Posts Tagged 'Bill Waychunas'

Finding a Work-Life Balance for Teachers

IMG_4054By Bill Waychunas – “I wish I could go, but I’ve got school stuff going on tonight/this weekend/next week.”

This phrase has been uttered by countless teachers to their friends, families, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, neighbors, and even to their pets. It’s used as a reason to miss out on any number of opportunities and get-togethers with our loved ones. The choice between personal and professional life is never easy, especially in a field such as teaching where our work can be easily taken home with us.

With such blurred lines between the personal and professional life of a teacher, the decision making process usually goes something like this:

Exhibit A: A friend invites you to brunch on a Sunday, which is the day that you usually spend preparing your lessons for the week and doing laundry. An internal battle ensues: If I accept my friend’s request, am I risking that my lessons this week will be less effective and engaging, while possibly running out of clean underwear? Would spending time with my friend, over the best interests of my students, be selfish? Which do I sacrifice, my friends or my students?

Exhibit B: At a school staff meeting, they announce that chaperones are needed for the school dance this Saturday, which is at the same time as your cousin’s birthday celebration. Another internal conflict: What is more important, my family or providing opportunities for my students? What if no one else volunteers for the dance? My cousin will have more birthday parties but there will also be more dances to chaperone. Which will I feel less guilty about missing?

Finding a balance between your professional life and your personal life is especially difficult for teachers in the beginning of their careers. This balance is important for both mental and physical health. Living an out-of-balance life can jeopardize or otherwise negatively impact one’s professional and personal life.

In my first couple of years teaching, I spent many late nights and weekends at school. 13-hour work days were frequent and they usually didn’t end when I left the school building. Most nights and weekends were spent lesson planning, grading, and coaching, or sponsoring student groups. I neglected my personal life and paid the price.

Sheer exhaustion led to physical and mental decline. I had stopped working out and wasn’t sleeping much. My lack of time led to more fast food and way too much caffeine. By the end of each week, I was getting sick and spending a large part of my weekend trying to recuperate. This led to a grouchiness that caused me to angrily lash out at my loved ones and students for the smallest things. I had become a worse friend, brother, boyfriend, colleague, and teacher because I couldn’t find a way to balance out my life.

Now going into my 7th year of teaching, I’m happy to say that I have not repeated these mistakes and have found ways to establish a work-life balance without the guilt of sacrificing either. Here are my tips to finding a work-life balance for new teachers:

Don’t be a Yes-Man (or Woman)
What I mean by that is sometimes you have to say “no” to being involved with things at school. Instead, say “yes” only to the things that you are truly interested in. If school dances are “totally your thing,” then sign up to chaperone those! I find school dances to be uncomfortable and boring, so I don’t sign up to chaperone them…and that’s ok!

Don’t feel pressure to sign up for things that you’re not interested in because of a “if I don’t do it, then no one else will” mentality. This is where you will get sucked into school activities that become a chore. Find what gives you joy at school and stick with that. With a diversity of skills and interests among a school staff, someone else will be more passionate than you about running Field Day or operating the spotlight at the talent show.

Plan “You Time” in Advance
Always wanted to learn to paint? Sign up for that class you’ve been eying. Looking to spend more time with friends? Join that kickball league they keep talking about. Buy those concert tickets you’ve been dreaming of. Make that dinner reservation for you and your significant other. Book that weekend getaway for you and your family.

Planning time for your personal life in advance, especially for things that require deposits or pre-payment, will make you less tempted to sacrifice them for school-related activities and ensures that you’ve built time into your schedule for friends and family. This makes it easier to say no as described above. “Sorry, I can’t go to the PTO meeting that night, I’ve got my spin class at the same time.”

Find Your “Planning Plateau”
This is perhaps the most important and difficult step. In the relationship between the amount of time spent doing at-home school work, like lesson planning and grading, versus the impact on your teaching, it is practically a rule that “the more time you spend planning and preparing, the better your lesson will be.” As my former principal used to tell me, “a failure to plan is a plan for failure.” While I believe that this is true, I also believe that there exists a point in time where the impact has been essentially maximized, or plateaued, and spending more time planning or preparing would be better spent on your personal life.

The trick is finding this “point in time” where you hit the “planning plateau.” Think you can plan an excellent biology lesson in 2 hours? Then spend 2 hours planning it. If the final product is great, then leave it be. Spending another hour on YouTube trying to find a slightly better introductory clip than the one you already have isn’t going to make that big of a difference anyway. Hold yourself to a high standard without being a perfectionist and you will have more time for your personal life.

With the beginning of a new school year, I hope that some of these tips can help to get you on the path to living a more balance and happier life. You can be a great teacher as well as a great friend, son, daughter, spouse, sister or brother. Or, if you don’t want to do it for them, then do it for yourself– you are worth it!

On Discovering My Knack and Niche for Teaching

3d0fbec22ddff84924a0cc5c31ab15bcBy Bill Waychunas – What’s up Marquette Educator blog readers? My name is Bill Waychunas (class of ’09) and I’ll be contributing my thoughts and experiences each month on this site, hopefully for your enjoyment and also to give you something to think about.

Since this is my first ever blog post, I figured that it would be a good idea to give you a little background about who I am so you can have some context for my future posts.

Let’s start with how I got into the wonderful profession that is known as teaching. As a high school student, I had a knack for math and science. This led my high school counselor to recommend that I pursue studies in Engineering. Luckily, my high school offered an Architecture and Engineering course, so I signed up.

This class (seriously) changed my life and not necessarily in the way you’d think. What I learned was that I was pretty good at the design and construction part, but that I found it to be extraordinarily boring (no offense to any engineers out there). Since this wasn’t exactly challenging and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days working in a cubical, I knew that this wasn’t the career for me. I scrambled at the last minute to change my class schedule to something that would maybe help me to figure out the answer to the “what do you want to do when you grow up” question as college application deadlines were fast approaching. I found my answer in a course called Invitation to Teach.

In this class, I spent the last two periods of each school day serving as a teacher’s assistant at the local middle school. After some serious thought, I selected a 6th grade social studies classroom because, although not my strongest subject area, it was the content that I was most passionate about. Over the next few months, I spent time working with small groups of students, helping out the teacher, and even taught a few lessons by myself.

I was hooked.

I knew that I wanted to go into teaching. Ironically, this all happened around the time that college applications were due, and I can vividly remember racing home after school and erasing the box on my Marquette application (yes, those were still the days of paper applications) where it said “Engineering” and checking the boxes for History and Secondary Education.

Once I started courses at Marquette, I began to really appreciate the opportunities that the College of Education gives freshman to get into classrooms and work directly with students. These experiences, as well as an immersion trip with the Center for Urban Teaching (which I highly recommend), showed me the deplorable inequities that exist in the American school system. Knowing that I could contribute to changing this injustice, I decided that I wanted to teach in a low-income school.

After graduation, I moved to Las Vegas with my then girlfriend, now wife, who was working and getting her masters from UNLV. We spent four years living in the desert where I taught middle school social studies at an almost entirely African-American K-8 charter school in one of Las Vegas’ poorest neighborhoods. The school had a bad reputation and had chronically underachieved, but with an awesome middle school staff, we were able to turn things around and give students a respectable education.

During my final year in Las Vegas, I was drawn out of the classroom and served as our the School Improvement Coordinator. We made some significant changes for the better, but in the end, there were too many factors outside of our control which doomed the school and students to mediocrity at best. (maybe I’ll go into more detail in another post).

My wife and I were unhappy with our jobs and longing for a change of scenery. We were both able to find employment in Chicago, which is where my family is from, and moved here during the summer of 2013.

“Finding employment” doesn’t exactly give justice to where I am now. I had the opportunity to be a founder of a new school on Chicago’s South Side with one of the most prestigious charter school networks in the entire country. So, for the past two years, I have served as the 9th grade Civics/Reading (non-fiction) instructor at Baker College Prep.

Baker is really an awesome place. In my mind, it represents what quality education should look like in urban districts and in the two years that we’ve been open, we’ve had tremendous success. As a 9th grade team, we saw the top growth on a Pre-/Post-test in the entire network despite our students starting the school year with some of the lowest scores in the network. We’ve been able to create students that love to learn while maintaining a warm-but-strict culture. Just as our staff works their butts off to make a difference on Chicago’s South Side, we want our students to be able to go out and do the same.

Our school is named after Ella Baker,  a civil rights activist. In our mission, we seek to create “change agents” out of our students that will go out and make “multi-generational” differences in their worlds. At the end of their 9th grade year, our students complete a “Be the Change” project where they identify a  problem in their community, research its causes, then develop and present a plan about how they, as an active citizen, can solve it. Check out this link for an article detailing the event:

Outside of my school life (yes, teachers can and should have personal lives), I am an avid Cubs and Marquette basketball fan, enjoy spending as much time as possible outdoors with my wife and our dog Riley, and enjoy a fine craft beer.

With that, I hope that this post has shed some light on who I am and where I’ve been as a teacher. I’m looking forward to sharing more of my thoughts and stories with you in the near future.

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