being a teacher, being me, life choices

There Is No Such Thing As Balance

It’s 9 PM and I have spent 30 minutes with my husband.  2 hours with my four children.  10 hours at work.  1 hour after work working on work and 1 more hour thinking about it.  Just another day in the life of most teachers.  I used to think that days like this meant my life was out of balance.  That adding up all of the hours spent away from those that matter the most meant that I was an abject failure at being a great human being and that I had to restore my balance.  In the past few weeks though, I have realized that there is no such as balance.

In fact, I would like to state that balance is much like a unicorn.  Wonderful to dream about even though we all know it doesn’t really exist.

What I do have though is choice.  And for the past 7 years I have chosen to give the best of me to my students.  I have chosen to give most of my energy, most of my thoughts, most of my hopes and dreams to those students I have been lucky enough to teach.  I have taught with my emotions on my sleeve and at a breakneck pace.  I have chosen to do this, whether intentionally or not, and so my own children?  They have gotten whatever was left of me when I finally made it home.  The final smiles, the tired eyes, the overloaded mind.  And that is no longer enough.

We forget that as teachers we cannot save the world.  That yes, we can try to change the life of a child in our classrooms but we hold a much greater power at home.  We are the people that can change our own children’s lives for good.  We are the people who can make sure that some children will show up to school knowing they are loved, knowing that they have support no matter what happens to them.  We are the people who can make a difference, but that difference needs to start with our own children.

So I am ready to stop searching for balance and instead spend the time and energy making better choices.  There are moments of my day I cannot choose, I will devote myself fully to those hours I get to teach.  But the rest of the day belongs to me and to the choices that I want to make.  No longer should my family get what is left of me, but instead what they deserve; a person who is fully present, not thinking about work or the next thing to write.  A mother who looks at them like they matter.  A wife that shows how crazy in love she still is.  I will never find that unicorn, but I have come to accept it.  Now it is time for a change, how about you?

26 thoughts on “There Is No Such Thing As Balance”

  1. Whew! After 18 years in education, I keep wondering what I’m doing wrong. Why does it take so much time to get ready to teach the way I want to teach?
    I’m glad I’m not the only one! Thank you for your honesty.

  2. Haha. I am reading your post late at night while working on grading research papers from my 4th graders. Yes, I worked all day, then after school I worked some more, and after dinner with my family, went back to working on classwork. Do you ever feel the feeling of being all caught up with everything? How do some teachers appear to have it all under control, or is it just an act? I am always chasing after that unicorn…

  3. There are so many days that I think to myself, “I’m teaching as fast as I can – please don’t throw anything else my way.” We have to slow down and take care of ourselves, our families, and our communities so that we keep the big picture in mind for real ed reform. Home, family, community – this is where the change will happen. Glad you’re joining the movement.

  4. My master teacher told me at the beginning of my teaching journey, “Good teachers have good lives.” Balance is so very difficult to find, it’s true. And you may be right that it is virtually impossible to find as a teacher. I find myself wondering if I should choose a different path after teaching some 14 years. I am a very good teacher, but I know that I only have so much time left with my kids before they go off to college. It might be a good time to try something else. I just wish there were more opportunities for teachers OUTSIDE of the classroom, other than administration. Bleh. That isn’t for me! Thank you for your thoughtful post.

  5. Good that you have come to this realisation Pernille. My 3 kids are now grown up and living independent lives. As adults, they are truly none the worse for ‘getting what was left of me’ at the end of each hectic day. However, I still feel deeply guilty that they and my husband missed out on getting ‘the best of me’ – my students got that! Yes of course as dedicated teachers we want to and have to give our all during school hours, but we must know when to make the choice (to use your words) to put the breaks on school stuff and accelerate towards our loved ones. ( ( I write this while my husband is making us coffee – better learn to practise what I preach! ? Gotta go….

  6. We teachers have stages in our lives–as a new teacher we have the freedom and energy to throw every ounce of energy and spare time into our planning, scoring, teaching, extra-curricular activities, and committees.

    As our lives change and our own children come into the picture, our energies shift–rightfully so. I remember coming home from a long day of teaching, grad class after school, and four children waiting for me. As a single parent, I would practically resent my own kids’ needs for help with homework (“You, TOO, need something from me?!) after a day spent brainstorming thesis statements with other people’s children. It’s a nearly impossible challenge and rising to it takes all the strength we have.

    It is important to prioritize our families and relationships so that they have the best of us! In my 25th teaching year, with grown children and grandchildren, I am finally finding that elusive unicorn: balance.

    And yet still that demon named “guilt” frequently slips in and whispers, “Shouldn’t you be doing a little more than that?”

  7. I think the constant tension between killing ourselves to give our students a better education and the need to have ‘me’ time is actually a good thing. If you don’t have that tension and you travel to far to the either side then there is a real problem, either for your students or for your relationships and health.

    This is something I have been thinking about as well for a while and I have come to the conclusion that we need things away from the classroom to do that create a purpose that doesn’t lead straight back to the classroom.

  8. I think you’re right, Pernille to admit that there is no balance- at least not with the way education is set up in most places. You’re on the right track shifting towards greater student responsibility and having a supportive school helps more than you realize.

    Don’t forget to let your students know that you’re giving them more responsibility and easing back on your own. They’ll probably be grateful. I think many times kids WANT to take more ownership (which takes the pressure off us),but they’re not sure they’re well-equipped enough or that we believe in them. Letting them see your “letting go” process can only inspire them to step into their roles of learner even more. Best of luck!

  9. Well said; The fact is, this field of work admires and elevates those who sacrificially put in the long hours, the many nights, and the weekends coaching. However, I remember distinctly, about half way through my almost 20 year career, my journey to find ‘balance’. I really yearned for it after spending 11 years on the pace of which you’ve written. I ended up, after that year, taking a year off to spend with my new born child, and I’ve never regretted that time away. I came back after that setting very solid hours for myself as an educator, time for my family, and time for myself. I feel good to go for another 20 years! I know for a fact It wouldn’t have been possible, at least for me, if I hadn’t reorganized my time and my priorities. Best wishes.

  10. Pernille,

    I feel like you have written this post right from the thoughts of my head. Thank you. As the mom of three little girls under 5, I have often thought of asking you, “how do you do it all?” But as a fellow teacher, mom, wife, I know that we don’t… We do what we have time and energy for.

    Like you, I grew up thinking as a young girl I could balance both being a career woman and a mom… We know this is not true. And with those three sets of eyes looking up to me every day, I feel a duty to teach them that its a choice … Any choice is fine, but you must be willing to live with whatever consequences come from that choice.

    I listened to a podcast the other day and they were talking about how we choose to spend our time. I’m paraphrasing, but they said something along the lines of, when we are faced with a choice of how to spend our time, we must be conscious of our gut reaction. If it’s a “hell yes!” feeling, then that means it’s worth it, and we should go for it. But if it’s anything else, a maybe, a guilty yes, a why did I say I’d do that, they suggest those should all be answered with no…

    Wishing you a peace in your choices. Thank you for posting – you are not alone.

    Be well.

    1. I should revise…

      We can both be a career woman and a mom, what I meant to say is that we can’t give both all of our energy, one must take precedence. Sorry.

  11. I agree, Pernille, that we have choices and I feel lucky to be able to make the best choices I can for my family, my students, my school and myself … within circumstance and at any given time!

    I wrote here about my own tussles with the ideas of balance and fulfilment:

    Let’s forget the unicorn and focus on the horses we have. 🙂

  12. I am so delighted to read that since your post about seeking balance, you “have been floating around in a relaxed state”.

    After writing my response to your post, I composed an email to my principal resigning from one of my after-school activities (for next year) that has been stressing me out this year.

    Thanks for the reminder to prioritize what is good for me when it comes to balance–in the end, it will be better for my students.

  13. I chose my word for the year to be balance, so I love your quote! What it means to me is to also make better decisions in making sure I say yes to all aspects of my life – not just work. It means making sure that there is time for family, friends, me and work. Not volunteering all the time, not going to every single event happening, reserving time to just lay around and just be with my family has been a re-energizing time for me. I have found myself clearer and more focused at work. There never was a way to finish that to-do list anyways, but I can be productive and then leave work to be me. Thanks for putting it all so well into words!

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