How Do I Keep My Sanity?

Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

This article is part 7 of the series Questions That Will Save Your Career. Please read the other articles in the series.

  1. How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?
  2. How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?
  3. How Do I Keep My Students Interested?
  4. How Do I Keep My Students Learning?
  5. How Do I Keep My Students Away From Me?
  6. How Do I Keep My School Administration Happy?
  7. How Do I Keep My Sanity?
  8. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Quiet?
  9. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Engaged?
  10. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Interested?
  11. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Learning?
  12. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Students Away From Me?
  13. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My School Administration Happy?
  14. 10 Years of Teaching: How Do I Keep My Sanity?

499673_the_mad_and_dangerous_mindHow do you teach and teach well, and yet not spend your entire life teaching?

How do you keep your sanity?
We come to the final and most personally rewarding part of the whole deal. This has to do with the things that happen outside of the classroom. How do you teach and teach well, and yet not spend your entire life teaching?

  1. Eliminate clutter
    I have previously mentioned my clean desk. Get rid of superfluous crap. The way to do it is to throw stuff away. If it hurts you to throw away all of those Christmas gifts you’ve received from students, take a picture of them and then chunk them. You don’t need desk decorations. I have one inbox and one outbox. They are on top of a filing cabinet; not on my desk. The only things that live on my desk are my computer and my phone. I am trying to find a computer cart so I can clear it.In my desk drawer, I try to maintain no more than three pens, two pencils, a highlighter, and a pad of paper. Use a filing system and use your free time (conference period, lunch period, etc.) to file. I’m not going to rehash David Allen’s entire GTD system (although I do plan on finally reading the book this summer), but I will point you to some great sites that refer to it. And a variation. It will definitely create a much more peaceful work environment for you.
  2. Eliminate distractions
    Timothy Ferriss calls it selective ignorance. This is time when you cannot be contacted about work stuff. He runs a multinational corporation and checks his email once a week. I am trying to severely reduce my personal email monitoring as a result of this. I plan to check my school emails and voicemails once a day, during my lunch period, after I eat. This will require me to prioritize and defer some emails until later. Parent communication becomes priority, and the delete button becomes my friend. I don’t need to read “funny emails” the coworkers send along to me. That wastes my time and the school district’s money.
  3. Set office hours
    I will be at work from 7:30 until 4:00 every day. That does not mean that I will be doing office work during those times. My office hours will be before school, conference and after I eat lunch. I will clean up right before I leave work in the afternoon. I want to reduce the amount of time that I am at the school. That is not to say that I won’t be investing a lot of time or effort into the kids. I do. There will probably be days that I stay later than most other teachers. But I still aim to be finished earlier than I have been in the past. My first year in this district, I would stay at school until 6:00 most evenings, and sometimes be there until after 10:00pm.
  4. Find something else that you enjoy, and do it
    This is a great way to get out of the school. Schedule yourself away. Learn a new hobby. Challenge yourself to read a book a month this school year. Volunteer. Don’t volunteer to be the student council sponsor unless that is your real desire. Don’t volunteer for school stuff unless you really want to do them! Join a softball league. Write a blog. Write a book. Start a business.
  5. Make friends outside of education
    I do this through church and volunteering. Even friends who teach at another campus will get you away from “work” more. Spend the summer traveling, even if it’s not far. Get out of town a little bit. Use spring break, Christmas, summer, and whatever other holidays they give you. Life for most people isn’t divided up into semesters with long breaks. Take advantage of it and LIVE.
  6. Give
    One of the most profound ways to fight greed is to give. When we give, we take the focus off of our own wants and place it on the needs of others. Volunteering is a great way to give. If you are reading this blog, then you are clearly better off than most people in the world. Find a worthwhile cause and donate to it regularly. Personally, I recommend Gospel For Asia.
  7. Read 25 Tips For Less Stress
    In October, 2007 I wrote an extensive series of articles on the topic of stress reduction. If you have done these above steps and still find that stress plagues your life, go dig into 25 Tips For Less Stress.

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