Work-Life Balance.

At our first editorial board meeting this year, my editor-in-chief asked all of us to set goals for the year–a personal one and a newspaper one.

My newspaper goal was to do less micro-managing and allow editors to do their jobs before I jumped in. I’ve struggled with that the past three years. It’s the control freak side of me.

My personal goal was to improve my work-life balance by not working so much after school hours.

Sometimes that just can’t be helped, but sometimes I use work as an excuse to not do things like go to the gym, see movies I want to see, hang out with friends.

Since school started three weeks ago, I have spent time with a different friend at least once a week. One week, I saw a movie with a friend. The next week I spent time with friends who stopped in Omaha on their way to Chicago. This past week, a friend came over and we just gabbed for over two hours. Coming up this week, I’m meeting a friend for dinner.

These are giant steps for me, because usually during the school year, I cling to my anti-social, borderline-agoraphobic tendencies. If I’m not working, then I’m thinking about work, or feeling guilty that I’m not working, so I start to work. It’s a hideous cycle.

A cycle that needs to stop. So this school year, I plan on continuing this month’s trend of spending one evening a week doing something social. It will guarantee that at least for one night I am not focused on work, which is something I desperately need.

So if you want to see a $5 movie on a Tuesday, give me a call. Grab a drink at Starbucks? I’m game. Tell me which Omaha restaurants I need to try, because I haven’t tried most of them. And join me for dinner.

This school year, I need to remember that I have a life outside of school. I need to remember what that life is.

What Am I Doing?

I am weary.

It started last Wednesday night, as I sat on my couch, glued to Twitter, following the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri. Arrested reporters, militarized police, borderline media blackout–was this my country? It seemed impossible, and made me wonder why I’m teaching journalism–I was getting my news from Twitter, not from any major news outlet. Major news outlets weren’t reporting it, I suppose because reporting racial unrest is uncomfortable, it doesn’t sell ads, and my inner cynic was sure some corporate owners wanted to control the message. And the next day, as I told colleagues what had happened, I was met with disbelief. It wasn’t on the front page of our local paper, or in the top stories on the local news.

Over the weekend, tweets came in about layoffs at the Indianapolis Star, and a leaked spreadsheet from Time, Inc. reportedly shows that they plan laying off journalists who do not bring in enough ad revenue. Jobs in journalism are so rough these days, partly because the Fourth Estate no longer seems to be about an informed citizenry or keeping the branches of government in check, it’s about money and power and who can jump up and down on a desk long enough to outlast an opponent. Therefore, there’s not a whole lot of job security.

Then yesterday, the news about James Foley–a journalist who had been kidnapped two years ago in Syria, reporting a story that most people weren’t paying attention to (which in hindsight, perhaps we should have been). ISIS got a hold of him and executed him; they threatened to execute another journalist if President Obama did not call off air strikes.

If I’m training some of the country’s next journalists, what exactly am I preparing them for?

Yes, I am weary from the past seven days.

But today, I saw this. And I thought, “maybe there’s hope. Maybe this is progress. Maybe it’s not fruitless to teach journalism.”

Because journalists find stories like these and stick with them. Sometimes they shine a light on what we are doing right.

I know that some of my students, past and present, might say that sports stories are trivial. But this week, I needed this one. I needed to hear this coach speak to his kids in the wake of a loss. I needed sports to redeem not only my faith in humanity, but my faith in journalism.

Because really, at the end of the day, journalism should be about telling stories truthfully: inspiring stories, upsetting stories, stories that remember we are part of the human family, stories that compel us to act. Whether it’s sports or politics or education or business, journalists can illuminate not only what’s wrong, but also what’s right.

And if I can remember that, then I should never really question what I’m preparing my students for:

“Seek truth and report it. Minimize harm. Act independently. Be accountable.”

That’s the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. That’s what I teach. And if I do my job well, then maybe my students will in turn, do their jobs well too.

Giving Myself Permission

Twelve years ago as I wrapped up student teaching, my cooperating teacher warned me of the dangers of working too much.

This struck me as odd, because as the publications adviser, she was at school all. the. time. I’ve thought of her advice often these past twelve years, because I’ve struggled to follow it. As a teacher, I always have something to do. If I allowed myself, I could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

And I often feel guilty when I take time for myself. Taking an hour to watch a TV show, taking a nap, working out–none of these activities happen without the nagging thought in the back of my head: you should be working.

That cooperating teacher told me, “You need to give yourself permission to relax, to take time for yourself. Because if you don’t, you will burn out.”

My lessons are planned for the week, and even into next week. But I have many stacks of papers to grade right now, and I should be working on those.

Should, should, should…I love my job, love my students, love what I do, but I also love my family, love reading, love playing the piano, and when I’m on a roll, I even love working out. I need balance, but it’s often out of reach.

This story made the rounds recently–we actually become less effective when we work more than 40 hours a week. Sometimes, that’s just not an option for me. Like this week, deadline week, when I’ll be at school until 8 PM every night. But other weeks, I need to find ways to scale back.

So tonight, I’m giving myself permission to go to a concert, spend time with a friend, and not feel guilty about doing it. (I’m at least going to try to not feel guilty about it.) And then I’m going to try, for the last month of school, to only work 40 hours a week.

Or maybe just 50.

But definitely not 60.

Happy Haul-idays!

I’m a little late to this giveaway, but better late than never, right?  Here’s the deal: Chronicle Books is offering $500 worth of books to bloggers and commenters. 

I’m helping YOU enter by sharing my wish list!

There’s a little bit of everything on this list: books about photography and film, as well as some fiction titles for my students. 

Like what you see?  Enter a comment below, and voila: you, too, are entered in the giveaway! You have until December 10th to comment.  Chronicle will select a winner after the 10th.

Want to see the other titles Chronicle has? Click here.


Today I felt a glimmer of hope in the most unusual of places–our district office.

I was there with 20 or so fellow educators, discussing how the classes we teach matter.  They matter a lot.

And not that Math or Science or English aren’t important subjects–they most certainly are.  But I’m in the fortunate position of being in two departments and I teach subjects and skills that are completely woven.  Yet too often in high schools, subjects are treated as individual entities and we wonder why kids can’t seem to transfer knowledge from class to class.

But I digress.  Let me get back to hope:

That group of 20 colleagues shared idea after idea after idea for how we could improve our schools–and not all the suggestions involved buying new things.  (Although of course, a new network would be fabulous…)  We were encouraged to be honest with our administration.  We were asked to be innovative in our approach to building curriculum.

We were treated like professionals.

It hasn’t always been that way when I’ve been in meetings at the district office, and I don’t know if it will stay that way forever.  But today when I left, I felt trusted and a little empowered.  I felt hope.

Here’s hoping it continues.