Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Success, Part 5: Not Bringing Work Home

This is the final part of a two-week series on my five biggest successes and failures as a teacher this year. This week was focused solely on success.

There was a time early in my career when I brought almost all of my work home every day. I had an interactive student notebook system that required constant grading, and I still remember loading up 100 or so notebooks into my car and driving them home. I spent hours on those and every other student paper that came across my desk. It's no wonder I got a stomach ulcer my first year of teaching.

In my second teaching job, at an alternative school, I learned that it was possible to complete all of my work at school. I was always given more than enough time to do everything I needed, even with all of the additional responsibilities that come with working in a small school. I went from taking everything home to nothing at all.

When I returned to a traditional public school after that, I started to fall back into my old habits. I went back to hauling a cardboard filing box to and from school each day. What's worse is that I was increasingly bringing tons of stuff home only to bring it back the next day without ever having looked at it. I realized the insanity of the situation, and forced myself to stop.

I found ways to use my time in school more efficiently, and adopted grading methods and policies that would keep me sane while still insuring student achievement. This year is the culmination of years of effort and self-therapy: I am now able to do almost all of my work within the normal school day. I may carry the emotional burden of each day home with me, but my bag now carries only the weight of a notebook for ideas and some reading material for my commute.

I've even been able to cut down on going to work hours early or staying late. Admittedly, one reason is our longer school day, which has a lot of planning time built in. Yet even when I've had less planning time in the past, I would often invent ways to keep myself busy and spend so much time in my classroom that I might as well have brought in a cot. It's a huge personal victory to leave my work at work without constantly fretting over it and while still being (I'd like to think) a pretty darn good teacher.

Two years ago I wrote a series of how exactly to do this, inspired by the ideas from the book The 4-Hour Workweek. I think you'll find this helpful if you're in the same boat I was:
  1. Lessons from The 4-Hour Workweek
  2. The Low Information Diet
  3. Outsourcing Your Life
In a Sentence
Achieving a work/life balance starts with not bringing your work home.