Starting year four as a teacher is at once a blessing and a curse. At last I feel like I know what I’m doing, and I feel I’m able to start refining my craft. Yet that leads immediately to craving perfection and pushing myself too hard.
I write out my schedule for the week with all my pretty colored Flair pens. I sketch out my to-do lists. I map out all our learning targets. I write reflections on my lesson plans at the end of the day … and my heart lurches a little bit over all it feels like I have to do still.
I’ve been practicing time management for many years – and in fact, I might be too good at it, for every hour of my day is scheduled from waking to sleeping, and I know how to do it all if I just follow the schedule and the plan. Yet sometimes the body and the soul throw up their hands in surrender and ask for a respite from the endlessly spinning wheel of productivity. And sometimes you just get sick and your body cries out for hours of sleep – which you haplessly denied it in the rush to get everything done.
The problem that I mulled over this week, though, was that in this profession I’ve chosen, there is a certain amount of required work that has to be done outside of school hours. So how does one get it all done without feeling like it’s sucking away your very life and soul?
I am nowhere close to mastering this, but I had a small revelation this weekend. And I’m hoping and praying that I can learn to apply it slowly with wisdom so that I might have a more balanced life in regards to stress and productivity.
It doesn’t all have to get done right this very minute.
It sounds so simple. So obvious. And yet, it’s sometimes the hardest thing to realize practically speaking.
I realized this with our language arts program a couple years ago. The way it is written, it would be impossible to do all that’s in the program on a weekly basis – unless, of course, you weren’t teaching any other subjects. So I learned to give myself grace – and do all of us, students and teacher alike, a service by focusing on different things each week. Not cutting them out entirely, but one week we’d do more vocabulary and another more spelling – and some weeks, we’d do a project instead of the small reading groups. Some things are everyday habits, like independent reading, but the other components are more meaningful when we take them a few at a time and work on them in more detail.
Thus, it only stands to reason that the same kind of principle should apply in my own life – that I order my days around daily and rotational priorities. Some things are without question daily necessities, such as quiet times and reading. But others can be put on hold – not forever, but just long enough to allow me to breathe and do other things besides plan and grade papers.
I just have to calmly tell myself, “Lydia, they will get done. You will work on them a little tonight, and then you’ll go and do some writing and maybe some exercise. And you will have peace because you didn’t put it off altogether, but you also didn’t let it consume your evening.”
As teachers, we have to do what is important for our soul health – which means nourishing our brains with other inputs besides the world of our students and their academic success. Yes, it feels like it weighs on our shoulders more than anything, and maybe we won’t feel completely free of that weight until summer [that one-and-a-half month window of the year where we don’t have to worry about 25-odd little lives that are in our hands]. But unless we allow ourselves a bit of mental distance on a regular basis, we will start to emotionally crumble.
We have to pick up a novel or a book that’s completely unrelated to teaching and just enjoy it. We have to go shopping and decorate our houses for the changing seasons. We have to take walks in the crisp autumn air and breathe in the dusty smell of falling leaves. We have to laugh over board game nights with family members, share dinners with friends, plan trips to share in friends’ weddings, dabble in art that makes our souls come alive, and remember that we are humans whose souls are important apart from our identity as teachers.
I might feel like I don’t have time for all that – that I’ll fail as a teacher if I don’t spend maximum amount of time on copying, stapling, giving tests, analyzing data, and grading until my eyes feel like they’re going to fall out.
But truth be told – if I give into that mindset, I will get driven into the ground, physically and emotionally, and then I will be of no good to my students at all. It’s actually in our best interest if I do take those mental breaks and feed my soul so that I can give most effectively to my students.
The beast of outside work as a teacher will never go away. But I can find ways to more effectively manage it, and at the end of the day, I have to surrender it all to Jesus and trust that He will use me, regardless of whether or not I felt productive. Because He is truly the One I’m serving – not the district, not the state, and certainly not the test scores. If He is pleased with my humble work, then I will be most satisfied.
May I be patient with my slow progress as a teacher, and may I learn that if all the boxes don’t get checked today, I can still breathe deeply and remember there’s always tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, well then, maybe next week. But in the meantime, I’m going to savor the hot tea in my mug and allow my soul to rest in the One who hold all my tomorrows in His hands.