Needing Balance: We All Have Those Weeks

Thank you Avril Carpenter. I needed this.

We all have those weeks. You know, the weeks where nothing goes right? This week was mine.

This week was the 5th week of school (I teach at a school in Charlotte, North Carolina with a continuous-learning-calendar) and it was a rough one. The school week started off like any other. Teachers were told that we would begin DE Testing – a form of standardized testing – midweek. OK, no biggie. [Side note: I hate standardized testing, but it is a necessary evil (from what I’m told).]

In previous years during DE testing, the school day would be on “pause” in the morning, Tests would take place in each classroom around the school, and once students finished with their Reading or Math tests, the whole school would “unpause” and pick back up with the rest of the day. Well, this year, we tested students in their Reading and Math class blocks. Sounds like a great idea…except it made life extremely harder for the teachers. I won’t go into all the details, but many hours of instruction were unnecessarily missed this week due to testing.

In addition to that, one of my four block classes (that class) decided to start acting up beyond belief this week. They have been a bubbling volcano on the verge of erupting the past couple of weeks of school, and they finally reached their boiling point-of-no-return on Tuesday. [They are one of those groups who are more concerned with tearing each other down than building each other up, not to mention they don’t give one iota of concern about math.] That class, I have determined, is this year’s project.  I need to find a way to turn their attitudes around. However, this week wasn’t going to be the week to do that because I had bigger fish to fry…that’s right, the DE test.

On top of the DE test and that class of kiddos, I received some bad news from a project team that I am working on, had several students’ parents to call to inform them of their students’ failing math grades, had additional unplanned meetings throughout the week, and a half-marathon to train for.

Needless to say, I came home (on several occasions) this week frustrated and tired. I wanted to forget this week was evening happening and just go to bed. I probably should have done that or at least pound out some frustration on the treadmill. Instead, I made dinner, tried to stay awake to get some quality time in with my husband (because I feel guilty if I don’t) and, as a result, got into a heated mini-debate with my husband which left me even more upset and irritated. I went to bed so upset that I was still fuming when I got up the next morning. I began to blame my anger on everything – the ridiculous DE test, that contemptible class, poor scheduling, all of the time-consuming meetings, my husband – instead of looking at myself from the outside.

I stopped to think. Why had I let all these things get to me? Why was I letting it pile on now? And then I thought, what can I do to prevent this from happening again in the future

I quickly figured it out. (Jump down to This Week’s Take-Aways)

I don’t keep a journal or a diary, but I love to blog. Instead of waiting until the weekend, maybe I should have blogged about some of this stuff as it was happening. Maybe I should have skipped a few Twitter chats; or instead of watching TV with my husband, I should have read that book I was dying to finish, or I should have gone to bed so I didn’t start any arguments. Now, looking back, I realize that it is OK to take time for yourself when you need it most. Time alone in order to reflect, calm down, blog it out, etc…it isn’t selfish when you realize that taking care of yourself, in the end, will take care of your relationships with others.

I try to give my all to those who matter most to me all the time. And while I don’t see myself changing in that regard, I need to figure out a way to keep a healthy balance, especially when the tough gets going and the going gets tough. Lately, I have noticed many of my Twitter PLC commenting on a “healthy balance” as they approach the new school year. Keeping work, family and self-health in check is important, and I realized that first-hand this week.

This Week’s Take-Aways

1. Breathe. Not just to keep living, but to enjoy living. If I have learned anything from the year of yoga classes that I have taken, it is that deep breaths keep us focused on the present, which is what living should all be about.

2.  It is OK to say “No.” I have been taught this lesson multiple times in my life. Still haven’t learned it. Saying “no” to someone isn’t a bad thing, it is a necessary thing.

3. “What you allow is what will continue.”  This quote was tweeted by @Inspire_Us this week and I immediately retweeted it, thinking of that class.

4. “Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war.”  Another quote tweeted by @Inspire_Us this week that I really needed to get through this week. Every new day brings a new battle, and if you fight every one to the death, you won’t be left standing to win the war.

5. If you marry the right guy, he will support you through the thick and thin. I’m so lucky to have found my husband and I try to express this as much as possible. This was one of the hardest weeks I’ve had in awhile, and he never once complained about my irritability, short-temper, or inability to stay awake past 7 pm. Instead, he baked me banana meringue pudding. Now that is true love.

Time

The most precious commodity in this world is time. I have come to the realization that as much as it may not seem, it is an unrenewable resource for which there is no replacement or equal. Just like an investment stock, we need to know where we are investing our time and how it is being spent. Take a look at my “time” portfolio:

There are 1,440 minutes in a day. To examine how I use my time, I have chunked those minutes into 3 categories: work, home, and sleep.

Well, I try to devote at least 7 hours – 420 minutes – to sleep, everyday. Sleep is necessary for me (not everyone) to function the next day with a smile on my face. I feel it is important to be a smiling, happy person by appearance because nobody deserves a grumpisourus. Does it happen anyway? Sometimes. Not gonna lie. But I try to make those days few and far between.

If 420 minutes are devoted to sleep each day, that means I have 1,020 remaining minutes to spend with the people I love: my family, my coworkers, and my students.

Let’s examine my time at home next. I get home around 5:30 – 6:00 during the week after a 30ish-minute commute (which is when I usually make phone calls to friends and family). My husband and I usually eat dinner within the first hour I am home (30 minutes) and then on two (or three) days a week we go for a walk or a run (another 30 minutes) as we are training for a half-marathon in October. So we get 60 minutes of undivided attention per day. When you look at that as a fraction 60/1,440, that’s pretty sad. Less than 5% of my weekday is spent with the love of my life (but I guess you can say we make up for it on the weekends). After our run, we come home and veg out in front of the TV. Sometimes I grade papers and sometimes I fall asleep. But that wind-down time is still a valued part of our day. Even if our focus isn’t on each other, we enjoy just being next to each other on the couch, watching our favorite TV shows or a good baseball or football game.

So now let’s evaluate the real chunk of time: my time at school.

I arrive at work at 7:00am every day. I plan and prepare for the day until the bell rings at 7:45, and then I have my game day face on ready for the day.

From 7:45 until 11:20am I am 100% committed to the students in my classroom. I put all of my morning energy – created by my 1 or 2 cups of morning joe – into guiding, modeling, molding, teaching, correcting, facilitating, smiling, comforting, assessing, reassessing, and celebrating my 7th graders. It is so much more than “teaching math.” From 11:20 – 12:15 I meet with other educators and academic facilitators (planning time is hardly to “plan” anymore) and then at 12:15 I am back downstairs in the cafeteria with my 7th graders again, going full-throttle until 3:15 when the final bell rings. And even then, I am with them for another 10 minutes as we walk to the bus lot. So, let’s see, from 7:45 to 3:25…everyday, Monday through Friday, I am spending a grand total of 460 undivided and completely devoted minutes with my kids. That is 40 more minutes than I devote to sleep and 400 more minutes than my husband gets from me.

Before I head back home I stay around school to contact parents (10-15 minutes), grade papers, clean my classroom (sweep and erase pencil graffiti off the desks), and set up my SMART board slides for the next day. And then I’m on the road towards home by 5:00, for a supreme total of 10 hours, or 600 minutes.

Week Day Time Break Down:
Sleep: 420 minutes
School: 600 minutes
Home (“awake” minutes): 320 minutes
Devoted & undivided time to my husband: 60 minutes
Commute: 60 minutes
Grand Total: 1,440

Am I ok with the way my time is used? I guess my answer to that question most of the time is: yes. I realize time is precious. Sometimes it is used wisely, sometimes not. There are days when I feel that my minutes are being valued, and there are times when I feel that my time has just been wasted. But at the end of the day, I have to look at my professional and personal goals. I think that if you look at those goals and you realize that your minutes are not being spent at accomplishing those goals, then you need to adjust those minutes somehow. Keep reevaluating until you feel your time is the most wisely invested commodity out there.

And keep smiling.