Advice I am HORRIBLE at following, or, how my lack of tennis skills saved me from myself

To teach at your best, you have to take care of YOU! This means you have to say no to some things. This means you need to become slightly less susceptible to guilt trips. And, this probably means that you need to hide some dark chocolate in your desk drawer.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to vent – that’s why I have roommates.  I do want to share, however, a lesson I am trying hard to learn, even if I am not always successful.  I do not believe I am alone in my perception that becoming over-committed is the plight of the English teacher.  We are passionate people who tend to channel that passion through – action.  Lots and lots of actions and activities and commitments.

My friends sometimes describe me as a compulsive hand-raiser.  Someone is asking a question or making a request and my hand is up before I am fully sure what I am being asked.  I also possess this strange magnetisms toward clipboards.  If I see particle board sirens with a pen hanging temptingly from it by a dingy piece of string, I absolutely must check to see if it is a sign-up sheet.  Embarrassingly enough, I have had to be dragged away before when almost becoming consumed by a sign-up table covered in clipboards all requesting my especial assistance.

Just recently, my lack of tennis skills saved me from myself.  I overheard the athletic director bemoaning a lack of assistant coaches on the tennis team.  I of course volunteered.  However, it seems that I would be expected to possess some semblance of tennis skills (shocking!) which I don’t (not so shocking) and thus I will be staying home this season.

Enough about me and my idiosyncrasies, though, and back to the main idea.

The advice dispensing portion of this blog: (Self, listen up!)

A Difficult Truth:  As teachers, sometimes, we just have to learn to say no.  I still am not good at saying … that word, what is it again?  Contrary to popular belief, the school will not collapse if I do not add Saturday yearbook meetings and the students will not retrograde into illiteracy if I do not host weekly girl scout meetings.  It’s a humbling thought, but true.

A Gentle Reminder: The students and their learning must come first.  One of the dangers of becoming over committed is that something is going to fall through the cracks.  If your time in the classroom nears the precipice, back away from the clipboards!

And, because I have not learned to say no yet, A Coping Strategy: Keep dark chocolate in your desk drawer and carve out some undeniable, unmovable you time each day.  For me, I can’t say that I take 30 minutes for myself at 4:00 each day.  I can, however, say that the first thirty minutes I spend at home (no matter what time that might be) are mine.  You decide what to do with that time.  I like to read something totally unrelated to work.  As much as I truly and sincerely enjoy and derive pleasure from professional articles/books and the books I am reading with my students.  Spending my 30 minutes with those types of items would suck me back into the school cyclone.  I’m going back into it soon enough anyway, but for the 30 minutes in the eye, I like to completely remove myself.  I can then come back with renewed energy and fresh perspectives.

How do you create time for yourself?  How do you use the you time you find?  As teachers, these are important questions because the teacher we are in the classroom is affected by the moments spent outside those four walls just as much as the time spent within them.


One response to “Advice I am HORRIBLE at following, or, how my lack of tennis skills saved me from myself

  1. Tim Bray March 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    We are all victims to the inability to say no enough, but you are absolutely correct — the school won’t shut down and the students won’t be harmed by taking the necessary down time. The inability to take for ourselves is, my opinion here, the main reason for teacher burnout. After working two years in administration, I must admit that often times administrators don’t help. There is a tendency to ask more of those who perform better, which takes advantage of teachers who can’t say no easily. Sometimes administrators need to stop and ask themselves a question before asking one more thing from a great teacher, “Is it ethical for me to ask more from this person?” Thanks for sharing your thoughts and advice on this topic. Very important part of teaching that is often not discussed, because nobody who is truly working hard wants to look like the weak link.


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