In an ideal world, work and home would be two separate domains, and you could slalom between them with the ease of an Olympic skier. But in our highly digital world and among a growing remote workforce, that line between work and home is becoming increasingly blurry with work spilling over into our homes physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.
Teaching is no exception. In fact, it’s arguably a profession with some of the most time spent working outside of so-called “contract hours” (ha!). Think about it: conferences, meetings, planning, grading, entering grades, making copies, dealing with absences, handling discipline, filing papers, communication… It’s impossible to get it all done in a single planning period.
If you are a first-year teacher, please trust that it will get better. Cross my heart. But no matter the level of experience–from the fresh-out-of-college, energetic newbies to the been-there-done-that, wise veterans–there will be times when your work insists on hitching a ride home with you.
First, always ask yourself if this can wait. Does it have to be done tonight? Or do you just want it done? Some days I could mentally handle it, and others I truly needed a break. From the classroom, from the paperwork, from all of it. And I forced myself to leave it at work and walk away for my own sake and for that of my family. So be honest with yourself, take a deep breath, and be willing to allow yourself some margin and for goodness’ sake, some grace.
Another consideration: decide what you are willing to bring home. What kind of work will be the least invasive to your home life? This is going to heavily depend on your individual personality.
For me, I avoided grading at home unless absolutely necessary. It took up too much prep time (packing and unpacking materials) and way too much space in my home. I found that I was more efficient and focused while grading at my desk in my classroom. On the other hand, planning and communication tasks were preferable for me at home since it was just me, my laptop, and my brain, wherever I wanted to set up–while watching the kids outside or streaming Netflix on in the background. (Or sometimes both.)
The downside to this was that I was prone to checking my work email at all hours. Inevitably, I’d get an email from a parent, administrator, or colleague that would drop a work bomb and ruin my night. Additionally, my round-the-clock availability became an expectation that I tried–unsuccessfully–to ditch later on.
If you can’t get into your planning zone at home, you may need to bring grading home. When feasible, bring home the “easy” grading: objective quizzes, tests, and assignments. Could you grade it in front of a TV? Excellent choice. Save the bigger essays and projects for when you can give them more attention.
I used to teach senior English. Staring down a new stack of senior-level research papers brought on an abysmal level of dread. In these circumstances, you need to find a method that works for you. A colleague of mine would pace himself with a timer, a glass of bourbon, and some chill music; he’d plow through as many as he could in that time frame, maybe two or three times a week. With a daily/weekly “quota,” you’ll find the work more manageable. That old (and gross) saying about eating an elephant will never be more applicable in your life.
Perhaps most importantly, set boundaries in your home space, and by all means, adhere to them. If you have to work at home, give yourself “office hours,” and force yourself to quit when time is up. Don’t check email at home after a certain time if at all. A wise and dear teacher friend once reminded me that personal matters aren’t supposed to interrupt our work days, so why should we allow work to interrupt our personal/family time?
You’ll meet teachers all over the spectrum on the issue of take-home work. Some are up late every night working, and others refuse to take anything home out of principle. And all are examples of good teachers. You have to learn what your tolerance is of the balance. If you don’t take work home one night, you might fall behind. How does that align with your personality and expectations from your administration? On the other hand, if taking work home means you have tests returned within 24 hours and emails answered within minutes, will that set an unrealistic and exhausting precedent for your students, parents, and administrators that you’ll have trouble shaking off later?
The longer you teach in a particular position, the less work you will bring home. You’ll streamline processes and become more efficient. And when you learn to strike a balance you’re comfortable with, it’s a beautiful thing.
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