I’m back from a week-long family vacation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (gorgeous, by the way, for those of you in the Mid-Atlantic United States!). Anyway, as the mom of two little people, who’s married to a teacher-husband, I spent some time on vacation thinking about how teachers – those who give their time to other children – juggle the tension between their teacher lives and their parent lives. In many cases, I hear teachers, particularly moms, lament that they simply cannot make it work. I want to believe it can be different, so I went in search of some teacher-parents who are pulling it off and feeling happy about it!
I recently spoke to Laura and Lauren,—both teacher-mothers in the DC area—about how they make it work. Laura and Lauren have two kids each.
Here are some tips I gathered from my conversations with them:
- Find a workplace that fits your needs. Laura mentioned that during her interview process, she noticed small signals that the middle school would match her needs as a working parent. For example, the principal (also a mom) acknowledged there would be days when people’s kids got sick and they had to stay home. I know many schools, particularly charter schools, with very strict attendance policies for teachers. As the mom of a 4-year old with a broken arm and a million orthopedist appointments to juggle, I think a zero absence policy is unrealistic. Figure out your school’s policies—both spoken and unspoken.
- Be WILDLY efficient and plan ahead. Sometimes teachers ask me the best way to achieve balance in their lives. I usually answer, “Have some kids.” Just kidding. Sort of. But when you have to get out the door at 4:30 PM to get to daycare so your kids are not waiting for you and you are not charged a dollar a minute (been there), you will automatically seek a different kind of efficiency with your day. Lauren and Laura both shared that they don’t socialize much during the workday. They have strong enough relationships with their colleagues to politely remind them, “I’m working during my prep.”
- Strategically multi-task. When I was in Laura and Lauren’s classrooms, both of them were actually doing OTHER low-level tasks while we spoke, like entering grades and writing on whiteboards.Lauren also described how she takes her two-year old in the jogging stroller in late afternoons to squeeze in some exercise while her husband is with their four-year old.
- Cut bait. All teacher-parents I have met are taking some short-cuts—personally and professionally– and they’re okay with it. Whether it’s by slacking on household cleanliness (ahem, hand raised . . . don’t mind the dust bunnies) or taking one day longer to return essays to students, you may have to cut yourself some slack. I know it’s not ideal, but there are only so many hours in your day.
- If possible, be flexible with your time. In Lauren’s case, she has the flexibility to leave by 3:15 PM each day to pick up her kids. She worked out a schedule with her principal where she gave up her preparation periods and chooses instead to work in the evenings from 8 – 10 PM after her kids are in bed. There is currently VERY little flexibility in the lives of teachers. The more schools that offer alternative structures like this, the more great teachers we can retain. If your school doesn’t have any policies like this in place, hey, it never hurts to write a detailed proposal to discuss a trial period with your principal, right?!
There is nothing easy about being a teacher. There is nothing easy about being a parent. But with some careful planning, the right environment, and the ability to be flexible when things come up, it is possible to be good enough at both—at least most days!