Tips for Teachers: Don't Take It Home

Those of us in the education game can find it all too easy to let our job come to dominate all aspects of our existence. It is not uncommon to find the gig and its various associated tasks absorbing our "free time;" nights, weekends, early mornings (for those of us who are truly sick). It's understandable. A good teacher cares about the job that they do and wants to do it to the best of his or her ability. However, there are distinct problems that can result from allowing the profession to eat up most, or even some of our personal time. Primarily, the main issue is that free time spent working is not free time spent doing the myriad of other things that need doing for a content life. Main among this list would be enjoying life, cultivating relationships with others and generally living an existence outside of work. I say this to you as a reformed offender. In my first years of working the job, I was only too happy to spend the vast majority of my hours outside of the school dealing with scholastics. Preparing for lessons, grading assignments and endlessly pondering the variety of decisions that I made on a daily basis related to my practice were some of my most often indulged-in past times. This period of nascently burning away freedom on work-related tasks is quite a common symptom in new teachers. Even as I write this, my lovely and talented spouse has declared her intention to spend a portion of this afternoon grading work, as we enjoy the comforts of our holiday break visiting her relatives in sunny Crystal River, Florida. I would wager that most of my unseasoned colleagues plan to spend a portion of their hard-earned time off, doing something quite similar.

It is in the spirit of helping stem this regrettable tendency that I offer the following helpful hints below the fold:

1. Never grade anything outside of the building that you teach in. Several years past, I made this a new year's resolution and I have to say that it is among the best decisions that I ever made. Of course, to enable this kind of move, one has to be willing to get past the drive to have all work returned to students as promptly as humanly possible (for me, this was often the day after it was due). Some may be concerned that in moving to a home grading blackout, that work will cease to be returned in a timely fashion. I assure you that in my personal experience this has not been the case. Rarely do I return any assignments more than a week after they have been collected by me for grading even with my stricture firmly in place.

2. Analyze, don't agonize your practice. So you made a classroom decision that you are unhappy with. Think about it, decide how you will change your approach in the future and implement your change down the road. Don't spend days (or weeks) mulling a past action over and over and over again. Once upon a time as a relatively green teacher I had a problem student whom I dealt with in a way that I later came to feel was sub-optimal from my personal pedagogical philosophy. Rather than dealing with the situation in the manner described above, I constantly re-analyzed the situation over and over and over again for the entirety of a spring break. All whom I saw for that week were subjected in some way or other to my ceaseless revisiting of the situation...and the whole process contributed nothing to rectifying the situation. As educators, we make hundreds of decisions about our practice every day on the fly. Certainly some of them are not going to hold up upon further scrutiny. But what exactly is the sense of continually revisiting them when we are home, away from our jobs and wholly unable to effect any useful corrective actions?

3. Understanding that you have a problem is the first step to dealing with it. Don't pretend that all of the free time you spend dealing with work is significantly contributing to the process of making you a better teacher. And certainly don't be surprised when your friends and loved ones lament your choice to remain squirreled away working on educational esoterica while they are all having a good time that they would like you to be a part of. They are not trying to keep you from fulfilling your full teacher potential and don't you dare act as if they "don't understand." No one likes a martyr.

4. It's okay to fall off the wagon. I'm not going to act as if I never do anything work related at home. There are things that I do for work (developing activities, finding media, cultivating my on-line resources) that I enjoy doing with some of my free time. But my rule of thumb is that the moment I feel like I am doing work, I stop. I also find that doing work at home in contravention of my rules forces me to acknowledge that I am violating my regulations and consciously focus on the fact that I am spending time doing work, when I could be doing something else.

These are some of my thoughts on this issue. Certainly not intended to be expert in any other way. Perhaps the readership would like to offer some of their own helpful hints for avoiding this particularly nasty habit...