Weighty sentiments and a vista

As I'm sure you've probably realized, I've been on vacation. Not only a vacation from school, but also a hiatus from blogging. Between a wedding, honeymoon, week-long hike on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, and a new house I'm still moving into, I've been busy.

Unlike last summer when I blogged rather frequently, this year has been full of adventures, commitments, and activities outside the electronic realm. This is a good thing, as one benefit is I've been jogging nearly every day for the past few weeks.

Up until the past couple of years, I'd always been in relatively good shape. I ran cross-country in high school (my best mile was 5:10) and also played recreational basketball. I continued jogging and shooting hoops throughout college, my tenure as a newspaper journalist, and graduate school.

It wasn't until after my first year as a high school English teacher that I fully understood how much time, work, and dedication the job truly required if one was to do it well. While I've definitely made significant strides in my teaching from year one to what will now be year five this fall, I can't say the gains I've made in my body have been all that positive. I've probably put on about 20 pounds since I first started teaching.

One of my goals for 2008-2009 is to find a better balance between school's demands and my own personal health. This means continuing to jog and eat well. It also means getting to bed at a reasonable hour. My natural circadian rhythm finds me wanting to go to sleep at 2 a.m. and wake up at 10. When I was a reporter, my penchant for late nights meshed well with the job, as I usually went in to work around 3 p.m. and stayed until midnight or later.

During the school year, I usually wake at 5:00 a.m. I like getting to school just a little after 6:00, as I find I'm able to accomplish a lot in the quiet morning hours. The one caveat is that I need to go to sleep significantly earlier than I'm naturally inclined. I'm the type of person who needs a full eight hours of sleep to function, although I can get by with seven. More often than not, though, the past few school years I've ended up getting about five hours of sleep each night, coming home tired, eating something because I'm hungry because I ate lunch at 10:30 in the morning, taking a nap, then eating something again.

Obviously this is not a pattern for sustainable health. This year I will strive to eliminate afternoon naps and force myself to stop whatever I may be doing once it becomes 9:30 p.m., brush my teeth, and get to bed. My afternoons will consist of something active (a jog, a swim, a game of hoops, a bike ride), and I'll eat dinner at a reasonable hour. Rather than join a gym, I'm planning on getting a treadmill so I can jog in the winter.

The key to this whole plan is efficient time management. The unfortunate thing is, though, that even if I arrive at school an hour early and stay an hour late each day, I still won't get everything done that needs to get done. This is the reality that those who don't teach are oblivious to. They think, "Oh, you only work a 6.5-hour day, and you have summers off and all those vacations." It doesn't need to be stated here, on an education blog, that the majority of teachers are not "off" during those vacations.

There's always a stack of papers to read, a lesson to create, a continuing ed course to complete, a PDP plan to execute, a new pedagogy to read about, a new administrative decree to carry out.

I have resigned myself to the fact that there still will be some late nights, and that there will be times when my school commitment causes me to miss a jog or eat take-out instead of something healthy. The key will be to limit those nights, keeping them the exception, rather than the rule.

For the uninitiated, it might seem like I don't enjoy my job. That's not true. I sincerely love teaching. It completely engages me and provides for a creative outlet, and I am dedicated to seeing that my students learn the material and hopefully better themselves as a result of being in my classroom.

I think the overall point of this post is that the job is all-encompassing, and when teachers have a true chance to tune off their edu-lives and rejoin the rest of the world - if only briefly - it should be celebrated, not frowned upon. The time away provides us with the distance necessary to see ourselves, reflect, and improve our practice.

I suppose this dispatch signals my return to the world of secondary education. In two weeks from now, I will meet with incoming 9th graders to welcome them to our high school and encourage them to join the Leo Club, a community service organization dedicated to helping children, and Spotlight, the student newspaper, both of which I advise. A week after that, the first late bell of the year will ring, signaling the beginning of another adventurous ride. It's a ride I'm looking forward to, and hopefully with hindsight and another year of experience under my belt, I'll be able to steer clear of hidden rocks and unhealthy currents.

The image at the top of this post was from my honeymoon in St. Kitts, taken from one of the island's inactive volcanoes.

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