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All Work And No Play Makes Joel A Dull Boy

1141988_hard_choice_1I live in a relatively small town that is more than 20 minutes from the next closest smaller town, and more than 2 hours from the next closest larger town.

I try to get involved in the community here, but I also want to maintain my own privacy. As a band director in a small town, I automatically achieve, at least minimally, some sort of celebrity status. It is difficult for me to go to the grocery store or a restaurant without seeing at least one family I know.

I try not to let that really bother me, but one of the nasty side-effects of that is that I end up spending WAY more time at school than is really healthy for me. This summer has really been the first summer where I have not been looking for another job or taken a vacation out of the state. As a result, it is merely showing me how much time I really do spend on school stuff and how little social involvement I tend to have outside of school or school friends.

The sad thing is that I tend to be slightly more involved than some of the other teachers I know who are not natives of this area.

I want to clarify that quitting teaching is one of the last thoughts to cross my mind right now. I believe that God has me teaching here for a very specific purpose, and I do not feel like it is time for me to either go to a different district or just throw in the towel entirely. But I do weight thoughts at times. I ask myself, “What is the point of me being here?”

Seek meaning and fulfillment
It is easy for me to ask those questions. Questions are never bad. Unanswered questions are the source of all discoveries throughout history. Unanswered questions also lead to personal discovery. These are good. So just what is the answer? The answer is to seek meaning and fulfillment OUTSIDE of the classroom. As teachers, we do wonderful things in the classroom. I think most teachers really truly strive to do that. But what are we doing socially?

In my series, 5 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers, I mentioned that community involvement is one of my weakest areas. This is a personal goal for myself ths year, to overcome the apprehension I have in this area. I am going to force myself to step out of my comfort zone and try some new things.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
There must be fun. There must be freedom. There must be focus. Away from school. I leave my work at work. I also plan on leaving my work by 5 unless extracurricular commitments keep me there.

So how will I do it?

  1. I will delegate like a crazy person. I have great parents who would love to help me out this year. I know because I had their children last year and didn’t use them to the fullest potential. How do I know I didn’t? Because they were asking me what they could do to help! I also have responsible students I want to put in charge of things. Copying music, taking up and passing out papers.
  2. I will automate the grading by buying the SmartMusic program, which will eliminate the need for me to listen to students in order to assign their grades. Automating the performance grading process is a beautiful concept, especially when it comes prepackaged with nearly all of the music that my middle school band students will need to play, and much of the rest is readily available, or can be typed or keyed in easily.
  3. I will eliminate unnecessary paperwork. I may have practice records again, but the system for assigning grades will be much simpler. Additionally, I will have less than 2/3 the number of students this year as I had last year, thus saving me some time keying in grades.

Why do all of this?
A couple of reasons come to mind. (A) I love the idea of being able to have a social life by getting home at a reasonable time and not being stuck at school all the time. (B) I want to be able to free myself up to serve God in other ways than simply teaching school.

At the end of the day, if all I do is teach children, then I am not fulfilling my true purpose of life on earth. That is a realization with which I don’t want to have to deal!

Joel Wagner
Joel Wagner (<strong><a href="">@sywtt</a></strong>) 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. <strong><a href="">So You Want To Teach?</a></strong> is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

7 thoughts on “All Work And No Play Makes Joel A Dull Boy

  1. Re: “At the end of the day, if all I do is teach children, then I am not fulfilling my true purpose of life on earth.”

    I disagree. Helping to instill within young people certain virtues is as high and noble a purpose as any missionary or preacher. I may email you other various thoughts I have on the subject. But I do understand what you’re coming from.

  2. I agree, Joel. While I do believe that God has a purpose for each of us,and while I believe that teaching is one of the most important things a person can do, I don’t think He intends for us to be locked down at school in our classrooms, and bereft of a fulfilling social life!

    As a single, it’s hard. I give up WAY too much of my personal time to school, simply because I have it to give. I want to help out my colleagues, but I also need to do a much better job of simply saying, “No”. A colleague, another single, asked me what I was doing one particular Friday night. This was during the school year, in May, I believe. Anyway, I told him I was helping to chaperone the Middle School dance. He looked at me and remarked, “You should be going home and going OUT, like, on date.” He had a very good point, and I reflect on that one particular conversation from time to time. In fact, I will most likely go back to that conversation the next time I am asked to chaperone a school dance!

    BTW: I feel you re: small town living. I resided in Augusta, GA for three years, and would see students and/or their parents almost wherever I went: the grocery store, a restaurant, Old Navy, and at church. There were times when I would intentionally drive to the other side of town to shop for groceries in order to *avoid* seeing families! I am in a much better situation now, professionally yes, but most *certainly* personally and socially. There’s more to do and in which to be involved, and I am not always running into people from school.

    Anyway, this is a good post, Joel, and a worthwhile conversation to have. I hope more teachers will join in.

  3. Seems like I’m always forgetting something! Let me add that as far as your private time goes I agree. You have to separate professional and private life. If you don’t you will definitely burn out. This happened to me when I was stationed in Miami. I was working 63 hours a week roughly, getting to the office around 5am and not leaving till after 5 or 6pm. This lasted for some time and I finally was forced to take leave for a week and then my hours were cut back and although I came in at 5am I left at 2pm. I never again placed work above family and I probably suffered for it professionally but I didn’t care since one day I’ll be old and retired and I won’t have my colleagues with me, but I will have my kids and wife with me. Rather make them happy than my co-workers.

    As a single guy in a small town, I can only imagine how difficult it is for you.

    As far as seeing students out and about (when I eventually start teaching), I can only speculate but I don’t think I will have a problem with it. In the military the base is a small town and you constantly see guys that work for you and their families and you just learn to live with it. I read in another blog (forget whose), that most of the time the middle and high schoolers try to avoid you as much as you try to avoid them!

  4. Great question, Kymberlyn. In fact, I was talking with a friend about mission statements yesterday and am going to write about it tomorrow. Hold your breath for a little longer! ;)

  5. Great Post Joel- and I love the comments from Eric and Ms_Profe. Eric, if you would like to, I’d love to get a copy of that e-mail you send to Joel on yout throughts about instilling virtues in children and the purpose it serves in the world. I’m at indianedutalks [at]

    Talking about private lives, I was single when I became Head of School in this small town in India. I used to get to school at 5:30, attend cricket practice with the school XI, give extra classes in English for the examination class, attend a regular schoolday till 4, then sit, write, reflect, meet with teachers and parents, grade papers and get my first meal of the day. That took me till 8.

    I threw in Saturdays too and half-days on Sundays. I was working over 80 hours a week.

    Loving it. But in hindsight, I could have had a more balanced work-life by

    1. Delegating better (eventually I started doing some of that)
    2. Not Boiling the Ocean: letting go of tests and homework grading when it was very good, instead of investing many more hours trying to make them great.
    3. Called my family and friends more often.
    4. Shut off my e-mail during school hours (making me more efficient doing one thing at a time)
    5. I would think of some way to balance being accessible to parents and losing all my potential spare time to them, without compromising the needs of my students. Ending conversations without the small talk (sacriliege in a small town!) could have been one!

  6. “At the end of the day, if all I do is teach children, then I am not fulfilling my true purpose of life on earth. That is a realization with which I don’t want to have to deal!”

    If the purpose of life is to bring glory to God, you can do so by teaching children. The Lord loves them. Teachers don’t just teach. They mentor and guide and bring hope and unfortunately, in our society, they have to do much of the parenting.

    Perhaps teaching should not be the only venue for pursuing your purpose, but I don’t think it is bad for it to be the main way you serve God and this world.

    Balance is most definitely important in life- without it we would all become burnt out and bitter. There is, however, something to be said for devotion as well.

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