking away even that small part of the precious time with Youngling. Part of me wants to resent Youngling for taking away from what could have been such a productive time.
As teachers, we often put our students before everything else. I know that my personality is the type that will do that without even realising. However, family comes first. Specifically, my family comes first; before my students and before anything else to do with school.
I do not know how often I will be posting now, certainly not every day as I was doing. I do have some other, positive news to share and a range of other things I wish to write about. However, my priorities have shifted slightly and I need to rebalance myself accordingly.
“Teaching is an emotional practice: it activates, colors & expresses people’s feelings.”
-Attributed to Andy Hargreaves
As you read this article, please consider what you believe to be normal or acceptable in regards to the amount of work done at home.
Last week was an incredibly topsy-turvy week, professionally, for me. I went from feeling overwhelmed and time-poor, to a day of ups and downs, to finishing off my teaching week with a Eureka moment for a student that brought a genuine smile to my face. I spent quite a significant amount of time thinking about this issue last week. As a young teacher and husband, I need to get the work-life balance issue sorted out in some fashion as I do not want to be struggling with this in the same way that I am currently when the family starts arriving (and no, that is not a pregnancy announcement).
The ever-helpful and patient Corrine Campbell (@corisel) reached out and we arranged to have an actual voice-to-voice conversation over the phone, where we would not be restricted to one hundred forty character thought-bites. I spent nearly an hour and a half speaking with Corinne, getting to know a bit more about each other, learning about each other’s journey through the work-life balance minefield, discussing strategies that Corinne either uses or knows people who use them to help manage work-life balance and find the corners that can be cut and the responsibilities that can be dropped without any adverse impacts, and it was useful, very useful.
We worked a few things out. Most of the time spent outside of school hours working on what I place in the school work box is only indirectly related to school insofar as it is part of my personal teaching identity and who I am and want to be as an open-source teacher; these blog articles, the FTPL videos, some research I am in the process of working on, reading for professional development, Twitter chats and TeachMeets are all things that take up a significant amount of time, which I am not required to do, that I am adding onto my plate willingly.
One of the strategies that Corinne mentioned was the setting of hard boundaries vis-a-vis when work stops and personal time begins. I find it very easy to spend a whole weekend in front of the computer as Mrs. C21st works Saturdays and every second Sunday (her weekend is Monday and Tuesday), and I often continue working when she arrives home. My new boundary is now 3 pm on Saturday when I know she finishes. This gives me an hour to switch off from work and to make sure than any housework I have not completed gets done. In addition to this, I am wiping Sunday from the roster and keeping it as a personal day. On those days when Mrs. C21st works, I will use it to get things done around the house, or just to unwind and relax, and on the Sundays that she has off, we will get to spend some time together and visiting friends.
It did feel a bit odd putting that into practice this weekend just gone, but I do feel better for it. I spent Sunday cycling between Star Wars: The Old Republic, FIFA16 and Star Wars: Battlefront, as well as getting housework done and dinner ready. Mrs. C21st and I went to a friends for dinner and a swim on Friday night, another no-work time slot in the future.
I do still need to reduce the load, however. As there is no point reducing the time spent working if the workload is not also reduced. To that end, I will not be continuing the book review series for the time being. As much as it is useful for me professionally (and hopefully for some of my readers as well), I do not have the time to read in depth, make notes and then write an article each week. I do want to come to resent writing these articles, as I do find the process useful for reflection, however in order to prevent that, I need to cut something.
I will not be replacing it with anything, Tuesday’s will remain an empty slot. I will be maintaining the current schedule of an FTPL video on Monday afternoon, and then other articles Wednesday and Thursday, however that, from what I gather, is still significantly higher workload than some others in my PLN. That said, if there is something going on or that has happened then I will use the Tuesday slot.
I do still believe that we (teachers) need to engage in a dialogue about work-life balance and examine why it is considered normal or acceptable to work as much as what I know many teachers do, and I would appreciate your thoughts on this topic in the comments section.