Monday, May 25, 2020

Separating Home And School For Teachers

Watching my wife deal with the challenges of doing crisis pandemic distance learning, I've been having flashbacks to my first job.

I taught in Lorain High School (not the current LHS but the one that stood where there is now a vacant lot), and I rented an apartment right across the street from the school. When I found the place, I was delighted-- the ultimate in convenience. I wouldn't even have to start my car, let alone navigate a strange city. Heck, it was even across the street from the same side of the building in which I worked.

My old neighborhood
At the end of the day, I'd stay at my desk in my room and keep working till I hit a stopping point. Then I'd throw a pile of papers in my briefcase, walk down the hall, out the door, across the street, up the stairs, and into my apartment, where I would grab something to eat, then open the briefcase and spread the papers out on my coffee table, sit on the couch with my grading and my supper, and go back to work. Maybe I'd turn on the TV (a portable twelve-inch black and white) or maybe I'd just play music. At some point I'd get up, walk six feet to my bedroom and go to bed. Fridays were extra luxurious because I could just leave everything out on the table so that it would be all ready to go on Saturday morning.

At some point it occurred to me that work had eaten my home, that I in fact didn't really have a home so much as a more comfortable supplemental work location. And partway into the year, I felt like a hamster on a wheel.

Without any separation between work and home, everything was work. Worse, because I would still try to, say, watch a show I was interested in while grading papers, sometimes it wasn't even particularly effective work. But I was fresh-out-the-wrapper teacher, and I had not yet learned that there are literally not enough hours in the day to do everything that I knew in my heart needed to be done. Nor was I experienced enough to move through stacks of paper very quickly.

Eventually, I concluded that this was unsustainable, that I would have to separate work and home. That it was okay to make weekends to see old friends without carrying the briefcase along. That it was not only okay, but actually desirable, to take an hour or two out of my day in which I focused entirely on my own entertainment and didn't even pretend that I was still trying to do work. That it was a good idea to, as Lincoln allegedly advised, to sharpen the ax.

It was good to have figured it out by the time where I was living in a town where I knew people, had activities to be involved in, had a family with kids to fill out my life.

You can't work all the time-- not and be an effective teacher. You have to bring something into the classroom, some sort of life in the world, because how else can you teach about or model living a fully human life in the world? Part of what you bring to the table as a teacher is your lived experience, which means you have to have some lived experience other than doing the work 24/7.

And you also have to remember this about teaching-- it will not hesitate to take all you've will give it, even if that's more than you have to give. You have to be the one to regulate it, because no school board or administrator or even students will say, "You know what? You look like you're really heavily extended now, so we're going to put your needs ahead of our own and not ask any more of you."

Usually, of course, the physical difference between work and home helps maintain the distinction, but that's not happening now, is it. So I hope teachers have been figuring this out (or will further figure out just in case we're doing this all over again in the fall). I hope you've found a way to keep home and work separate even while they're all happening under the same roof. And I hope that today you are taking at least part of an actual holiday.

1 comment:

  1. Two observations:
    1) IIRC LHS was your first job. For the first two years or so of being a baby teacher, work is going to take over your life regardless of where you live. (Whenever I pine about missing the classroom, my wife reminds me of my first year when I often got home, fell asleep on the floor and then prepped for the next day.)

    2) The home office/work issue IS real, for some of us. I eventually got to the point where I refused to bring work home because I found I was happier & more productive arriving super early & staying later than having a pile of lab reports on our dining table staring at me at home. But, that's me. My daughter, who teaches writing & rhetoric at University of Denver, much prefers getting her out-of-class work done at home. She knows when to quit & watch tv or cook.