I was a first year teacher who had no professional boundaries. I’d work late into the night, jumping frantically from one classroom task to another, always feeling way behind. When I finally made my way home and crawled into bed, my mind was troubled by a range of school concerns [e.g., “Did we have enough colored pencils?”] In the morning, I woke up groggy. I’d pour myself a bowl of cereal and I’d have a breakfast date with my lesson planner. I was a human doing.
I wish I could say that I stopped being a human doing when the children shuffled through the classroom doors, but I can’t. I had the same mindset during the school day as I did when the children were gone. Just as I pushed myself to produce all the time, I was shoving my students to do the same. Sadly, I often missed out on who they were as human beings and vice versa. I valued productivity over presence.
Over the years, I’ve learned to slow down. I have boundaries now. Although I always have more work I could do, I know how to walk away from the production line. I leave my schoolwork in my backpack when I come home, and chase my toddler around our apartment. But this isn’t easy for me. My tendency is to work until my head hits the pillow. I have to be intentional about balanced living.
My Finnish colleagues have challenged me to think about balance in an even deeper way. Within the last week, three of them have advised me to take more time off during the day. They’ve noticed that I’m not spending our 15-minute breaks in the lounge and they’re wondering why. Admittedly, they’re afraid I might burn out.
At first, I laughed off their concern. My thoughts ran wild: “I can understand breaks after school, but taking a break during school? I’m a guy who's used to working through lunch! Oh, and when I hear break time, I hear ‘bonus work time.’ Wait, are you seriously recommending that I waste my time in the lounge, sitting down and twiddling my thumbs? ’”
Here’s what I’ve found out: They’re all totally serious about taking breaks. Just an hour ago, a Finnish co-teacher of mine told me that she needs to spend time sipping coffee and chatting with other teachers every day. This makes her a better teacher.
I’m confused. Before coming to Finland, I thought I knew what it meant to be a balanced teacher and now, I’m not totally sure. I’m finding that my impulse to work all the time is not something that many of my Finnish colleagues seem to possess. This fascinates me.
I confess that I’ve yet to spend even two minutes of my break in the lounge (even after writing this post!). I’ve imagined myself sitting at the coffee table and thinking, “I’m wasting my time. I’m wasting my time. I’m wasting my time.” Even though this practice of slowing down during the school day is new to me, I trust the wisdom of my Finnish colleagues. They're really passionate about this. I’m now committed to giving this break-thing a try; I'll keep you posted.
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