A friend of mine is putting together a panel about work/life balance for a teacher education class at UC Berkeley. I had to sadly decline an offer to be on the panel because I won't be in town but it got me thinking. In some way I was the poster child among my colleagues for someone who seemed to have the balance figured out. That's because I had a few very specific passions I incorporated into my life throughout my 33 year teaching career. After about 7 years in the books, I had what amounted to an "Is that all there is" moment. I was fascinated by oral history and teaching both history and literature through traditional and contemporary music and began to think about a project where I could combine these pursuits. What resulted was a radio program I produced for a listener sponsored Pacifica radio station in Berkeley. I had been involved in a traveling show about the life of Woody Guthrie (another work/life balance adventure) and had some contacts with the radio station after we did a series of benefits. One of the station producers agreed to assist me with the project and it took life after a couple of years working on it during summer breaks and now and again on weekends and whenever I could get a few minutes. It was an oral/musical history of hobos and rail-riders. The folklore and folk music is rich in this area. From that initial venture came another radio program based on another passion of mine, thoroughbred horse racing. The race track was a perfect sub culture to investigate and contained many similarities to the romanticism and alternate universe that surrounds train hopping. That second project led to another career in journalism after I was asked to write an article about my interviews with horse trainers, riders, and the plethora of colorful characters that surround horse racing. The music, from traditional folk to blues, to progressive country is rich in horse racing lore as well. Over a period of 10 years I became a correspondent for an industry publication that, pre-internet, came out weekly and brought me a small bonus income while allowing me to meet and interview many of the athletes (equine and human) in the sport.
All this while teaching full time, and if I might be so bold, garnering a teaching excellence award from my district and peers.
So, what's missing here? Well, the balance comes at a price. It ain't easy and requires some sacrifice. Let me explain. When I'd taught about 5 years or so a friend once asked me how it was compared to how I thought it's be. I used a metaphor to explain. "Remember that guy who used to be on the Ed Sullivan show when we were little. You know the one who'd get the plates spinning on sticks and then get some plates twirling on a table in front of him simultaneously, and the have to rush around to keep them going, but all the while still adding more and trying to juggle balls at the same time. There would always be one wobbly plate you were sure would fall but he'd revive it at the last minute as the audience gasped."
"Well, I said, that's my life teaching."
In the end, the takeaway here is that you have to make room to explore other interests if you want to keep everything spinning. To do that requires sacrifice. I used to get up just as early on weekends to do laundry while grading papers or lesson planning so I could free myself for other pursuits. When I wrote for the horse magazine, an article was on a 24 hour deadline. That sometimes meant working on school things on a Friday night to clear the weekend and making sure I knew what I was doing (and had everything in place!) for Monday.
I think I fooled a lot of people, because the balance didn't come easy. I tried to be one of those teachers who said I never do anything after 9:00 pm or I clear all my weekends...always. When your students write, you can't do that. But you can overlap. You can take a couple of hours for yourself daily. (4-6pm was mine...if possible) And then there is the complexity of relationships to factor in. That changes everything and you have to be an expert in compromise. Again, it's not easy and there were days when I was irritable because I ended up going to a family function or doing something I didn't want to do and lost time on my precious "project." In the end, go for the balance and let it take whatever shape works for you. Teaching is consumptive; you can never do enough for your students and you will never be caught up. Once you realize this it is possible to develop other parts of your personality, other talents, other interests. It's all worth it.