The Teacher Book: Finding Personal And Professional Balance
by Bobbi Fisher
In 1994 I took a leave of absence from classroom teaching. I was finishing up the final draft of Thinking and Learning Together and The Wright Group had just completed the filming for Classroom Close-ups, a video-tape series of my first-grade classroom. I wanted to devote more time to giving workshops about classroom practice, and I knew I couldn't do that successfully while teaching full-time.
As I began this new work, teachers around the country told me about their love of teaching, and the stresses that went along with the job as they tried to balance their personal and professional lives. I remembered the stresses during my teaching days, and how difficult it was at times to stay centered and balanced. I also remembered how, as a teacher, I was expected to "do it all" with a smile and that there were few public forums to discuss these issues. About that time I began thinking about writing a book to address these concerns, and started giving workshops and talks about ways we can balance our personal and professional lives.
In February 1999 I sent an e-mail letter to about twenty-five teacher friends, explaining this publishing project, asking some specific questions, and requesting that they email the letter to interested colleagues. The response was overwhelming, and I began receiving e-mail from all over the country. My letter was put on the CATENet list-serv (California Association of Teachers of English) and Teachers.Net (The Online Resource for Educators). I answered each e-mail, and developed an ongoing correspondence with many of the teachers. As my letter spread throughout cyberspace and I heard from more and more teachers, I sent out summary letters and asked other questions that were generated from the responses (See Appendix).
All together I heard from more than two hundred individual teachers from forty-five states, as well as teachers from Canada and one from Ecuador. The majority were kindergarten and first-grade teachers, but I also received e-mail from preschool, elementary, middle school and high school teachers, as well as curriculum coordinators and teacher educators. I received more e-mail from California than any other state. These teachers in particular voiced the stresses that standards and testing have placed on them and their students. Many teachers expressed gratitude that I was there to listen to their concerns, and were hopeful that their voices might be heard.
The first section of this book is mostly written in the words of teachers who wrote to me about how they continually work to balance their personal and professional lives. Teachers continually work to balance their intense professional lives with their busy personal lives, which include their immediate families, their aging parents, church and civic responsibilities, the need to maintain their health, their pursuit of a hobby or interest, and their longing to find personal fulfillment in relationships. Their responses are both universal and specific. Almost all the teachers mention that they find joy when a child learns, and most said that they stay in teaching because they are committed to making the world a better place. Although their classroom situations and personal lives vary greatly, most wrote that excessive testing, and non-teaching duties, such as meetings and paper work, diminish both the quality of their teaching and the depth of children's learning.
The second section of the book explores some of the strategies for balancing our personal and professional lives that I have developed from my experiences dealing with stress and striving for balance in my own life and have shared with teachers in talks and workshops. I have discovered that the better I know myself, the more successful I am in becoming and staying centered, and I have found that teachers in my workshops are able to apply and adapt these strategies to their own situations and discover their unique formulas for staying centered. These strategies include (1) clarifying our present situation, (2) using the joys of childhood play and our own literacy experiences as mirrors for discovering our interests and attitudes, (3) naming principals of living, or what I call nuggets of truth, and exploring our own spirituality, and (4) taking action by writing mission statements and taking time for ourselves. Throughout this section, I have provided reflection questions for those of you who wish to spend more time considering your own situation. You may want to use a personal journal to help you respond the these questions.
About Bobbi Fisher...
Bobbi Fisher taught elementary school for over twenty-five years. She is the author of Joyful Learning in Kindergarten; Thinking and Learning Together: Curriculum and Community in a Primary Classroom; Inside the Classroom: Teaching Kindergarten and First Grade; and her newest book, The Teacher Book: Finding Personal and Professional Balance, all
published by Heinemann. A video tape of her classroom, Classroom Close-Ups: Organization and Management, is available from The Wright Group. Currently she is attending Andover Newton Theological School. Bobbi lives with her husband in Sudbury, Massachusetts. They have two grown children and two grandchildren. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Bobbi Fisher by e-mail at email@example.com