How I Achieve A Balanced Life

When I was younger, I had a very distinct vision of what my life would be like by the time I was 30. In this mental picture, I saw myself being a woman who juggled multiple challenging demands with ease: successful, fulfilling career, loving marriage, a couple of wonderful children, free time to pursue personal interests, etc. And me, easily navigating it all. Kicking butt and taking names, basically; having achieved that most elusive of things: work-life balance.

I am now 29. And while I wouldn’t say that I am kicking butt and taking names or some type of #bossbabe, for the first in my life I feel like I am getting close to having and successfully balancing all of the great things in my life that I described above.

Now, I know that the concepts of “having it all” and “work-life balance” are gendered in ways that are problematic. Men don’t frequently get asked how they balance work and family, or if it’s hard to find time to work and parent and spend time with their spouse and maintain a home. Only women get asked those questions, and judged on the basis of them. But the fact remains that work-life balance is an issue that many women do struggle with, so I wanted to explore how it’s working for me these days while acknowledging the problems that exist with it.

A few important things have changed since we moved to Atlanta that help make my work-life balance more possible: 1) support from my family that has resulted in a little breathing room financially and logistically, 2) a much happier work situation,  3) the fact that my school district actually pays teachers a living wage and 4) that I’ve been really trying to nurture my personal passions.

Living two doors down from my family has been amazing. Our normal weekday routine now involves my mom taking care of Jonah, as I’ve mentioned. And more than that, just the fact that there is always at least one backup person to help in case of an emergency feels very reassuring, especially to me, who tends to prepare for the worst-case scenario in all situations. I can breathe easier now.

As to work, I read a quote posted by some random person on Facebook the other day which said “It’s a lucky man or woman who gets up in the morning, puts both feet on the floor, knows what they’re about to do, and thinks it still matters.” (I just looked this up and it turns out it’s a Joe Biden quote.) This is where I am about teaching. I know that what I do matters, and I’m happy to go to my school every day. It’s what I want to spend my days doing.

On the practical side, I feel better-treated than I ever have as a teacher. There are several responsibilities that our current school system helps its teachers with, such as lesson planning, so that makes life a little easier and less stressful than previous teaching jobs.

More importantly, for the first time I feel like my colleagues and I are being paid close to what we are worth. To illustrate: I am making $10,000 more than I would were I to be teaching now in North Carolina, with the same years of experience, same degrees, etc. I am making $20,000 more than I did last year at my non-school system job. THOUSAND. Not hundred.

All educators deserve to make this, and more. Making enough money allows a person to do a few things for themselves. My family can now afford a gym membership and some housecleaning help without feeling like we won’t make it to the end of the month, which is where we were in 2015-2016. Money being extremely tight led to me being both less healthy and more stressed, because there was always work that needed to be done at home once I got home from my day job, and because I knew I wasn’t taking care of myself.

It’s hard to practice self-care when you literally can’t afford any non-essentials, and when you can barely afford the essentials. To employers: want your employees to be happy at work and have a good work-life balance? Pay them a freaking decent amount of money.

Because I feel less stress in other areas of my life, I’ve had the freedom and space to devote to people and things that I love. When I am spending time with Jonah and Jonathan, I can be all there, not worrying about when I will have time to clean the house or do those hours of lessons plans or if we can afford to go to a museum.

It’s kind of a snowball effect: just like stress in one area tends to build up and spill over into other areas of your life, peace can be the same. Remove a tremendous stresser in one area, and everything else gets calmer and more peaceful. Serenity spreads.

I’m also devoting more time to my personal passions. Readers of this blog have probably noticed that I am writing more regularly than I used to, because I actually have time to do it. I am also getting to go to yoga and Pilates at the gym weekly, which I love but couldn’t afford in the past.

I know that I am tremendously lucky, and I am so thankful for how my family has been blessed over the last year. Is everything perfect now? Of course not. But I’m feeling better physically and emotionally than I have in a long time, maybe since Jonah was born and Jonathan and I took on the responsibilities of parenthood. I feel…balanced.

To sum up: in my experience the answer to the work-life balance question is the following: get outside help from family (or friends) if you can, do a job you find fulfilling and find an employer who will pay you what you’re worth, take care of yourself physically, and take time to nurture your inner life and do the things that you find meaningful.

 

How do you achieve work-life balance?

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Why “God is Sovereign” Is Not Enough (And What You Can Do Instead)

I’m in an interesting place right now. Things are going really well for me personally, and for my immediate family, in most areas. It’s the outside world I’m worried about. It seems like it’s going to hell in the proverbial handbasket, literally being dismantled before my eyes, and that I have no power to help or do anything to prevent the collapse.

I’m speaking, of course, about the catastrophe that begins with the inauguration this Friday, and also about a work situation that I can’t be too specific about. Both of these situations are out of my control, and both are hurting people I care about. And that hurts me, very much.

I have had some iteration of the phrase, “Don’t worry, God is sovereign,” thrown at me twice in the last 24 hours, by two different people, in response to each of these issues.

Situation 1: Yesterday, in a conversation about the work issue, a person in a position of power who is not directly affected by the situation told a group that basically all we could do was pray and have faith that God has “got this.”

Situation 2: Today at school, one of my fifth graders, who has been continuously worried since November 8th about his parents being deported, was literally crying so hard he couldn’t breathe or speak. I knew that he had had trouble sleeping as we got closer and closer to the inauguration, and he said that he had been having terrible nightmares about what would happen once DJT became president. I am powerless to do anything to help beyond say how sorry I am, that I care about him, and that we would get through it together.

I posted about this on Facebook, because I feel that the least I can do at this moment is make people aware about the real children who are being affected by this incoming administration. An acquaintance commented that she wasn’t a Trump supporter but 1) my student’s fear wasn’t caused by Trump, but by his/her parents being irresponsible and sharing too much about their fear of Trump, and 2) that we shouldn’t worry because “God is sovereign and we are under his protection, not the government.”

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image via pixabay.com

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s easy to say that God is in control if a situation doesn’t affect you.

It’s easy to say that God is sovereign if you’re not worried.

It’s easy to say that God has “got this” if you have nothing to fear.

If you feel the need to make this comment to me, I will clap back pretty hard. I am OVER IT. This statement is true, but useless. If someone is a Christian, they already know it, and if they aren’t a Christian, it’s meaningless.

As I see it, it is this kind of thing that makes Christians seem so out of touch with the rest of the world. This does not make people want to be like you. It makes them run away from you. This statement, unaccompanied by any concrete action or a sincere apology for their pain, is judgmental, unhelpful and unkind.

So, I’ve been thinking about some things that people can do and say that are more helpful, even if they don’t share the same concerns. If you feel like telling someone worried about Trump (or really anything) that God is in control, try one of these things instead:

    1. Tell them you’re really sorry they’re upset. You don’t have to agree with them to do this. (To be fair, my acquaintance did eventually say this in our conversation this afternoon.)
    2. Ask: “How can I help?” Then do what they say. If they would like prayers, pray for them, but don’t say “I’ll pray for you” in a judgmental way to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.
    3. Tell them you hope their fears will prove unfounded. (Don’t say their fears aren’t valid.)
    4. About Trump specifically: Write or call your representative and ask them to hold Trump accountable to the norms of the U.S. government. You can do this even if you are not personally worried about a Trump presidency.

How do you feel about the “God is sovereign” comment? And how are you feeling about Friday?

U.S. History, the Arc of the Universe and a Trump Presidency

One of my favorite parts of this school year has been teaching social studies to my third grade ESL kids. I have this class first thing every morning. This instructional delivery method of English is what is called sheltered content instruction, meaning that I teach the grade-level content that all third grade students learn, while providing language support and extra vocabulary instruction to make the content comprehensible. (This is a little teacher-y but hang with me for a moment.) I love history, and I’ve never gotten the chance to teach it before. It’s a great way to start the day.

The third grade curriculum focuses most units of study on a historical figure. Students learn about each person in depth while learning about the surrounding historical context. It goes in chronological order, so we’ve done Paul Revere, ancient Greece and the foundations of U.S. democracy, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and next Mary McCleod Bethune. By the end of the year we will also learn about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Caesar Chavez, among others.

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image via Pixabay.com

It’s so interesting to trace the story of our country for children. One thing that I’ve been reminded of this year is how much of the story is about people’s triumph over systems of oppression. My spiel at the beginning of each new unit of study goes something like this, to tie everything we’ve learned together:

“So we started the year talking about Paul Revere. Remember that Paul Revere and the American colonists wanted to be free from England because they wanted a democracy, where people could choose their leaders and everyone would be treated equally. But we’ve learned that America wasn’t free and fair for everyone. Who wasn’t treated equally? (Black people, women, etc.) The next person we’re going to learn about helped to make America a more fair country for everyone, and that person’s name is ________.”

(I’m not injecting my personal opinion here, by the way. This is literally what the standard says to teach: “Students will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s rights and freedoms in a democracy.”)

Children are so clear-eyed about what’s right and what’s wrong. These kids don’t have  much background knowledge about U.S. history, so they’re hearing everything basically for the first time. When I taught them about the institution of slavery in the United States they were a) horrified and b) surprised that it had been allowed to happen. The same for women not being allowed to vote.

History is speaking to me a lot right now as we are going into the Trump presidency. In many ways it feels like we are taking a big step backward. Unprompted by me, my students have made this connection as well. “Mrs. Love, Donald Trump doesn’t think that black people and people who speak Spanish are as good as white people like him. It’s just like it was a long time ago.”

A Trump presidency hurts partly because it disrupts the narrative that so many of us have always believed; that our current president up until now has seemed to believe. “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” U.S. history seemed, until now, to show this. Gradually, painfully, slowly, our country really has become a more free and fair place for everyone. Not perfect, certainly, but better. Does that “bending toward justice” stop now? And what should our response be? As citizens? As thinking people? For me, as a teacher? A white person?

I think the big, unsettling question right now is about whether DJT is a four-year aberration or a signal of fundamental change in the arc of the universe. I don’t think anyone can know the answer yet.

How I’m Hitting My Stride As A Teacher

What determines a person’s workplace happiness, or lack thereof?

Is it your supervisor’s personality? Their management style? Your coworkers? The task you’re there to do? The amount of freedom you’re given? Or some combination of all of these?

I ask because I am happier at work than I’ve ever been. I’ve been reflecting on the reasons why.

I am teaching at such a sweet little school this year. Our school is small; only 320 students. I know just about everyone there, at least by sight, and by now they know me, too. Kids who aren’t even my students say hi and wave to me in the hallway. A kindergartner who I don’t know kissed my hand this morning.

 

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image via Pexels.com

Even though my school is 100% free/reduced lunch, we don’t have a lot of behavior problems, which are two things that unfortunately tend to go together. This leads to most teachers feeling pretty happy to be at work, which makes for a cheerful environment to go to every day. Any experienced teacher can tell you that a school’s environment makes a huge difference in what it is like to work there. You can feel it and see it in subtle ways as soon as you walk in a building.

I’m also happy because I’m being given a lot of freedom to teach what I want to teach, how I want to teach it. If I decide to pull a group, I can pull a group; if I decide to push in, I can push in.

I don’t have someone breathing down my neck telling me I have to do guided reading at a table in the homeroom class all day. I think once my administrators saw that I knew what I was doing they pretty much left me alone to do it. Which I appreciate! Because by now I do know what I’m doing most of the time.

So I’m getting to teach ESL through really fun, rich content that’s the same things students are learning in their homeroom classes: 3rd grade social studies and 4th grade english/language arts concepts and 5th grade reading remediation (which doesn’t sound fun but is, in this case).

I love my students, and they love me back. Most are eager and want to learn. They are also needy. I am buying clothes and books and making social work referrals. But don’t count them out! I have a feeling our progress this year is going to be something to see.

Years ago I once said that I loved teaching ESL so much that I would do it for free. Over the last few years I lost that. I got bogged down with school politics and who was talking about whom and whose parents didn’t care and which teachers weren’t any good. In some ways I lost sight of why I became a teacher. I still knew why, intellectually, but I couldn’t feel it in my heart anymore. I needed a year away doing something else to come back to it refreshed.

But now when I am teaching about Frederick Douglass or the three branches of government, elements of poetry or phonetic vs. non-phonetic words, I am thinking: This is what I was born to do.

I know no one asked me, but if I have any advice to give new and/or pre-service teachers, it would be the following:

  1. Pay very close attention to the vibe you get from administrators. That will set the tone of the school. Ask them about their management and evaluation style.
  2. A school with a negative environment will kill your soul, and it’s almost impossible for one person to change it despite their good intentions. Visit the school before agreeing to work there, during a school day if you can. What do you see when you walk through the halls? How are adults talking to children? Do kids and adults look happy? This is important.
  3. No matter what the school environment is like, make a work friend! You need someone to talk to about all of the craziness that happens on a daily basis.

I’m feeling grateful and blessed.

What do you think is the main thing that leads to happiness at work, and why? And if any young teachers would like advice from me about work, I’d be happy to give it!

For Those Who Are Not Ok

This post was also featured on Patheos’ Unfundamentalist Christians blog.

Well.

Donald Trump has been elected the next president of the United States.

How is that sitting with you today?

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image via pixabay.com

As regular readers know, I teach ESL to 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at an “inner city” elementary school in Atlanta. My 45 students are all Latino but one, primarily 2nd generation Mexican-Americans. And this week has been, by far, the worst since I began teaching seven years ago.

I’m not sure which was the worst moment this week:

  1. On Wednesday, when 2nd graders who can barely speak English asked me why Donald Trump and other white people in America don’t like them, and one boy said brightly, “Mrs. Love, I’m white too, look!” as he held his arm up next to mine to compare our skin colors.
  2. On Wednesday, when my 5th graders asked me very detailed questions about when and how their parents (and possibly they themselves) would be deported. “How do we get papers for our parents? Is it too late now?” “What do we do when the police come to our house? Do we try to hide or…?”
  3. When I tried to offer reassurance that everything would be ok, these same students said, “You keep saying it’s going to be ok but it won’t be. It will be ok for you, but not for us.” And they are right.
  4. On Thursday, when multiple 4th graders told me their families were planning to preemptively move back to Mexico or Honduras before January 2oth. These are places these children have never known except through brief visits, if that.

As a reminder if you’ve been living under a rock, Donald Trump has promised to deport anywhere from 2 to 11 million illegal immigrants, and has said that citizen children of illegal immigrants could also be deported. Don’t believe he said this? Look here and here.

Every single one of my students is a U.S. citizen. Though I do not know the details, I suspect that some/many/most of their parents may not be. (Do you see how the upcoming Trump presidency is already making me scared to be definitive in writing?)

What I am hearing from my children is twofold: 1) We are scared of Donald Trump and what he wants to do to our families and 2) We are shocked that people in America, the only home we have ever known, are ok with this happening to us.

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image via pixabay.com

It is worth noting that I suspect my students haven’t encountered much racism in their lives up to this point. This part of Atlanta is overwhelming inhabited by people of color, and I had already guessed that that I was one of the only white people these children have known in real life. (Read more about that here.) Our school has two white students in it and three white teachers, including me. So this feeling of being an outsider in the place that is their home is entirely new for these children, and strange.

I watched the election returns in horror on Tuesday night. I will never forget the feeling of what a horrible, awful shock that night was – like a punch to the gut. I thought about *Maria, my 3rd grader who was so excited at the prospect of a woman president. I teach sheltered content 3rd grade Social Studies to Maria’s group, and our current unit happens to be on democracy and the three branches of government. Maria always draws a woman when asked to draw a picture of the Executive Branch. I thought about how disappointed she would be.

The nausea stayed with me for the rest of the week until about Friday afternoon. I had a hard time eating and sleeping. Wednesday was particularly bad. I cried off and on throughout the day.

And why was that? I know not everyone gets it. I’m seeing a lot of complaining on Facebook from conservative friends about “whiny safe-space liberals” and people being overdramatic. Even my husband, who is basically apolitical, bless him, encouraged me to try to relax and not tear myself up prematurely over something that hasn’t happened yet. I appreciate that.

But this is my response to those who can’t or choose not to understand why people are upset: If you have nothing to fear you don’t get to say that everything will be ok. Like my student said, we know everything will be ok for YOU. That’s not the point.

As a side note, I continue to be embarrassed by many of my fellow evangelical Christians, who overwhelmingly supported Trump. I just don’t get it. If a presidential candidate’s racism, sexism, misogyny and xenophobia are minor character flaws that you are able to look past, you are a) very privileged indeed and b) not at all looking out for the least of these as we are called in the Bible.

(Feel free to rail at me about how abortion is the worst evil our country has ever known. I am pro-life, for what it’s worth.)

So now what? That’s what I’ve been pondering since Tuesday night. I will be an ally. I will advocate for my students, their families, and the millions of others like them across this country. I will speak for them. I will write for them, starting with writing to my Senators and Congressmen this week. I will get more politically involved. I will be all in.

I will also hope and pray that everything will be ok, because I have this luxury. But I will work on behalf of those who fear things won’t ever be ok again.

*Name has been changed.

 

Rainy day reflections

I’m sitting here at Barnes and Noble, drinking an iced coffee and eating a pumpkin muffin. Today it’s raining all day, but it feels like fall, and that is something to be celebrated. Jonathan encouraged me to steal a couple of hours away this afternoon (sweet man!). I should be working on guided reading lesson plans, which is purportedly what I came here to do, but instead I want to return to my long-neglected blog.

I haven’t been writing for a couple of reasons: 1) I forgot how much creativity good teaching requires. I also forgot how tired I am by the end of the day. After Jonah is asleep and I have time to myself I haven’t been able to muster the energy or creativity to write anything. 2) I have been deliberating on what to write publicly about my job. More on that below.

We’ve been in Atlanta as a family for a little over a month now. For the most part, the transition has been a dream. For example:

  1. We absolutely love our new home. We are settled in and about 97% of the way unpacked. The house is such a blessing for our family and so much more than we could ever have afforded or expected to have on our own without family support.
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    Our backyard view
  2. Jonah has transitioned amazingly well to my mom watching him during the week. He didn’t seem to really be phased by the change. He absolutely loves his Nonni and looks forward to going to her house. At the same time, he talks often (every day or two) about all of the family we left behind in NC. When Jonathan’s parents visited over Labor Day, Jonah picked back up with them as though we had never been apart. I like to think that his heart is big enough to hold love for the multitude of people who inhabit his world.14262843_1607457612887825_1594653374_n
  3. Jonathan quickly and easily got a job working from home that he will likely be able to continue once he starts school in the spring.
  4. We think we have found a new church home here.
  5. I’m loving my job. If you remember, during my job search I got a very, very strong sense that this job was the one that was right for me, though the others seemed to make more sense practically. I haven’t been disappointed.

As I mentioned above, I’ve made the decision that the wisest course of action is not to talk about my job in detail on the blog. This may seem like CYA (cover your …), but my school system tends to get a fair amount of attention, and I’m just trying to be smart. Here are the important points:

  • I feel more effective than I ever have as an ESL teacher. The time away from the classroom in an administrative role made me a better teacher.
  • I feel respected. I’m not a novice teacher anymore. It’s nice to have people come to me for help instead of it always being the other way around.
  • I like working with almost all older students. Upper elementary, baby!
  • Many days I am home at 3:30. That is something I never would have predicted when we decided to move to Atlanta.

6. I feel a great sense of balance in my life since we moved. Jonathan and I are getting         more date nights out and quality time together than we have since Jonah was born. Being home earlier in the afternoon means more time with Jonah. Even though I’m now commuting 25 minutes to work, I’m actually spending less time in the car than I did this previous year between taking Jonah to and from daycare, going to and from tutoring, my in-laws house, etc.

This will have to be all for now. Thanks to everyone who hung around and waited for a new post from me! I promise it won’t be this long until the next time I write. In the meantime…enjoy fall!

I’m Back (In the Classroom)

Around this time a year ago, I wrote about leaving the classroom to work at a nonprofit. I thought I was probably done with teaching forever. Well, now that we are moving to Atlanta, I am going back. And I’m really excited about it.

In my Atlanta job search, I’ve applied for a bunch of different positions: nonprofit, school system administration, and teaching. I’ve had three interviews: one at a prestigious nonprofit that had been my first choice, one for an ESL position at a high-performing (ish) school close to home, and one for an ESL position at a 100% free/reduced lunch school a little farther from home that was over the phone only.

I knew from the beginning that a teaching job was always a backup for me if I couldn’t find a nonprofit or administrative position in Atlanta. What I didn’t expect was how I strongly I would feel like teaching was what I was supposed to do again, in a particular environment.

I first started to think about teaching seriously during my interview at the close-to-home school. I had such a sense of comfort and ease while talking to the interview panel, the way I always do with educators. Like, these are my people; we get each other. We were completely on the same page, speaking the same language. I knew exactly what to expect from the interview and exactly what I would say in response. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t very excited about working there. They told me they would let me know their decision by the end of this past week.

I felt like the nonprofit job interview went well. They also told me they would let me know by the end of the week. So then when a different school district called on Wednesday about another ESL position, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to participate in the interview process but didn’t expect to take the job.

But after talking to the school system’s ESL director and then the principal of the school, something happened. Maybe it was because I really liked the principal, especially when I googled him and read about his impressive background. Maybe it was because all the particulars of the school and position just seemed to fit: all new administration, lots of new teachers, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade ESL, a small school, combination of pull-out and push-in ESL instruction, my own classroom, etc. Maybe it was because the school is low-performing and 100% high poverty, which is what I am used to. Maybe because the school system is struggling and I feel like they need me. To be totally transparent, maybe it is also because this particular school system pays quite a bit better than the other. For all of these reasons, but also because of something indefinable that I am not really able to articulate, I started feeling like this position was the job I should take, even over the nonprofit job if it was offered to me.

I have always had a very strong intuition. One of the best examples of this is that I knew that Jonathan’s and my first child would be a boy before we were even pregnant with him. So when my intuition was telling me that this was the job for me, I listened to it, asked the principal for a day to consider my options before accepting his offer, and waited to see what would happen.

The rest fell into place. The nonprofit went with someone else. The close-to-home school wanted to hire me but was still evaluating their numbers to see if they needed another full-time ESL teacher. So I am taking the job that compared on paper to the others makes the least sense, but is what I really want. The way everything turned out contributes to my feeling that this is where I’m supposed to be.

The great thing about doing a job that you’ve done before is that you walk in on the first day (which, by the way, is Wednesday!) knowing exactly what to do. So even though I haven’t seen the school other than through Google Streetview, or met the principal or any staff in person, I feel like I’m going home.

 

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Thank you Target for getting me appropriately prepared with cute classroom decorations for the new school year.