Teaching vs. Family: A Balancing Act

I’ve just completed my 8th week of teaching after returning from maternity leave.  It’s has been a very interesting experience, made more interesting by my return to the classroom from two years as an Instructional Facilitator.  I’ve been retooling my lesson plans, setting up my classroom, working to build community with my students, and trying to keep up with grading.  I’ve also been trying to balance work and family more effectively.  As many of your know, this can be a challenge.

I have been trying to come up with strategies that will allow me to be a good teacher without sacrificing my ability to be a good parent.  It is important to spend time with my daughter, and I realize that in the past my teaching style has required a lot of time spent planning outside of the school day.  There is also that seemingly endless stack of paperwork and administrative tasks that can eat up a lot of time.  I’ve been trying to figure out ways to use my planning block more efficiently while I am at school, but it hasn’t been enough.  This is where you come in.

I’m looking for ideas.  I’ve asked a few colleagues about how they balance work and family, and the response I’ve gotten from all of them is that they are also struggling and don’t have it figured out.  I’m not searching for answers that unlock the secrets of the universe (though I’d take those too!), but rather strategies and advice for things that help you be more efficient with work and allow you to spend quality time with family.  I would love to hear from you about small or complex strategies you have used to adapt to the role of a teaching parent.  I am also interested in time saving strategies in general, so please don’t feel like you have to be a parent to offer advice.

I love my job.  I love being a teacher and lesson planning is something I really enjoy.  It goes without saying that I love my daughter.  She deserves as much of my time as I can give her (and my wonderful husband!).  Please feel free to comment with ideas or even questions you have as a teaching parent or as a teacher trying to use your time more efficiently and effectively.  I would love to hear from all of you.

Come and play with me!



8 thoughts on “Teaching vs. Family: A Balancing Act”

  1. I wish I had really good advice about this. I’ll just tell you what I’ve done and you can decide what to do with that info. I think the key for me has been trying separate my family and work life as much as possible. When my daughters are up and awake, I *try* to shut the laptop and focus on them. I’ll admit I’m not always great about it. But it’s been big. I don’t want to be the dad who has kids playing around him while I’m typing away.

    At school I’ve scaled back on almost every extracurricular thing. I’m protective of my time with my kids so if I can’t leave by 4:30, I’m just not doing it. That includes any social event, meeting, committee, or sport. Clearly, the meetings and stuff I don’t miss but I do feel a little upset sometimes when I can’t go to a soccer game or whatever. I still do some clubs after school but I’ve got a strict clean up time. I also won’t do any clubs that require me to give up more than one weekend.

    Overall I’d say I haven’t had to sacrifice much in my classroom (and certainly being a parent now has added a different dimension to my teaching). I definitely miss more school with sick kids and every once in awhile I need to mail in a lesson because the kids weren’t sleeping or something so I couldn’t prep like I wanted. I think when you inventory all the things you do at school you’ll realize there’s tons of stuff that can be cut back that won’t affect your day to day classroom quality.

  2. This is the age-old women-can-have-it-all!, or can-they-really? dilemma. Several things come to mind. First, I think it is very different for the mother and the father the first few years. Are you breast feeding? (Don’t answer that…) That’s something a male cannot do, and if you are pumping, that requires even more time. The time required may change when you stop, if you are. The mother is more important to any child in the first few years. That’s not to say fathers are UNimportant, but having two sons in high school, I see my role as much more important now than it was way back then. Mothers love, nurture, and develop the emotional side of the child in the present; fathers spend years later on readying them for the reality of the world to come. Is this influenced by the fact I have sons and not daughters? Maybe. But I continued at the high school level while they were young, traveling more then the football coach; I moved to the elementaries when they reached a certain age when they seemed to need me more in their lives, when I wanted to fill that need. I agree with Jason, though, in that when they were quite young, I left school every day at a certain time and didn’t look back, whether everything was done or not; I had to pick them up from a sitter at 5PM, and that was fixed. Now I leave school every day at the bell, trying not to step on kids as I leave. There are some days when I’m my sons’ ride, and there are other days where I head home just to be there when they get there. So this may be a real “mommy” crunch right now, even though Dad is still there as much as he can be. Does he cook and clean?
    Secondly, you are returning as you say after an IF stint, and you are in a new school, maybe teaching new courses. Remember what it was like to be a first year teacher? Felt a lot like this, did it not? So next year should be easier. Also, you are a good teacher in that you want to constantly update, revise, renew, and create anew your lessons on the same subject. Maybe you need to be a bit more “boring” as time wears on and use your old material, trusting that it is good solid material. Not to the point where you are an octogenarian using film strips and the opaque projector, of course, but do you really need to create another new Powerpoint, or do you even need to use the Promethian board, both of which take insane amounts of time to work into a lesson plan? Gauge the return on the investment. How much of what you do is brand new every year, or even every class, that really does not need to be? How much do you teach anew for YOUR needs and not the kids? Are you allowing yourself a certain amount of boredom that the kids don’t feel? Or are you constantly working to change what you do so that YOU are amused and “engaged” by what you are doing when you really are OK doing the same thing again? From a musician’s point of view, the show is the same every night, and by the third show, no one in the pit is laughing. But every night, the show is brand new to the audience, and they are still laughing their butts off til closing night.
    I guess what I’m trying to say has a lot to do with quality teaching. Trust that you are a quality teacher. Don’t become stale, but renew and refresh only as really necessary. The field has changed so much over the past decade that I sometimes feel like the district is trying to make us start from ground zero with every lesson, that they don’t want us to feel the least bit satisfied with what we are doing in the classroom for fear we may become complacent. Again, from a musician’s point of view, I take my 5th graders back to the beginning of the book every now and then so they can see what good players they have become. I think in a certain sense, we as teachers must pat ourselves on the back from time to time and say, man that is a good lesson, and leave well enough alone.
    Lastly, life as you know it is over. By that I mean you have to balance what you always liked to do, and always had time to do, with life’s new requirements on you. And this has nothing to do with school. I loved playing the violin in orchestras; I gave that up. I loved running around the state, or the several states close by, adjudicating; I gave that up. I loved shooting; I cut way back. I used to work on violins, violas, and cellos; I gave that up and restricted myself just to rehairing bows. I used to hang with certain friends a lot more than I do now. My sons are the most important part of my life; when they leave the nest, there will be time for me and my interests again. By the way, your husband is not one of the things you cut way back on.
    Hope this helps.

  3. I think teaching vs. family is a bit of a false dichotomy. You simply have to re-define what it means to be a good teacher and understand what your boundaries are. Personally, I see my teaching as the way I support my family; not the other way around. Learning to say, “no,” is huge. We often feel as if we have to justify the “no” so I’ve learned to say that I have an “appointment” or a “prior engagement” even if that appointment is to roll around on the floor with my five boys.

    I think Jason offers some great advice above, as well. We all lament “mailing in a lesson” but need to be more concerned with mailing in the time with our own families.

  4. Say No. A lot.

    Set up times for extra help – be there then, but not all the time.

    Think about assessment – how much do you personally have to do. Can kids assess themselves sometimes?

    Plan a week or even a month at a time, not a day at a time.

    Chunk your time. Example: Do grading all at once. If it comes in late, stick it in a late pile and don’t grade it until you have a bunch of late work.

    Good luck!

  5. I struggle with the same issues! Teaching is so much more intense than anyone can imagine, unless you’ve been there! There are demands that constantly push and pull you in all directions, planning/preparing, grading, teaching, differentiating, meetings, more meetings, data collection, data analysis, goals, continuing ed. the list goes on!

    I recently returned to work after the arrival of my third child, now 7 months old. The only advise that I can share is to put work on hold after school, spend time with your baby and your husband while you can. Work will be there when you return in the morning! I am learning to become somewhat comfortable with “never being caught up.” Think of the big picture and what is most important right now! Before you know it, that cute little baby of yours will be in school! Cherish the time.

  6. I don’t have any sage advice for you, only support. I happen to know that you are both a wonderful teacher and a wonderful mother. Let me know if there is something I can do that helps. I enjoy spending time with you, even if it is time spent grading papers or re-arranging your classroom.

  7. Thanks for the great comments. Can you tell how busy I’ve been by how long it’s taken me to respond? Haha.

    @Jason – Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve been trying to be very deliberate with how I’m spending my time. Having boundaries has helped.

    @Jim – I DO feel like a first year teacher again! I love the analogy of the show. That is a good way to look at it. One of the issues I’m having is that I started out using my old lessons. Unfortunately, they were designed for different kids in a very different town and didn’t have the same success (am I crazy thinking University vs. Oil?). So I’m trying to figure out how to not reinvent the wheel, but still give my students what they need. I appreciate your thoughtful advice.

    @David – Thanks for the advice on appointments. I’ll probably use that!

    @Fran – I’m working how I want to set up times for extra help & make-ups. My husband and I have been working out ways to make sure we can both get what we need done with some uninterrupted time (we’re both more efficient that way). And while I’ve been practicing “no” for years, it has suddenly gotten easier!

    @Pamela – I’ve been thinking a lot about your advice concerning the big picture. Thank you for that perspective.

    @Griffin – Thank you so much for the supportive words. They mean a lot. And if you’re interested, I’m redoing my classroom today and a bit over the weekend. 😉

  8. I try to be very protective of my one 45 minute planning period. Before kids I would spend 10 minutes catching up with teammates, getting coffee, etc. Now I make a bee line for my room, shut my door, grab my coffee, and try to plan or correct as much as I can. If someome tried to set up an IEP meeting I put my foot down and say that’s my planning I can’t make it. try another time or do it without me!

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