Friday night, at the high school basketball game.
January 10, 2014 11:58 AM   Subscribe

I am a young, single teacher and my whole life is consumed by school. How do I survive this and not end up lonely forever?

This is my second year teaching. For the most part, I love it. I love my students and I love the subject I teach. But I don't love that I have to study each night to make sure I know more than the kids, I don't love coming up with lesson plans endlessly (I'm teaching one class that's the same as last year, and one new one), and I don't like the administration. More importantly, though, the sheer time commitment it takes to do this job, which I love, is killing my personal life.

I briefly dated a coworker, and then had another relationship that fizzled. I am really introverted and don't like meeting new people, which makes it difficult for me to want to do new things or spend time outside my normal routine (which is currently: school, go to school events, plan for school, grade, and sleep). But this is unsustainable. I am exhausted and lonely, but I don't think leaving my job is the answer.

As I far as I can tell, there are a couple issues:
1) structural. I have very little free time as a teacher, and I want to do my job well.
2) personal. I don't like meeting new people or doing new things, and at the end of a long day, I have very little energy.

What do I do?
posted by sockysocksock to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Travel/take classes during the summer break. You'll meet lots of people, you'll have energy, and since you don't enjoy meeting new people or doing new things, you'll be inclined to focus on a new relationship if you meet someone you like (versus continuing to focus on meeting more new people/doing more new things.)

If you have trouble getting over the personal hump, think of it as research: by taking classes, you'll be keeping in touch with what it's like to be a student in a classroom (professional development!) and by traveling you'll be keeping in touch with what it's like for your new students, who are immersing themselves in an unfamiliar place.
posted by davejay at 12:17 PM on January 10, 2014

You need to talk with experienced teachers (5+ years), preferably in the same discipline as you, to find out where you can save time and effort without sacrificing student learning. Ask to watch how they grade things, how they plan, how they make seating charts, create activities, etc. And watch with an open mind. For example, do you write comments on papers where they just give a check +/-? Do your students read your comments? Is it worth it?

Also, keep in mind teaching a new course is exhausting and time consuming, especially if you are planning it from scratch - try to find and use others' activities, even if they aren't perfect, whenever possible.

It's possible to do a good job without doing a perfect job. Which is good, because perfect is unattainable. Just try to figure out where your amount of effort is not matching up with the importance of the task, or where you are wasting time on diminishing returns. Experienced teachers can help a lot with this.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:25 PM on January 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

Oh, and I should add that I feel your pain - I'm a 2nd year teacher struggling with very similar issues.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:26 PM on January 10, 2014

This is something I struggled to manage, too, and to some extent it's still an issue after 10 years of teaching- I still can't bear to do much else than sleep on weeknights. I'm married to a teacher now which means we can crash out together.

Things that helped earlier on- I used to nap, briefly, when I got home, and then head out. Prob not great but it meant I could hang out with non-teaching friends.

Seconding the suggestion to do amazing holidays. I would, most of the time, prefer not to be frantically busy and then blissfully free (a more consistent schedule appeals) but such is the job. Also, at least in Australia at a private school, the more you get promoted the more likely it is that you will have not only your own prep and marking but official school activities over the 'holidays', so enjoy them while you can.

Remember that your students are better off with you staying in the profession, rather than burning out, and don't be too much of a perfectionist. The system does not allow sufficient time for lesson prep. You alone cannot make up for that, so be reasonable with yourself. Judging this line and managing your time gets somewhat easier with experience.

Finally, and this won't help much with dating probably, but I have friends now who expect to see me on term breaks and not much other wise. My family is pretty used to this too. Once people get used to your schedule the subtle pressures come off, and you just need to make sure that you DO catch up with them in those times if you want to sustain the relationship.

Good luck :)
posted by jojobobo at 12:29 PM on January 10, 2014

I could have written this in my second year of teaching (and in fact I'm still in your shoes a lot of the time, though I'm in my 5th year of teaching). There's no silver bullet - I don't think you can ever be a good teacher and have as much free time/energy as people in other jobs. But it does get better. Here are some things you can do to make it so:

1. Preps - Fight to have the same preps next year. At some point you'll probably have to teach other classes - but ideally one wouldn't add a new class every year. You deserve a year to get your feet under you. Make the case (to your department head, administrator, or whoever decides at your school) that you'll be more effective next year if you can improve your lessons and units for a year before taking on anything new.

2. School events - Stop going to (most) of these. Yes, it helps build relationships with kids. But if you burn out in two more years because you literally *have no life* then there won't be any relationships to build. I try to go to as few things as possible - I show my kids I care about them every day in the classroom and ask about their extracurriculars - but I defend my life outside of school as best I can.

3. Dating/Friendships - I found online dating to be the solution to the teacher dating dilemma. Also, cultivate your friendships with non-teachers - you'll need their support and connections to the outside world. Plus sometimes they're good at dragging you out on a Friday night when you're exhausted.

4. Weekends/Weeknights - Make sure you have one weekend day when you never do schoolwork. Since weeknights are largely shot, you'll need to make sure you plan something to do (school events don't count) to make sure you maintain work/life balance. Weeknights can be tough, but I find that sometimes I can force myself to have energy if I go to [happy hour/a museum/a movie/whatever] straight from work. I find that when I go home and sit down, that's when the complete and utter exhaustion sets in.

It will get better. Good luck!
posted by leitmotif at 12:30 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Writing your own lesson plans is just martyring yourself -- buy an existing one (with your own money if necessary, just so you can get more free time).

Off-load grading to TAs as much as possible.

Plan the bestest trip ever for the summer. Take a month or two adventure to some cheap, far-off land. Something to look forward to.

Assign less homework.

Grade randomly -- for example, assign 6 writing prompts, but only grade 2 at random.

Do more peer-grading.

I have to study each night to make sure I know more than the kids

Now, is that so you can know the War of 1812 started in x month? Or so you can know who were the participants? If it's more the former, forget doing that; the students won't be harmed by you having to take thirty seconds to look up facts -- that's what books and computers are for. Now, if it's the latter, then you aren't really qualified to be teaching this subject and you are going to have to suffer a little until you are.
posted by flimflam at 2:58 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been teaching high school English for 8 years and always score 100% introvert on those tests.

The comments above suggesting you strive less for perfection are absolutely on the money. Finding ways to be efficient is crucial. And don't assume this will just happen as you get more experienced - I know teachers more experienced than me that still spend too long grading papers and dealing with admin. You need to be intentional, decide what's reasonable and stick to it.

For example, I often set timers on my phone to force my efficiency. I sit down with a stack of marking, decide what a reasonable amount of time to spend on it is and then refuse to spend longer:

Bossy head voice: I have a class of 25 papers here and I am willing to spend an hour and a half tonight and tomorrow night on it.
Whiney perfectionist head voice: That's 7 minutes per senior essay! I can't do that!
BHV: suck it up, princess, I want to take my wife to the beach on Saturday!

And then I set those timers for 7 minutes and do whatever it takes to stick to it. Fewer comments, refusing to rephrase their sentences for them, reading the last two waffly paragraphs in an already crap essay... whatever it takes.
posted by man down under at 4:59 PM on January 10, 2014

Oh man. This is a tough one! I'm in my 5th year of teaching and am still trying to maintain work-life balance.

Some good points have already been made:
1) online dating - really the only thing that's worked for my teacher friends and me.
2) the best thing you can do for the kids is be alert, content, and rested. Spending hours on formatting, clip art, or finding the perfect article is not conducive to sustainability
3) take at least one day a week off. Teacher friends and I often debate about whether we prefer to work on Saturdays or Sundays (I'm a Saturday person). You've realized by now that NOT working on the weekend is not an option (at least not this year), so choose your day and stick to it. Don't let work permeate your whole weekend.
4) don't go to most school events. Rookie teachers often get sucked into this. See how many veteran teachers at your school attend these events and act accordingly.
5) Again, online dating.
posted by brynna at 5:10 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I taught and was an administrator in the smallest public school district in Massachusetts and was in a position where I had 3 preps and 4 classes on top of administration and there was no curriculum when I started: I had one week to go from "never taught" to "here's your students".

In year two, I took what worked best in my curriculum, threw out the rest and then polished the good stuff and added in better.

In year three, it took me a few minutes to prep a lecture (refresh my memory) and much less time to prep activities.

The biggest thing that helped me was making sure that every single assignment had a purpose to support the curriculum and came with a rubric that made fair grading trivial and quick.

Once that was in place, I honestly felt like I had my head above water. I only had one or two weekends per quarter that were hell.

My problem is that I run hot and cold - I also tend to be introverted. Once I've done a good, solid, active class, I'm wiped. It's like I'd been on stage. But there is little down time in education.

That said, plan your breaks - get away and leave the work behind. Look towards a non-school hobby, whether it's music or a stitch and bitch, or a cooking class.
posted by plinth at 8:13 PM on January 10, 2014

Okay. My advice is kinda weird, but it works for me. Get on Twitter.

When I joined Twitter, I had an instant network of people interested in the same stuff I am, with the same energy levels and schedules I have. I went from isolated, barely making friends with colleagues at my new schools (yay California budget crisis forcing me to be at a new school most every year for ten years!), to going to conferences and already knowing half the people there because we're friends on Twitter. My colleagues are shocked when they go with me...they have no idea how I know so many people.

There are SO SO SO many educators on Twitter, and TONS who share their amazing lesson plans, ideas, and help troubleshoot problems. There are communities for states (#caedchat, #nced, #txed, etc.), for movements (#edtechchat, #flipclass, #tlap), and for subjects (#engchat, #sschat, #scichat) and even just #edchat for all teachers. If there are people teaching it, there are hashtags and communities on Twitter for it.

The thing I didn't expect is how much my practice improved as a result of having this huge Personal Learning Network. And just about every night (6-7 a week), I am on Google Hangout and using MessageMe (a social messaging app) talking with my people. We debrief the day, plan for class tomorrow, and deal with issues we're struggling to solve on our own.

Twitter changed my practice, my classroom, and my life. I would never go back to pre-Twitter. If you want some introductions specific to what/where you're teaching, tweet, mefi mail or gmail me (my mefi name at gmail dot com) and I'll hook you up.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:30 PM on January 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

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