Work Less. Smile.

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” she said. “I can’t teach first graders to sit for 180 days. I don’t even have time for my own kids.”

Do you feel this way?

Here’s two from my playbook: “I just corrected two hundred fifty packets and didn’t cook dinner.” And, “I’ll play in five minutes. I just have to finish this.”

Teaching has the highest burnout of all careers. Higher than emergency responders and doctors.

It’s hard. We set expectations for ourselves. The system sets expectations, too. Kids expect instant results–ironic, because they don’t always give me their stuff instantly. I’ve set a high bar—one I could easily meet if I agreed to work 24 hours a day.

The problem is, I no longer do. I’m learning this lesson slowly, but surely.

In a prior career, I worked hard. It wasn’t my job. I ended up doing a lot of translating. I’ll say “translating,” but what I mean is communicating. I hack through languages with all the skill and fluency of someone moving to the United States barely speaking English.  I love languages, so, I give people my respect, and in the process I can usually solve the issue.

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 7.47.58 AM“Hello, may I help you?” I answered my phone, hearing a synchronized slam two cubes over, indicating someone blind-transferred the call to me. It was really their call.

“Hola. Necesito hablar con alguien…” I took the call, helped, and moved on.

Problem was, once the floodgates opened, it happened more and more.  I took calls in every language–some I spoke, most I didn’t.

These were the days before Google translate. I’d call the AT&T center.  A translator would conference in the parties, calls ranging from $2–$4/minute. First, I had to be able to identify the language. I was working with dialects of Spanish, Mandarin vs. Cantonese, Cape Verdian, Portuguese, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Cape Verdean, Cambodian, Ukrainian, Albanian, Armenian, Romanian, Polish, Laotian, Hindi, Gujarati, and once in a while Japanese. Recognizing the cadence, rhythm, and indicators of a languages, the ethnicity of the last name–that’s doable for me. The hard part–telling people to hang on for the translator. In their language.

All of this takes time and skill.

Meanwhile, my own stack of work….growing…morphing into a monster I couldn’t control….cascading off my desk…threatening to crush my very existence.

“Send the call to Casey, she speaks…”

“I DO NOT SPEAK HINDI!”

My work wasn’t getting done but I was “being a team player.” This happens in teaching.

While taking others’ calls, I’d ask for help. “If Joe Smith calls, ask him…” Instead, I’d return to a pile of pink message slips. I was doing two jobs. I wasn’t getting help.

I decided to ask for a raise, bringing the logsheet of the calls I’d taken, showing the value of the services I provided.

“I’ve saved you tons of cash. Let’s split the difference.” Even “the difference” was a lot.

Laughter. Serious laughter. Comedy Central laughter. Watching Comedy Central while drunk laughter.

“Nice one, Casey. No. Get back to work.”

“Okay, but I’m no longer providing this service. I need to focus on my work.”

From that point on, I “wasn’t a team player.”

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 7.44.34 AMThis happens in teaching. We overextend. We want to help for the good of the school–to be a team player. We do too much. We join committees, sponsor clubs, we never say “no” when asked to contribute, whether it’s in terms of time, talent, or treasure.

“It’s just one night.” The problem is the nights, meetings, planning sessions, after school trainings, and things add up. Sure, it’s going to be a great training session–I really want to participate. But the choice becomes two hours every day after school for a week or seeing my own boy. In the past, I’d chosen work because it was important, even though it was on my time. This year, I choose my family, hobbies, and me.

That’s not a bad thing. That’s the part that has to sink in for the majority of dedicated teachers.

Teachers overextend. Families feel neglected, relationships suffer, we get sick. A day can’t be 30 hours in it no matter how much coffee we drink.  When we cut back to “realistic” and “human,” we feel we’re not doing our best. This Lifehacker article, “Don’t Be A Work Hero,” got me thinking. Read it. Ruminate.

I decided to be human this year. I chose to do one thing for school this year–something I love, tech.

This decision feels pretty good. I notice a difference in mindset already. And by the end of the year, I hope my students, family, and friends will, too.

 

[images: greatergood.berkeley.edu and ruiram.com]

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3 thoughts on “Work Less. Smile.

  1. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I had the baby. I decided not to teach an extra period (aka give up my planning), and I’m not going in early either. I hope all goes well.

    • They give you a choice? I’m actually blessed this year. Last year I was insane. WAY too many kids, no time to think, new system requiring data/measuring. This year, schedule is good, enjoying the first half of my kids, seeing the rest today (alternating weeks for half-credit classes) and figured out how to make measurable data that isn’t oppressive, I think… we shall see… I think it’s important to start being reasonable. This job can easily take 24 hours/day.

      • Yes, because the contract states we are entitled to a planning period, they cannot take it away without our consent. Frankly, I do feel I wasn’t as effective as I usually am last year because I had no planning period. Now, with the baby, I don’t want to have to do all of my grading and planning at home. Glad to hear your kids are enjoyable. I’ve made it through my first two days back, and the kids do make it more bearable to be away from the baby.

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