How do teachers get past the challenges of their early classroom years? What accounts for whether or not a teacher remains in the profession beyond the first several years? Is it mentoring, knowledge, skills, or ability?
Perhaps these do play a role, but what if it’s something more?
While teachers remain in, and leave, the profession for a variety of reasons in the early years of their career, ultimately balancing the professional and personal identities that all educators must juggle is key to success throughout the career continuum.
After the Michigan New Teacher Conference, we started to reflect on what it was that helped us to remain in the teaching profession beyond the five-year mark. A sound piece of wisdom we received early on was to ‘be present in all that you do.’ This helped us to identify five main areas of our lives that needed equal attention.
We consider these five areas of life the ‘pillars’ that hold us up in life. Keeping each pillar strong and supportive is essential to success. The five pillars of balance for us were: physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual.
Having an equitable dedication to developing and strengthening each of these aspects of life helped us to be balanced individuals and successful professionals. New teachers and pre-service teachers can benefit from developing personal balance early on in their careers, but doing a check-in on your personal-professional balance at any point in your teaching tenure can be of benefit.
We wish we knew earlier on what we know now about balance. This has led us to try and enumerate the ways in which we have found success in achieving and maintaining balance. Now, we offer the following ideas for consideration to our fellow educators, especially those who are in the early part of their careers, as a way to guide you to the balanced and in-the-present life.
Five Pillars of Life Balance In the teaching profession, your main focus should be students; however, you must take care of yourself before all else. If you are out of balance in your life, your teaching will be out of balance. If any one of these five pillars is out of synchronicity with the others, you will feel out of balance in your career and life.
PHYSICAL: You can’t be at your best unless you’re feeling your best
- Eat more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day
- Drink plenty of water and limit the caffeine
- Watch your sugar intake (both sweets and processed carbohydrates)
- Bring your own food to work to control how and when you eat
- Get plenty of sleep (4 hours is not plenty…talking to you midnight-oil-burning paper-graders!)
- Keep your recreation in check – don’t go heavy on pub catharsis; do go heavy on fitness
- Manage stress by tracking your moods vs. your foods
- Plan meals (and pack your lunch) ahead of time – the night before, or even meal prep on Sundays for the week
INTELLECTUAL: “Learn like you’ll live forever.” ~Ghandi
- Don’t forget the education and training that you’ve received; and, don’t let learning stop there
- Join professional networks and associations in your discipline
- Read for fun and to learn more about what’s current in your discipline
- Engage in scholarly work, meaningful projects, and share ideas with others
SOCIAL: Learning is a social endeavor; make sure to practice
- Maximize positive relationships and minimize the toxic ones
- Keep in touch with old friends and strive to make new ones
- Associate with people in and outside of your career field
- Attend events in your community and at your school
- Make time for socializing, e.g., date night, bowling leagues, Saturdays at Jeff’s to watch the game, etc.
EMOTIONAL: Being self-aware helps you empathize with those who need it most.
- Don’t let anyone stomp on your heart, especially your students
- Keep empathy close and apathy far away
- Notice your own thought patterns
- Beware the “psychic vampires” of teaching, and carry plenty of ‘garlic‘
- Keep your work and personal life matters separate as much as possible
SPIRITUAL: It’s not about religion, but it is about mindfulness
- Feed your spirit, find your purpose, and support others in doing the same
- Find what works for you, whether meditation, yoga, or prayer and actively keep this up in your life – it fuels emotional health
- No matter what you believe, keep in mind that we all coexist together and essentially are the same
- Practicing mindfulness helps center you, bring you into the present, and help you feel more connected to the world around you
- Stop and smell the roses, gaze at the stars, and notice new things around you every day