Posted by Dave Orphal on Wednesday, 10/02/2013
A part of me couldn’t believe what I was doing. I was writing to my superintendant saying, “Thank you, but…” I couldn’t believe I was turning down this hybrid teacher-leader position, and I couldn’t believe how far I’d come in my efforts to be a better partner in my marriage.
A few years ago, I did a TED talk where I shared about the amazing concept that Barnett Barry and the Teacher Solution 2030 team developed in their book, Teaching 2030. I’ve been a teacher leader at my school and in my district for years, but that work has always be on top of a full-time classroom position.
In my talk, I gave an example of an imaginary elementary school teacher who was in the classroom Monday through Wednesday before handing her kids off to her partner-teacher so that she could go to the state capitol and work on educational policy for the Board of Education.
That was the job being offered. My superintendant wanted to buy my preparation period, and offer me an extended contract to work after school doing educational policy analysis for the Oakland School Board. I would be summarizing new legislation and educational trends for the Board, and providing a classroom perspective. I would help the Board to understand how these laws and trends would impact our classrooms--where the rubber of educational policy and reform meets the road of learning and teaching.
My wife, Wendy, had just accepted a new job in Silicon Valley. It’s great! After three years of financial worry while she was unemployed, she was back to being our family’s primary bread-winner.
However, Wendy doesn’t drive. We had to move in order for her to be closer to her work. We found a great place, but now my commute to Oakland is about ninety minutes each way.
It is difficult for any teacher to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Teachers work a lot more each day than the seven hours they are in a classroom with students.
It’s even more difficult for teacher-leaders. I’ve written about this before, trying to bridge the gap between work and my relationship. For the past two years, I’ve refused to attend Wednesday evening meetings, only half-joking, “Sorry, that’s my couples-counseling night, where we talk about how I work too much. I can’t cancel that in order to work some more.”
My Superintendant understood this. He didn’t want the now role he was offering me to be solely above and beyond my full-time teaching job. He even floated the idea of taking one of my classes away from me, so that I would be all done with students by lunch time, and could drive home before rush hour and do the policy analysis job remotely.
Like the mature, responsible husband I am striving to become, I didn’t jump at the offer. Instead, I said, “Can I have a week to think this over and discuss it with my wife?”
Over the course of that week, Wendy and I talked, weighing the pros and cons of the hybrid role. How likely was it really that the school could find another teacher to take over my afternoon class? Would I still have to attend after school staff and department meetings, losing the anti-rush hour perk of being able to leave early on those days? Would I need to attend periodic late-evening school board meetings?
Then it happened. During the first week of school, while Wendy and I were discussing the opportunity, I fell in love with my classes. I always do this. Every year, my kids are bright, curious, hard working, and fun. I couldn’t see myself giving up my afternoon group.
Suddenly, the hybrid role looked a lot more like an after-school, extra job. Even if I was able to bolt right after my last class, I would be on the road only an hour early. Once I got home, I would still have planning and grading to do for five full classes of children. Then, after that, I would have one or two hours of policy work.
My work/life balance would be shot once again.
For the first time in my working life, I chose my relationship over my job. It was a tough decision, but I think it was the right one for me.