I worked too hard

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This post is for newbies and the weary. Especially the weary.

A few years ago, my father-in-law was placed in a convalescent facility. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for many years and he had reached the point where he could no longer eat. He was tube-fed and miserable. Dementia was beginning to set in. He would try to do long division and become upset when he could no longer remember the steps. He kept seeking out his deficits and then railing against them. I visited sometimes, but I did not visit enough. At the end of the day, I was tired, sometimes even exhausted, and I just went home.

I am reminded of that old saying by Rabbi Harold Kushner: “Nobody on their deathbed has ever said ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.'”

Those missed visits are a genuine regret. My father-in-law was a fascinating man, a teacher who had risen from a childhood in South Chicago as a poor, immigrant child of a single mother to become a textbook author and President of the Illinois Foreign Language Teachers Association. I wish I had sat at his bedside more often, breaking up his boredom on a more regular basis.

Eduhonesty: In many schools now, teaching can suck up every waking hour if you let it. Government and administrative requirements get piled on top of the work itself, while preparation time gets stolen by new data demands. The rapid pace required to keep classes flowing well without available preparation time adds stress as teachers become inundated by tasks on lengthening to-do lists.

I am going to add another recommendation for new teachers, a recommendation that should be helpful to all teachers who are hungry for time: Put family and personal time specifically on your calendar. Years ago, I did that in graduate school. My classes at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University were overwhelming me. I was never caught up. I never could catch up. In the interests of sanity, I declared most of Saturday a work and study-free zone, a time for relaxation.

I suggest teachers who are feeling swamped do the same. Put your personal and family time specifically into your calendar. Depending on where you are working, you may never catch up. If you consistently have 18 hours of work per day but only 16 waking hours available, you will be triaging. Many teachers are, along with professionals in other fields. When this country passed Japan to earn the dubious honor of longest work-week in the world, alarms should have been going off all over the place, but somehow U.S. workers just kept slogging along.

I would like to spare my fellow educators regrets about missed childhood and eldercare opportunities. Put family on the calendar. Then stick to your calendar. Take the kids to the local ice cream shop. Make them stash the phones and pads when you do. Email Aunt Doris. Call grandpa. And take time to pamper yourself a little. You will burn out if you don’t.

Put the work down. Go to a beer and cheese tasting with a friend. Take your spouse out on a pizza and movie date. Spare an hour to talk about Tom Cruise, Oktoberfest, or anything else that does not relate to education.

Not only will you be happier, you will be a better teacher. Too much work becomes drudgery and kids will sense when your energy is flagging. The best teachers bring passion to their work. That passion will be stronger if you allow yourself fun and family time. In a nutshell, on the seventh day, carve out time to rest.