Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 9: Keeping Your Spirits Up

Hello friends!

Well, this is going to be the last post in my "What No One Will Tell You..." series. Now, fret not--I'll be continuing to guestblog here, which is either cause for celebration or angry e-mails to NYC Educator about how appalling his taste in guestbloggers is. But, frankly, I'm out of ideas and just about out of summer vacation, so this is going to wrap up this particular group of posts.

My last post in this series will deal with caring for yourself and keeping an occasional smile on your face and spring in your step. Yes, it happens. I was not at at all good at caring for myself in my first year and not appreciably better in my second, and I think it's very important for you new teachers to NOT let the job become your life. It is a very consuming and intense job, but it should NOT be your life. Repeat it with me one more time: TEACHING IS NOT YOUR LIFE. Those KIPP people who expect you to answer your cell phone at ten o'clock at night to read the instructions for the homework out loud again? That's why I don't work for them. I'm being brutally honest here. I love my students and I love my job, but I don't love any job that much, and at the end of the day, they're my students, not my children.

Here's a few tips on keeping your life separate from your job.

First, the best advice I ever got on how to structure my day was from a teacher I met at a PD last year. She told me to come to school by 7:00 a.m., leave school at 5:00 p.m., and leave anything unfinished for the next day. This is excellent advice. Three hours, used well, plus the prep/professional periods, should give you enough time, even as a newbie, to keep your head above water on paperwork and planning. I put this plan into action last year and I LOVED coming home and forgetting about work for the night. It isn't quite 100% foolproof because of parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings and basketball games and whatever, but you can make it work, more or less. I'm not a great fan of taking work home and I avoid it strenuously.

Second, don't just have a nebulously defined hobby--make a commitment to doing something fun and 100% non-work-related. I found that signing up for exercise classes 5 or 10 at a time, and paying for them as such, made me show up to them once or twice a week. If you don't make a serious commitment (if you're anything like me), you'll let it fall by the wayside. Do pottery, yoga, ice hockey, surfing, whatever--just make it something you purely enjoy, and preferably something you can do with friends or family.

Speaking of friends and family, you must continue to nurture your relationships outside of work. I've extolled the value of work friends, I know, but it's so, so, important to not neglect your non-teacher friends and your family. They will probably understand that the first year of teaching is intense and demanding and what have you, but you need to have people from outside that rarefied school environment to remind you of who you were before you took this crazy job, to remind you that you have been successful in relationships before, to just be a decent human being.

Try to save up some money and take a nice trip during the winter break. I have made it a habit of getting out of town every February since I joined up with the NYCDOE and I find the dull, gray, short month to be an excellent time to get the hell out of Dodge. Yeah, I know, you're a newbie, you're broke. Maybe your family will give you some dough towards a trip as a Christmas/Hanukkah/Nativity of the Flying Spaghetti Monster present? You're a smart kid, you know all about Orbitz and Travelocity and Kayak. You can find something cheap. Treat yourself. You deserve it.

Finally, for God's sake, unless you're eating out of a dumpster, take the summer off.

Maybe someday I'll finish that teacher evaluation idea of mine over at my own blog, or maybe I'll just move it over here, or maybe you want me to start writing about how to set up your own espresso bar in your classroom. (Believe me, I've considered it.) But seriously, y'all are going to be hearing more from me, from the looks of things, so you may as well take a few brief moments of pleasure in ordering me around in the comments. Suggestions will be carefully considered.

And thanks for reading this summer, by the way. I'm glad that my posts started conversations and that the intrepid commenters here added on to my points in constructive and helpful ways for the newbies out there. I hope some actual newbies have read this series.

Now, get thee to Staples/the beach/the Hamptons/back to bed/wherever else you plan on spending your last few days of summer!

Miss Eyre
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