Habits to Sustain Long-term Career Teaching

by Deana Swanson


This year marks my fourteenth year teaching full-time in a parochial school classroom, and it hasn’t always been easy. But, because I love teaching and spending my time imparting knowledge to and guiding little humans, it has been well worth it. Here are a few habits that have helped our family stay in the teaching profession. Because I feel it’s an extremely worthwhile way to spend one’s time, I’ll share them with you here with the hopes that you, too, will consider teaching as a long-term commitment (if you haven’t already.)

  1.  Go all-out. If we approach teaching as a chore or a short-term commitment and watch the clock throughout the day (and the calendar throughout the weeks and months), our focus becomes finishing the day, the week, or the month. But, if we practice carpe diem,  (“seize the day”) our approach will be much different. Today, for instance, I regretted that I had forgotten an egg and vinegar for a science experiment. I wish we would have had ten more minutes to get every single math problem fixed up for a 100%, another fifteen minutes of music class, five more minutes on the tennis court, and another twenty minutes of art class. My students and I were having such a great time that by the end of the day the clock was already three minutes past dismissal time when I happened to look up and realize it. Go all-out! Dream of what you’d like your classroom to be like, and do what you can to make it happen. (And yes, some days I do glance at the clock.)
  2. Enjoy those holiday breaks and summers! Because I do go all-out during the school year, I cherish my days off. I need them to relax and recharge. That’s another great bonus of teaching: we get nice long holiday breaks and fabulous summers completely off.
  3. Find your stress points and reduce them. This year one of my stress points was packing up everything the last day of the week and putting it all away into a small closet. (We are currently renting a church’s fellowship hall.)The job was taking me a couple of hours and was definitely a stress point. After a few weeks of this, I got my students to help me in an orderly, assigned way, and it cut my time considerably. I also had too many papers to grade and no time to grade them except after school. I asked my helper to focus on grading papers, especially the math ones, as soon as she was done teaching her lessons. Another stress point gone! Work on these until you have minimized the most stressful spots, and keep doing it as the year goes on.
  4. Cut your budget wherever you can. I feel that it is well worth the trade-off in pay to do something that I truly love and enjoy doing, and my teacher husband feels the same way. While we wouldn’t call these “sacrifices,” some people looking on might. We have shared one car for most of our teaching years, and it is thirteen years old. We don’t take expensive vacations or eat out a lot. We have a fairly modest home that we fixed up ourselves, and we love it. We have been able to save money and contribute to a retirement account. We don’t feel deprived. Rather, we feel thankful that we have been able to spend our time doing something that we truly enjoy and have been able to provide well for our family while doing it. That’s what we would consider success–happiness and family together time–not fancy cars, expensive vacations, and other stuff that we really don’t need.
  5. Get a low-maintenance side hustle. We have chosen to teach a few weekends out of the year and a few weeks in the summer. We also teach private music lessons and do consulting. These are things that we love to do and don’t stress us out. We still have plenty of time to relax. We have teacher friends who have chicken barns, do private tutoring, carpentry, make donuts, or have rental houses.
  6. Get your family, roommates, and friends on board. Whoever lives in the same house as you do, or whomever you choose to spend time with, should care enough about you personally to encourage and help you in your teaching endeavors. I’ve heard of roommates who made meals, family members who ran errands, and parents of teachers who substituted for their teacher-children. I’ve had students mow my lawn and feed my cats when we were out of town. Graciously let your needs be known, but don’t be needy.
  7.  Find a teacher-friend or two to be confidants and/or mentors. It’s great to bounce your thoughts and ideas off someone else, or to call them for some advice or encouragement when you need it. Often you’ll find that you probably do the same for them. Look for someone with experience who inspires you. Experience is gold; inspiration is silver.
  8. Plan ahead. This is probably the single most important aspect that has helped me as a teacher and as a mother. After school, I get dinner ready and prepare the next night’s dinner. I also have a good calendar system with personal, family, church, and school events all on it. This not only helps me to plan ahead, but to look ahead daily, see what’s coming up, and make sure that I’m well prepared for it. It has saved me much worry and time.

Teaching is a fabulous profession! We are investing our time and energy into helping other people. With just a bit of vision, planning, and commitment, it is easily sustainable long-term.

 

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CONTRIBUTOR: Deana Swanson

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