If you are reading this, and an educator, I am a bit surprised! This time of year is pretty crazy for those involved in the traditional agrarian school calendar that the Western culture holds tightly to. Professional development workshops, home visits with preschool families, department level or grade level meetings…all in full swing. These events, in addition to all of the behind the scenes work involved in getting our classrooms ready for Day One can create some imbalance in our lives. Sometimes what we anticipated as a minor event or slight error can cause considerable and time-consuming repair and frustration. Watching U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles lose the gold medal on the balance beam due to a slight touch of the beam, in spite of a nearly perfect routine, one realizes how losing our balance has consequences.
One of the schools that CACE has been working with over the past two years recognized the importance of staying balanced, and made some significant changes that helped students and teachers realize the importance of a balanced life. As part of an education department who joyfully sends out 75-100 new teachers each fall, I know we spend quite a bit of time reminding these new candidates to begin habits that will help them stay on the beam during their first year of teaching. We prophetically share with them that this first year will definitely create some moments where they might need to reach down and touch the beam in order to remain in balance. Students and teachers are wise to identify such habits and practices that will allow them to flourish in this coming academic year. A few thoughts to help stimulate this habit-forming process:
- Stay involved in activities that you enjoy. We often tell first-year teachers to avoid coaching or becoming involved in extra-curricular activities. Some schools even ban (for good reasons) first-year teachers from engaging in activities beyond their classroom to help them do Job #1 well. I was guilty of this as a school head but I do wonder if this is the right message to send? These former students must have managed their time well in college, many of whom participated in an ensemble, on an athletic team, or as part of a dramatic production. These activities are an important part of the school’s culture and first-year teachers might want, maybe even need, to participate. We know the relationship-building potential with students in such programs can certainly exceed that which can happen in the classroom.
- Consider saying no at first. Quite a contrast to the first recommendation, eh? However, the first couple weeks of teaching and learning are pretty exhausting so allowing oneself the opportunity to get into teaching/learning shape is wise. I don’t think too many new runners sign up for a 10K at the end of their first week of training, instead allowing time to build up endurance and energy. However, if you would jump into a first grade classroom for seven hours a day next week, you will quickly realize that saying no to some extra duties for the first few weeks makes good sense if you want to stay on the beam for the entire exercise.
- Budget some time for yourself. You absolutely have to find time to keep those habits of a balanced life as you keep your priorities in check. Spending time with God and His Word, giving yourself an occasional break from grading or homework or training, enjoying a date night with a special someone, continuing the workout routine…you know the practices, even the very small ones, that keep you on the beam.
As you vault or climb or get a little help back on the beam this year, keep yourself in balance. And, be very aware that each of your students will need some of your wisdom and assistance in developing habits that will keep them balanced and moving toward the place that God has prepared them for.
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.