Putting ME First

This is a weird short note I’m going to be writing. It’s basically an apologia, and a defense, for my lack of posting in the first few weeks of school. This is PRIME time for posting, because this is the time we’re setting up routines, finding ways to create a rapport with our classes, and still excited about trying new things.

And yet, I’m not posting about it.

I wanted to tell you the reason why. For the past four years — since I’ve started teaching — I’ve put school first. In almost every aspect of my life. And I think it was necessary for me to come into my own as a teacher. That time… it was time well spent. My first year of teaching, I would work until 10pm or 11pm each night. It wasn’t healthy, but it was necessary. Looking back I’m surprised I didn’t burn out. But I was in love with designing lesson plans. And each year, there was something that would cause me to stay late and obsess over something or another. Even last year, when I was first starting out standards based grading in calculus, I recall staying at school until 8pm or 9pm on many nights, and it wasn’t months later that I figured out ways to streamline things to get me out of the building faster, and still serve the students well. The point is: I’ve devoted my life to teaching, at the expense of doing other things.

This year… at least this first quarter… I’m trying something new. I’m putting ME first.

(me at math prom on Saturday night)

I’m allowing myself to go out with friends on weeknights. I no longer am turning friends down for dinner because it’s a Wednesday. (Do you believe that I used to never go out on weekdays? Until this year it was so rare for me to accept an invitation to do anything on school nights.) I’ve gotten myself a theater subscription. I’m still reading up a storm. I’m reminding myself of the non-school-things that are a part of me! This is the year I can do it, because I’m teaching two preps (not my usual three) and both are classes I taught last year. Next year that’s bound to change. So I want to take advantage while I can.

I told my sister (teacher extraordinaire) this and she said she was so happy I made this decision. She told me she thought I was working myself silly, and she thought more than once in the past four years that I was going to burn myself out.

I also want to encourage y’all to make a similar pledge: to put yourselves first, before school. It’s something that’s made me so much happier, and also a better teacher. Because I’m constantly in a good mood. I don’t know how to describe it, but I feel happier. Things that used to annoy me, they still annoy me, but they roll off my back more easily. I have a better perspective on things, because I don’t have the time to obsess about the little things. And I know I have a dinner with friends, a gallery opening, a trivia night, a book reading, waiting for me at the end of the day.



  1. Sam – I am there with you when it comes to having to take time out. I’m working on my Master’s degree, so education is currently “all consuming.” I am surprised that I have not burned myself out – although I have to admit that I am REALLY close. March and the end of my program cannot get here fast enough!

    I wanted to ask you about your standards-based grading. How do you set it up? Is it a school-wide initiative, or are you doing it on your own? Do you have any advice? Currently, I teach Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, and I want to ensure that students are meeting standards while still “conforming” to our districts regular style of grading.

    Thanks – and enjoy your “me” time. It sounds like you truly deserve it!


    1. I’m the only one in my school that does SGB (that I know of anyway, but I’m sure I would have heard if otherwise). I only do it in my calc classes, because I’m the only one who teaches them so I don’t need to get anyone else on board. It’s a longer story about how I set it up. I should probably make an SBG tag for posts on the blog that deal with it (I should really start using tags, huh?), or at least make a post linking to all the other posts on my blog that deal with it. But I truly started blogging about it in August 2010 — and then I posted about it continuously throughout the year. So you can find specifics about how it is organized that way. You do know there’s a HUGE online SBG presence — so if you need others, just lemme know and I’ll post a list of good resources, or lead you to ’em…

  2. Bravo Sam:

    Take it from somebody who has learned “the hard way.” Literally. I was in the hospital and nearly died from “working hard for my students, professional growth, and classes.” Let’s talk about it offline one of these days.

    You are learning what you HAVE to do, and what you CANNOT do every day. Part of the HAVE TO lost is for yourself.

    Always respect your health, soul, and spirit.

    When you do your kids will see it and respect it.

    1. Oh wow, that sounds intense! Too intense! Hospital! But yeah, I’ve found a happy medium. You’ve seen — prolly, if you’re following my FB postings — that I might have gone too far in the “me me me” direction, but I’m so happy about it. And I honestly feel like I’m being a better teacher this year than in years past. So there’s something to it.

      1. Yup . Not exaggerating. But we’ll catch up. Getting married in NYC this December, so will be in your hood. Staying at the Kardasshian (Smyth) Hotel in Tribeca. Stay tuned.

  3. I definitely agree that it’s important to put yourself first. I’ve had more than my share of late nights and early mornings this past year. I’m alwaysnthe first one in and often the last teacher out. (Those secretaries work hard, though!)

    But I put in that time there so I can step away and think about my other joys when I’m not. And I can bring those joys into the classroom, and I think it makes me a better teacher.

    (And wasn’t Math Prom fun? I enjoyed Alan Alda’s speech.)

  4. Sam

    I finally came to terms with this idea through a powerful analogy. I was taking a grad course and we were talking about professional development opportunities. I always sought out summer ones so as not to miss precious class time. I read a story that referenced the routine we go through at the beginning of flights where we are told to put our air mask on first before helping young children or older people with their masks. The analogy was crystal clear to me at that point – I can only be helpful to others if I am able to help myself to be strong.

  5. Funny, I was about to reproach you for starting this blog post with an apology – because anyone who knows a teacher knows that this time of year knows it’s killer and even our best intentions leave our blogs (and social networks, laundry, etc.) a little neglected. One of my first advice to new bloggers is – never apologize for blogging. The guilt we feel from not posting is self-created, self-defeating, & just tiresome. Then I read further and saw where you were going with this and landed on….. BRILLIANT!
    I LOVE this because I observe more teachers “wear out” early on because they see working smarter as not harder and seeing having more “me time” as being selfish. It’s HEALTHY and good for your soul! Going into education, for me, was a calling…but even then it’s important to keep an eye on the quality of life choices. Balance, daily celebration, reading for pleasure, art for the senses, theatre for the soul (bar trivia & good ale) Oh yeah….and time to connect with friends & family will make you a better teacher…and a better human! Cheers!
    ~Gwyneth Jones
    The Daring Librarian

    1. Yeah! I feel for me throwing myself into teaching makes me feel like I have a sense of purpose, and I’m creating something tangible that I can see [a classroom]. But I think it’s easy for me to see this purpose as my of all and end all. And being soooo invested in something, even if it’s your job, might not be so healthy. I’m trying to decouple the strong connection between my teaching abilities and my happiness. Because if I keep doing that, I’ll never really be happy in the moment, because I’m never going to feel like I’m very good.

  6. Good for you! I’m in my 13th year of teaching, and I haven’t learned this lesson yet. But I’m just now starting to come around. I know I bring most of the extra workload on myself. I am a perfectionist, and I have a passion for integrating technology in the classroom. I’m always taking on these HUGE projects and telling myself that the extra work I put in now will pay off by making things easier the following year. The problem is that there are ALWAYS new projects the following year, and I never seem to slow down. It really has taken a toll on my family life. My husband is always telling me I need to create “work-life balance,” and I know he’s right. I hope you stick to your new philosophy and continue to put yourself first! I will try to follow suit…

    1. AH! Don’t wait! Just do it! Okay, you’re going to be run ragged. But my advice: be okay with being mediocre and boring. Honestly. Sounds like crappy advice, but it’s the best advice I can give to a noobie! (I’m out of noobie stage, right? Starting year 5?)

  7. I find this post completely empowering. I found your blog at the end of last [school] year and it really changed how i felt about teaching. I was reminded that there were other people in the world that cared about being creative and giving every ounce of what they could offer to their students. You (and Kate, who i found through you) and the other bloggers you both link to have given me the encouragement and inspiration I have needed to get through the tougher times in the school district I teach in. I don’t know you, but I thank you for what you do and for not being afraid to talk about the good and the bad things that you encounter in our profession and with your students. Not only are you making a difference students lives, but you are also making a difference for other teachers who need a little inspiration and hope at the end of the day. merci beaucoup :)

    1. Thank you for posting this! It’s so nice for you to say — and it honestly means a lot to me. I feel like I should frame it! I don’t really write for others, so it’s awesome to know that it’s helpful to you. Heart.

  8. Sam – you’ve learned a life lesson, not just a teaching lesson. I am still learning the lesson, every day. I work about 10 hours a day at school, and then I go home. Only rarely do I take work home, but I do come in on weekends to catchup. My husband takes a large load with our son, and it enables me to work like crazy…but it’s made me a bit crazy, and has effected my health with a variety of problems. My professional goal is to leave by 4:30pm…I’ve actually managed it a few times in the first month of school.

    This is my 21st year, and I’m finally realizing that it’s OK to take care of me, and my son and husband need to be higher on the priority list. It’s more than OK, it’s important. Now I just have to make my heart know it, not just my head.

    By the way, you inspire me regularly, and I’ve taken the leap into SBG with my Algebra II classes. Thanks for all your insights and work.

    1. It’s actually just a fall formal put on by people who run Math For America, for people who are in the organization. I’m not, I was just a date. And there isn’t any real math there.

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