12 Ways to Leave School at School
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Episode Show Notes:
It was my third year of teaching, and I think it was a Tuesday night – and I was, as usual, in my classroom, creating awesome things for my students.
And probably a lot like you, I LOVED to do it.
I loved creating amazing lessons and activities for my students.
I remember that it was dark outside, and I remember being startled when my principal knocked on my door.
He shook his head and said, “What are you still doing here?”
Because it was dark, I know it was sometime after 7:00, which was pretty normal for me.
I was stunned.
And inside, I thought, “What a dumb question. I’m a new teacher. Of course I’m here working.”
But out loud, I said, “Oh I’m just getting a few things ready for my class tomorrow.”
Again, he shook his head and said, “Go home. It will all still be here tomorrow. Go home.”
In that moment, I realized that I was the only one still at school.
My principal had actually already gone home, had dinner, and only came back because he had forgotten something and wouldn’t be at school tomorrow.
But then he asked a second question.
“Don’t you have a fiancé? Isn’t he wondering where you are?”
And without thinking, I reacted and said, “Yeah, but he doesn’t care if I’m home. He probably isn’t even there.”
Whoa. How had my life come to this?
The man I was engaged to at the time but never married (thank goodness), fit my identity as a new teacher because he too was a workaholic and was never around, and we really didn’t have much of a life together at all.
And it was in that moment, looking back, that I wondered if I even had a life that mattered outside of this classroom.
The problem is that for many of us, teaching IS our life.
It’s our entire identity, and if we are not teaching or preparing for teaching or trying to recover from teaching, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.
But that moment was the beginning of a realization that although teaching may my passion, it is my JOB. It isn’t my life.
Even if you feel like you were born to teach and that this profession suits you perfectly, it is not entirely who you are.
You are also possibly a daughter or son to aging parents, a mom, a wife or husband or a fiancé like I was, a friend, a volunteer, an animal lover or a dog mom – and whoever you are outside of the classroom is just as important - if not more important - as who you are inside the classroom.
But I LOVE Teaching. ❤️
Why Is It So Hard (and So Important) to Leave School at School?
Letting ourselves leave school at school is complicated by the way we have taught other people to treat us, by how we identify as being teachers, and by the societal expectations that come with being a teacher - especially an elementary teacher.
Let’s be honest:
As teachers, we set ourselves up for failure with unrealistic expectations.
We have this crazy misconception that we need to have the perfect classroom, that we need to create the best activities at ALL times, and be the most amazing teacher ever.
We put SO MUCH PRESSURE on ourselves to be this unicorn mythical perfect teacher all of the time…. and it just isn’t possible.
It's time we talked about this.
The unicorn perfect social media teacher does not exist, so stop comparing yourself.
It’s kind of like the airbrushed version of a classroom.
My point is that ANYONE who is showing amazing photos every week of their Pinterest Perfect Classroom, I guarantee that even if you can’t see it on the surface, their lives outside of their classrooms are suffering in another way (or they don’t have a life at all).
Every classroom and every teacher has flaws.
We are not doing anyone any favors by trying to pretend that any one of us is perfect.
Because all of that stuff – those Pinterest Perfect classrooms - take time. Precious time.
And if you want to live an amazing life, you cannot spend all of your precious hours trying to achieve the Pinterest-worthy classroom.
I know I was a really great teacher.
I know I gave my students an incredible learning environment.
But the moment I became an amazing teacher is when I finally stopped having uber-crazy expectations for myself, and when I learned to be smart about how I ran my classroom.
If there’s one thing I wish someone would have told me when I started teaching it would be this, and it took me a long time to learn it:
Stay in your own lane.
It’s great to try out new ideas, but STOP COMPARING yourself to what you see on social media or to what some other teacher is doing. It doesn’t matter.
As Rachel Hollis likes to say, “Comparison is the death of joy.”
So – don’t misunderstand me - I’m not suggesting we should become worksheet teachers who watch the clock until the end of the school day so we can go out for Happy Hour every day at 4:00 in the spirit of creating boundaries.
Although I do have to admit that Happy Hour after school does sound like fun…😉
I love my girlfriend Happy Hours! But I digress...
I am suggesting, however, that we choose a few AWESOME things to do for our students that light our hearts up, that give us that super amazing feeling of knowing that we are doing something really special for our kiddos that are meaningful for OUR classroom, and do them well.
And leave the rest alone. Because teaching may be your passion, your calling – but (and I know that this is going to sound weird but I don’t care) you cannot kiss a classroom good night. It will not be there for you when your mom dies, or when you need help when you are sick. It does not offer a hug on a bad day, or experience a once in a lifetime vacation with you. Teaching may be your calling, but your life must exist outside of it.
I’m sorry if I sound like I’m on my soapbox but you guys, this stuff is really, really important.
And I really wish someone would have told me all of this in my first few years of teaching.
You’re going to do things differently than the previous generation of teachers, because you know better.
You’ve seen them burn out, and you ARE going to set boundaries for yourself so you can actually and truly love teaching for years and years.
So let's talk about not only the practical ways that you can transition from school to home life – not only physically, but mentally – why it’s so essential that we do this, and how you can begin to create the boundaries for yourself that you will need if you want to stay in this profession for decades without experiencing burn-out.
Create Your End-of-School Day Routine:
- We’re all about routines as teachers, right? So the first thing I would suggest is that you create a routine for the end of the school day for yourself.
Close your classroom door to signal to anyone walking by that you are busy.
Then, ask yourself what essential things need to get done for tomorrow that cannot wait?
ONLY do those things. Set a time limit for when you will leave school (it was always 4:00 pm for me) and stop at whatever time limit you set and stick with it.
Just like you create routines for EVERYTHING else in your classroom, you need to create a routine for this. It takes 60 days to solidify a new habit, so be patient with yourself, but if you stay with it and actually practice leaving on time, you can do this.
- Turn off your computer and do NOT check emails OR SOCIAL MEDIA at the end of your school day. This can be a complete time-suck black hole for an hour or two after school – especially once you start checking out Facebook and Instagram.
DO NOT GO DOWN THE COMPARISON RABBIT HOLE, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU ARE SO TIRED AFTER SCHOOL. Instead, make a decision about what times you will check your email each day, and then tell parents and the office, and also -let them know that you will not check your email on the weekends – and then stick to it!
- When you have a whole bunch of thoughts swirling around in your head about what didn’t get done that day and what you still need to get done, write a list of what you don’t want to forget to do tomorrow on a bright colored sticky note – and leave it at school on your desk where you will see it first thing in the morning. I promise you, it will still be there waiting for you tomorrow when you get back. Again, if there is something you need to take care of today, do it right after school, and then leave the rest.
- Then, I know that this is going to be incredibly hard, but if we are going to truly learn to leave school at school, and if you’re listening to this, it’s probably because you know in your heart that this is something you really need to do because you’re approaching burn-out of some kind - we really need to learn to set clear boundaries: So I would ask you to NOT bring work home.
You know that giant bag filled with student papers that we lug home every night and then feel guilty about not looking at?
It creates such a feeling of failure when we lug that thing home and don’t even open it.
For me, it’s like a negative energy drain because I feel bad every time I look at it, ignoring it all droopy and sad looking in the corner, and feeling like I "should" be spending my time grading papers but I just don’t have the energy.
I used to spend my entire evening "should-ing" all over myself, and then I would lug it right back to school again. Let's decide to stop doing this NOW!
- Everything changed for me when I built in little ways to check student work throughout the day instead of bringing it home with me.
I encourage you to look at the kind of work you are bringing home and ask yourself if there are other ways you can give your students the feedback they need on their learning without you having to be the one to give them feedback on everything.
Because here’s the thing. Just because you are a teacher does NOT mean that you need to be a teacher 24 hours a day. You are a trained professional who went to school for a long time to get this degree. I mean, how many engineers or bankers do you know who do work in the evenings? It doesn’t happen.
There is this crazy misconception that too many of us teachers have bought into about having to do everything ourselves all of the time, and it just isn’t possible. We have to get smarter about using the time we have, and setting realistic expectations for what is possible during that time.
Transition Your Mindset on Your Drive
- On your drive home, and although you have physically left your classroom, we all know that that doesn’t mean you have actually left school at school, right? You’re still thinking about it.
You still have 101 thoughts swirling around inside your head about what that student needs, the Scholastic Book Club order, and the stuff you need to pick up at the dollar store for that science experiment, even though you’ve written it all down on that brightly colored sticky note and placed it squarely in the center of your neatly organized desk at school. (Ha ha)
What I encourage you to do is to use your commute to transition your mindset – listen to an inspiring podcast NOT related to teaching, listen to a great music playlist, or to an audiobook that will make you laugh.
- Give yourself an extra 10 minutes in your car when you get home before even going inside, or if you’re picking up the kids. Just sit in the peace and quiet and enjoy those few moments of stillness. So rare.
By the way, have you ever noticed how many people actually do this in parking lots? I was at the grocery store the other day and because I was coming down with a cold, I just sat there in the parking lot in my car and closed my eyes to rest for a minute before going inside. And when I opened my eyes, there were women in 3 other cars around me doing exactly the same thing. Maybe they’re listening to my podcast. Lol!
Home as Your Sacred Space
- I really do believe that we need to create and protect the oasis that is our home. So once you get there, get comfy right away.
Let the peace of home life envelop you and take a breath.
Put on your favorite comfy clothes – even your PJ’s if you aren’t planning on going out that day, and you might even want to shower to get all of the glitter and glue off.
Then take a little bit of time – even if it’s only 15 minutes – to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and unwind.
I like to think of it as giving yourself 15 minutes of Saturday morning every day after school. 😊 You might even consider allowing yourself a mini meditation or yoga. There are so many great free resources on YouTube. But do whatever it takes to help yourself to unwind and re-focus for your real life.
Or, you might combine your transition to home with your goal to get healthy: You could change into your gym clothes instead of your PJ’s and go out for a walk. (You might want to get an accountability partner to help you with this).
Finally, you could also join a club that forces you to be somewhere else after school – at 4:00 or 4:30. This is also a great de-stresser!
- If you’re married or have a roommate, ask for help to keep to these boundaries – maybe he/she can have a cup of coffee with you in your sweat pants when you first get home or meet you at the gym.
- Get enough sleep. We are all guilty of indulging in screen time way too late in the evening every now and then, but getting enough rest – I really try for 8 hours every night – will make a dramatic difference to how you feel and to your stress levels the next day.
I know I’ve said this before, but really – learn to limit your time on social media, especially when it comes to scouring the web for teaching ideas.
Set a timer and STOP after an hour so that you don’t look up after 3 hours scrolling on Instagram and wonder what happened. 😂
The Big Picture: Set Boundaries & Change the Way You Plan
- Part of leaving school at school means learning to plan more effectively.
I chose to make my regular planning night for the following week on Wednesday evenings, so I could truly always have a weekend!
It would require an entirely separate post (or even a series of posts) to share with you exactly what I did and how I planned to make my time at school as efficient and as effective as possible, so please let me know if this is something of interest to you and I can certainly create that for you!
- You are a professional. Let parents know that you do not answer emails/texts/phone calls on evenings or on the weekend.
Set office hours and stick to them.
Again, in the same way that you would not expect your dentist to answer a call from you on a Sunday, there is no reason you need to be available 24/7 as an educator.
You can even turn off email notifications during your office hours to help with this.
And those, my friends, are my 12 suggestions for how you can leave school at school – and why it’s so important. I hope that this has been helpful for you!
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Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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