There’s a lot of talk about sustainability in the environmental field. The fact that we need to discuss it means that for too long we haven’t been doing it. That pattern has extended into how we work. We consume our resources – and then suddenly we realize we don’t have enough to go on – so we’re running on empty. We need to work sustainably.
It’s true, sometimes you will need to put in 80 hour weeks. Sometimes there is a time where there will be no balance in your life. Some examples of this is when everything seems to fall into your lap at once and it just has to get done, or when you are putting on a big production or show, or when it’s report card season, when you are breaking ground on a new project.
That is normal. You can handle hard and busy – this is where the virtue of endurance comes in handy.
Support yourself when you are in this stage. Do not pull all-nighters or skip meals as a habit – you need to sustain yourself with rest and nutrition to be able to carry this workload. Have ways to release the pressure value that all this work will create.
But that level of work not sustainable for an entire career.
Plot out your year. Put in your big goals and events – and buffer them with time that you are not going to fill with more big goals and events. After such a big goal or event is completed, give yourself sufficient down time to recover.
Beyond that, it’s actually the run-of-the-mill busyness that is most likely to steal your time. Teaching can eat up all your time if you let it.
So often teachers say that they’re so run off their feet they don’t have time for their families. Your family (and you) comes first. We can prioritize our personal and family goals. When we do that, teaching has to fit around it. For teaching to fit around it – it means we need to trim our teaching. We need to prioritize our teaching goals too. You can’t do everything and have enough time for everything. Prioritize what is important in your teaching practice – and cut, delegate or defer the rest – or find a way to do it more efficiently.
Here are some basic ideas:
We have to find ways to be more efficient. We have to look at where we put in too much effort that has no value. Some teachers give daily journalling prompts. These tasks are not weighed the same as a major assignment, so they should not require the same level of grading engagement from you. A journal can be skim-marked. If you use a descriptive rubric – the student gets feedback from the rubric parameters and doesn’t require you to write anything at all. Save your thoughtful comments for thoughtful assignments. It’s one example, but if you look at your teaching habits, you’ll find where else this kind of over-functioning is occurring.
You have to put time limits on the teaching tasks that take up the most time. Set time limits for your tasks. Eg: I will mark these quizzes in 30 minutes. I will finish this lesson plan in 30 minutes – or whatever reasonable time you set. Otherwise your task will expand to whatever time you have available. If you have all day to mark those papers – it’ll likely take all day. Don’t you have better things to do with your day?
If you are procrastinating, just start the task and set a timer for 20 minutes and tell yourself you can stop working then if you want. After the timer goes off – you’ll likely already be on a roll and will just finish the task.
Your baseline has to be manageable. Then if your time and energy levels expand you can put in more activities if you like, but the baseline cannot be you being run off your feet.
Whatever you do has to be sustainable for the longhaul. As your life changes your teaching will change. It’s a good idea to do an occasional inventory of our teaching practices and habits. See which ones are working or aren’t. Which ones need to be changed or stopped because they no longer fit the classroom dynamic or your personal life dynamic?
The idea that we should be able to do everything and sacrifice ourselves in order to do so is an outmoded concept of work. Prioritizing and working sustainably is actually professionalizing your teaching.