Life, Teach


I am a perfectionist in my classroom. At the end of the day, each child has a job for which he or she is responsible. The children straighten book boxes, clean out cubbies, and fold and stack blankets. They pick up trash, sharpen pencils, and file papers. They stow away the messy-ness of the day’s learning and prepare for a fresh start the next morning. Then they go home to relax, spend time with their families, and participate in activities that make them happy. So why don’t I do the same thing for myself in my own home?

For much of my teaching career, I have awakened at 6:00 am and been at school by 7:30 (or earlier.) I taught from 8:00-3:00 with a short break for lunch and recess for the children and a 45-minute planning period for myself (when the children went to Specials – Art, PE, Music, etc.) During the day, I had morning hallway duty, lunch or recess duty, and carpool duty after school (or some combination thereof.)

Once the children left, my work day began. I typically worked from 3:30 to 5:30 or 6:00, completing paperwork, planning future lessons, gathering materials for the next day, and following up with emails and phone calls from parents, arriving home in the evening between 6:30 and 7:00. After a 12-or-more-hour workday, I was usually too exhausted to do anything besides heat up a frozen dinner (if I hadn’t picked up something on the way home) and collapse on the couch for my nightly dose of House Hunters. During my earlier years, I worked on schoolwork in the evening and on the weekends. I remember spending entire Saturdays grading papers and planning reading lessons for the upcoming week.

I am not a martyr – I chose this path – but, being a perfectionist, I made sure that everything I did as a teacher was up to my extremely high standards. When someone (okay, my therapist) suggested that I try being a “good-enough” teacher, I realized that even my “good-enough” was well above what a typical person in the job aspired to do. So I have tried to lower my standards. Way lower. This means that I focus on what is truly important about the lessons I am teaching and the environment in which the children are learning, and I am letting go of the little things that don’t matter in the long run.

Right now, I have blank bulletin boards. Blank, I tell you! Instead of polling the children about the new books they wanted for our classroom library (I have collected so many children’s books over the years that I cannot possibly keep them all out on the shelves – I have to rotate them periodically throughout the year), I just made the choices myself and switched them out! My new book baskets do not all have labels yet. (Actually, none of them have labels yet…!)

I still get up early and try to be at school before 7:30. I find it really helps to have ample time in the room by myself before the children arrive at 8:00. Lately, I have been leaving school by 4:30 unless there is a meeting or I have report cards to write or parent conferences to conduct. I rarely do work at night (that doesn’t mean that I don’t still bring home my bookbag full of papers, but it just sits by the back door, waiting to go back to school the next day! This is a downgrade from the rolling cart I used to have!) I hardly ever work on the weekends anymore (unless it’s report card or parent conference time.)

Over the Christmas holiday, I cleaned and organized closets, threw out or gave away things I don’t want or need anymore, and began making my bed each morning. I hung up all of my clothes in my closet instead of draping them on the overstuffed chair in my bedroom. I recycled stacks of magazines and newspapers and cleared off tables and countertops. I got rid of the messy-ness of the day’s tasks and prepared for a fresh start each morning. I have actually continued my newfound happy homemaking routine for the first week of school! I finally feel like I am giving my home the attention it deserves and taking steps toward enriching my own life the way I have enriched the lives of the children I teach.

What prompted this radical change in behavior? The credit goes to The Nester and to the headmaster at my new school. More on these inspirations later!

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