Monday, January 19, 2015

One More Thing

It seems that at the beginning of every year I return to school after my winter break in a slump. Not just a slump, I'm talking about a gigantic bad attitude.

 I work so hard up to the break, that when the break comes, I crash.

And when I say crash I'm talking about sitting on the couch in a puddle of my own drool and liking it.

This year wasn't any different except that this time I decided over the break, that without a doubt, I was done. This was going to be my last year teaching. In fact, I was so sure that I told anyone that would listen, that I couldn't take it anymore.

Forgive me, but now that Twisted Sister song "We're Not Gonna Take It" is stuck in my head

So what was different about this year that I decided I'd had enough?

Well, this year I started keeping track of all the hours I spend at my job. I always knew that it was a ridiculous number, but I never actually did the math.

Sort of ironic, isn't it? The math teacher that doesn't do the math.

I didn't keep track of any of my summer hours because a lot of that is just my own disease, working in my classroom before I had to be back. I wanted to be fair and reasonable because I knew that this data was going to help me make the decision of whether to stay or go. Just like that Clash song from the 80's.

I started with my hours on my first contract day and I included all the time I've spent planning, preparing, grading, teaching, everything.

And do you know what I found? I was averaging 58.6 hours per week doing my job. The job that the average citizen nauseatingly likes to remind me, although very much in error, allows me to have my summers off and leave everyday at 2:30. Never mind that I'm teaching until 3:34, my contract time doesn't end until 4:00, and I never have the luxury of walking away at 4:00. Pesky details.

Do I sound bitter? I won't deny it, I'll just smile and fake it until I make it.

Back to the actual hours, I figured out that if I continued at this pace I would have put in 2,168 hours in 37 weeks.

I compared this to a 40-hour/week job working 50 weeks a year with 2 weeks of vacation, working 2,000 hours per year.

That's right, I'm working 168 more hours in a year, but in less time.

Somehow having summers off isn't as attractive as it once was.

What I'm talking about here is balance.

I have zero balance in my life. I don't do fun things during the week. I don't exercise. I rarely cook for my family. I fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day and I'm killing myself.

Since I'm full on into my Pity Party, I also calculated my hourly rate. As a teacher in my ninth year of experience teaching in Idaho I make $36,096 a year (which I might add is less than I made when I taught in California 15 years ago with less experience). If I divide that by my 2,168 hours I'm making $16.65 an hour.

Granted, these hours aren't true for all teachers, but I can guarantee you that it's an alarming number.

And to be fair, my crazy hours are partially my fault. If I were to work just my contract hours I would be making $24.39 an hour for my 37 weeks of contract time.

That's not horrible I guess, but remember, I'm working all that overtime and I don't get paid time and a half.

Do I think it's going to change and teachers will be paid more? Not for a minute. That's not really the problem I have with my job anyway. It's the sheer number of hours I put in that I can't deal with.

Honestly, there are so many things that I love about my job. Every single day is an organizational challenge and a juggling act. I dig that because I never get bored.

And the kids? They crack. me. up. Every single day. I can't imagine not being around them.

And the math! Can I just tell you how much I love doing homework which I then assign to my students? They complain about the homework and I tell them I assign it because I care. "It hurts me more than it hurts you because I have to grade it," I tell them. It does not make them feel better.

My dilemma is that I love my job, but my job is killing me. Or maybe I am killing me because I can't do my job in a reasonable number of hours?

I've had to take a step back and really look at what I'm choosing to spend my time on. I had my evaluation meeting with my principal about a week after returning from break, and he confronted me right off the bat about hearing that I was telling everyone I was leaving.

The thing is that he didn't ask me about it in an accusatory way. He was truly concerned and wanted to help. He sat and talked with me for at least 45 minutes, trying to help me figure out what I could do to work less and play more. He shared his experiences with me and he talked about the frustrations he feels about the job and the demands that are placed on us.

Every meeting we go to, teachers leave saying "One more thing I have to do now." It's awful. Expectations are constantly changing and this new idea is replaced with that new idea, and we are just supposed to embrace it, invest a gajillion hours to implement it, and then change it again at the next meeting.

Teachers know what I'm talking about.

I came away from the meeting with my principal waffling on my position. He really made me think about how I spend my time.  The bottom line is that I just have to hold firm and walk away at 5:00. Whatever it is, it can wait until tomorrow.

And do you know what? It works. And okay, I can't do 5:00, but I totally walk away at 5:30 and I don't bring it home. I do still have to plan on the weekends, and I hate that, but I'm managing the day-to-day and I don't feel overwhelmed. Before this new mindset, I felt overwhelmed every single day.

I've been to the gym a few times--not enough but it's something. I've been cooking a few nights a week and I often have leftovers to take in my lunch instead of prepackaged frozen meals. Some nights I come home and just sit on the couch and read. I waste time.

So maybe I'm not leaving. I'm not making any decisions right now, but I am going to give my job another chance. I'm going to take it one year at a time. That's all I can promise right now.

20 comments:

  1. What you have described is the exact reason when I went on leave to have my daughter 13 years ago, I never went back to teaching. I knew in my heart I could not be a good teacher and a good mom. God bless all the people who can juggle it. I am not one of those people. I have stayed at home until a few months ago. I am currently working part time in an elementary school kitchen as a cook/cashier and I like it. I get some contact with kids (they crack me up, too). I work hard and then I go home and do not think about the job again (no lesson plans or grading) until I show up the next day. I hope you are able to find and maintain the balance you are seeking. Bless you for not walking away.

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    1. Jeanne, this is exactly the reason I was so thankfully to have had the opportunity to stay home with my kids for eight years when they were little. I can't imagine how teachers with babies and toddlers do it.

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  2. Jill, I know exactly what you're talking about! I was in the same place about two years ago. I just couldn't do it anymore. As much as I loved teaching and working with children, my health and my sanity was suffering. I eventually started feeling like I was in an abusive relationship. I found myself thinking things like "I just need to work harder and then things will get better." With all the new laws and "reforms" the nature of teaching has changed drastically over the last few years and not for the better. I'm sure teachers around the country can identify and relate to what you posted here today. If your inner voice is telling you that you're done, please listen to it, trust it, and don't let anyone change your mind. Your physical and mental health and the relationships with your family are more important than anything. Sending happy thoughts, prayers, and hugs your way!

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    1. Pin Junkie, You are right. I know you are. I'm really trying to focus on what is important to me right now--everything you mentioned. Thank you for sharing your experience. I know it's not just me feeling this way.

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  3. Wow, I could have written this post. In 2005, after 33 years in the classroom, I simply could not take it anymore, and I LOVED teaching. I did not have a life. I left my house at 6:30 AM and often returned at 6 PM, spent another hour (minimum) at home grading, in bed by 10, only to repeat the routine the following day. My district held classes 4-days a week, but the school day was extended. Friday was a remediation day; thus, the teachers worked a seven day week in five days, which was exhausting. My health (mental and physical) declined to the point that I would sit in the school parking lot weeping from exhaustion. My doctor insisted that I retire, and I'm glad that I did.

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    1. Nancy, How did you last 30 years? I KNOW for a fact that there is no way I can do this job until I retire. You must be a super hero. That's the only explanation I can imagine.

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  4. I am an Aussie, my husband was a teacher and my sister-in-law still is a teacher. He now works in a call centre for an even lower wage but is WAY happier. He just couldn't take it any longer. The kids were his favourite part, but the politics, parents and sheer time/work load was killing him. I watch his sister working the insane hours and wonder how long she can keep it up. I have spoken with her about finding a balance and leaving some thins not done. She knows she needs to do that but when we last spoke hadn't got to the point of letting some things go.
    I am glad for your sake that you are trying to let go of some of the extras. For the most part, it isn't even noticeable - that is kind of heart breaking in itself and the kids won't suffer.

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    1. Dee, it's hard to let things go. You know I am a control freak too, so I am my own worst enemy. And you are absolutely right, the kids don't even notice so why break my neck working so hard? I don't mean that in an ungrateful way, just that they are not looking for our shortcomings so why are we so hard on ourselves?

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  5. ~~1/4 of the dream teamJanuary 28, 2015 at 4:33 PM

    I know exactly how hard you work because I worked right along side you in California for several years. Teaching has always been a difficult and under appreciated profession. Our job description is now: Be everything to everybody all the time. I used to have anxiety dreams only a few days before the new school year would begin. Now I have them all year long, including dreaming that we have to live at school and are on duty 24/7. I try to let some things go, limit hours spent on work, and even lowering my own standards for myself. It has helped, but I'm still exhausted and feel unbalanced. I am craving retirement, but at 57 and starting full-time teaching at 42 (after subbing for 10 years), I don't know if I can swing it just yet. If I could retire tomorrow, I would. Oh, wait, I would wait until June because it wouldn't be fair to my colleagues, students, and site administration if I left tomorrow. Meanwhile, I do feel like my job is killing me a little every day.

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    1. I know exactly which quarter of the dream team you are too. 😜 I've had those on duty 24/7 dreams too. We sacrifice so much for this job. There has got to be a better way. I have fond memories of working on the Dream Team. We had it down and we worked together to lighten the load. I haven't found that since.

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  6. You have no idea how many times I have read this post. I feel you! I am you... except I teach science.
    Where is your head these days? So curious. Did you find balance? Is it possible for those of use who work outrageous hours??? Do tell. My thoughts are with you - when I can find the time.

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    1. I'm still managing to hold it together. I've had a couple 6:00 nights, but for the most part I'm still leaving by 5:30 and I even left at 4:45 once. I also still plan at home on Sunday so I'm still putting in close to 50 hours, but I'm keeping my evenings free of school work. It helps more than I thought possible. Really I'm just pacing myself at this point. I still want out.

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  7. I, too, have been thinking of you often. I'm lucky to be 1/2 of a dream team and, honestly, that's the only thing keeping me sane. I think often about leaving but I don't know what I'd do. I feel totally unprepared and incapable of doing much else. Wow. That's sad to see in black and white. Hmmm. I guess I better figure out how to make this work or find something else to do. I'm only 39. I should have options. I'm really struggling to find my groove this year and am becoming frustrated and resentful of all the work I have to do to prove myself because of the new evaluation system. Not to mention all the tests to see if kids are ready for THE test. When did teaching become test prep? If you're getting out, take me with you.

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    1. Emily, I feel your pain. I don't think things are going to get any better until we are so deep into the teacher shortage that panic sets in and people start to wake up to how bad it is. You do have options. You just can't see them right now because you are too exhausted. Don't worry about what you are going to do until the first day of summer vacation. Then give yourself a week to relax and decompress. After that you can focus your energy on taking steps to change careers. Life is too short to be miserable and not have time to enjoy your life. I am looking to the future and cutting back on my hours in order to last a little longer, but I know it is only a band-aid. Hang in there. I'm thinking about you.

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    2. How are you doing now? I just filled out our local union's bargaining survey that they send out to prep for the real work they do this spring and summer. Our superintendent is always saying that our job is to "know students by name, strength, and need" but I can guarantee she doesn't her teachers that way and with all the extra meetings we're required to attend that have "to-do items" attached to them and the added work of the eval system, I can't address my students' needs or challenge their strengths. I'm finding, though, that I'm in a better place about this. I'm doing the best I can without sacrificing too much time with my husband and our two boys. I'm beginning to see signs of change coming for us. I just hope it gets here in time. We're losing good people quickly. Is your spring break in sight yet? That is always a good re-charge for me.

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    3. Emily, I just saw this comment because posts older than a week automatically require comment verification, and that's the sort of thing I don't check very often. It just so happens that last night I posted an update and I've decided to leave the teaching profession. I worked very hard to make it work, but in the end the sacrifice was too large. I gave my notice yesterday and will not return in the fall. I don't know what I am going to do, but I know I am not going to be teaching. I'll find something. My ultimate goal is to just be happy. Right now I am not happy.

      I had my spring break last week and it was awesome. When I had to start planning for the week on Sunday, I was right back where I started--feeling resentful about having to spend "my" time getting plans ready for a long week.

      You brought up a good point about your superintendent. I hope you have shared that with her. If not, you should at least consider doing so.

      I admire you for hanging in there. I'm so glad you see signs of change coming and I really hope it gains momentum and makes a difference. Our profession needs it. Thank you for taking the time to leave your comments, and especially for checking back with me. I am touched and I appreciate it so much.

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  8. I just want to hug you. I went into MY education with the idea of going into education until I actually talked to teachers about the time (too much) and the money (too little) and thus I changed my major to English and ultimately law. So, now I just get to deal with big children instead of little ones. But I say... you know what... take care of YOU. You have ONE life and ONE life to live... if you're miserable, take a year off and BE! (I know not everyone can say that) but don't work yourself sick... for the sake of working because you never will get it all done. You just can't. Expectations of people are INSANE... and everything is your fault. Frankly, I don't know how you do it! <3 Hugs all around sister. I'm sharing your post with some other friends that are educators.

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    1. April, thank you for the pep talk. It is much needed. :)

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  9. I just ran across your blog and you crack me up! I understand exactly where you are coming from. With all the new standards and evaluations my state has implemented, I do not know how mothers with children at home can be teachers. I've been at this for 25 yrs and it is harder now than ever! I'm putting in 10-12 hr days and 6 hrs on Sat. (in school) not to mention the lesson planning on weekends. People think I'm making excuses when I turn down weekend social engagements because I need to do lesson plans. I have one more yr until I can officially retire. I love teaching children, but at what cost? I have one more year to decide...we'll see what happens then. But it is a very difficult choice. Blessings!

    Nancy
    claggna@tulsaschools.org

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    1. Nancy, Thank you for your sweet comment. :) Good luck to you on what might be your last year. Summer is almost here. I hope yours is a good one and you find lots of time to relax.

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