Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Balancing Act

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning."

- Maya Angelou

I always knew having a full-time job would wreak havoc on my personal life. If you’d care to peruse the archives of my blog (and I know you do), you will find many instances when I say that I should appreciate being underemployed because someday


I will lose my free time.

Free time to keep up with laundry.

Free time to keep up with ironing.

Free time to cook more than a 30-minute meal.

Free time to drop my children off and pick them up from school.

Free time to ride my bicycle.

Free time to blog. (I miss you. I'm trying to keep up.)

Free time to write.


Of course, bringing home a bigger paycheck has its own kind of freedom. And, of course, being an extended term substitute doesn’t provide the same pay as being a regular teacher. Though it sure beats being a daily sub.

Right now, I don’t feel like I do anything well.

Even with all the help from my husband, the house feels a millisecond away from chaos. We keep it going, but just barely.

I’m with middle schoolers in my home or at school pretty much from 7:00 am until 9:30 pm. (Either my son or I go to bed at that point.)

Every single day during the week, my children have an activity after school. Food, laundry, homework – it’s all squashed in between.

While I know there are many, many people in similar situations, I’ve never had to face this reality.

It’s hard.

I feel guilt for the time I’m not spending with my children.

With my husband.

With myself.

And everyday, I stand before my students. Some classes go well. Some go really well. Some go not so well.

Each experience makes me reflect. What can I do better next time?

Everyday is new. Nothing feels like a routine. We’re all still sizing one another up.

Some days I come home. I say, “I can do this.”

Other days I drag myself home. I say, “I can’t do this.”

My daughter is having a really hard time with the change. She misses me coming into her classroom. She misses spending more time with me.

I miss her.

Last night, at 8:30, I got ready for bed. She asked my husband if she and I could have a short sleepover. So we both crawled into my bed and fell asleep. At midnight, my husband brought her back to her own bed.

Many nights, I can’t shut my mind off. I think about the students I’m not reaching academically, discipline issues, lessons. Those nights, I don’t get a break from being a teacher.

My manuscript calls me, but I have to ignore it for now.


Each day gets better. I become a better teacher. The lessons become more interesting because I’ve had more time to find my way.

I know their names. (Believe me, that's a feat.)

I remember how long it took me to find my voice as a writer. For the longest time, I didn’t get it.

I had my suburban high school teacher voice, I had my fifth-grade assistant teacher voice, and I had my substitute teacher voice (which had many inflections based on grade and subject).

But I never had a middle school social studies teacher voice. Each day it gets stronger.

I don’t want to be a pushover.

I don’t want to be a nag.

I don’t want to be severe.

I want to show I care and be in control.

It’s a balancing act.

There are bright moments. One student goes out of his way to greet me and has complimented me to other teachers. Another has given me a hug. Two have asked if I’ll attend 8th-grade graduation even if the other teacher has returned from maternity leave. One student asked me if I’d be going on the 8th-grade trip to D.C.

There are days the class is too noisy.

There are days when my lesson falls flat.

There are days when my class is enraptured (sort of. probably.)

Those are the days when I find my inner-fierce-teacher.

I love those days.

I want each class, each day, to be like that.

But I know it takes time.

Despite my experience, I’m a first year teacher who started six-weeks into the year, and was thrown right in.

I’ve made mistakes.

I feel like I’m getting through my life rather than savoring each moment, but I know it won’t always feel that way.

And tomorrow.

Parent-teacher conferences.

I’m afraid of what I’ll hear.

All that someday…

is now.


  1. I really have deepest respect for those who are both parents and writers and work full-time, because I can't imagine keeping up with everything you do. Good luck with everything.

  2. Wow, you may not be finding time to write, but you haven't lost your talent. This was beautifully written. I could feel your frustration and doubt. And your courage and hope.

    I only have two cats and between my job and one class, finding time to clean and write and blog....the house is the one that suffers.

    I really dislike conferences, yuck.

    There is no doubt in my mind that you will hit your stride and look back on these days and be amazed at how difficult you thought it all was.

    My admiration, you have it! OH! This just popped into my head - Quoting Dorie from Nemo-"Just keep swimming..."

    Great =P Now I'm gonna have that in my head the rest of the night :)

  3. It's really difficult to balance all of the demands the come up, but you'll get there. You'll keep getting better and keep adjusting the balances until you find what works best.

    Good luck with everything, Theresa.

  4. I think the same thing about full-time work. It would be nice to have, but so much gets sacrificed for it. Mostly sanity. I'm sure you are doing a great job.

  5. Beautiful poetic heartfelt post, Theresa, and this explains why I hadn't seen your blog for awhile. You are busy busy busy, and doing good things all around.

  6. Great post. I think that what you're feeling is perfectly normal. It's definitely overwhelming to make a big change like that. My first year as a teacher, I burst into tears for no reason at least once a week just because I was so overwhelmed. But it gets easier, in time. At least Thanksgiving break is coming up, so you'll have some time to spend with your family.

  7. This is one of the best descriptions of the life of a junior high social studies teacher that I have ever read. Fortunately for me, I did not have children when I was in that same situation. Hang in there, and keep in mind that there are no perfect teachers. The most important thing is to keep trying. The kids know when you do.

  8. Always a balancing act ... I don't think there is a perfect balance, something's always gotta give ... I like how you had a mini-sleepover with your daughter though ... those moments are priceless xx

  9. What a wonderfully honest post. Thanks for sharing.

    You'll find your balance. It just takes time.

  10. Theresa, you are just too dilligent about everything. It is probably just the first couple of months that will be the toughest. Having done both, worked full time and being at home with my kids, I am still not convinced which situation is the best. I do think the paycheck helps though. As you said to me ages ago on a post, ditch the guilt, we are so tough on ourselves.

  11. Teaching is weird. This quarter, I am teaching three of the same classes, so it's the same material, but it clicks with some classes and not with others. Some classes are totally into it while others stare blankly at me. I am sure you are doing great.

  12. I'm a Libra and even I have a hard time finding balance! You can do it. J

  13. Awww Theresa Milstein!!!! You star!!

    Someone like me would be ignoring important stuff cos I just can't deal with balancing!!! I tend to hide under a rock and hope they all go away!!

    But you face these challenges with such spirit and determination!! That's why I think you will truly succeed with your writing!!!! You are tenacious and determined!!!

    I'm so sorry your daughter is finding it hard to adjust. I hope you have many more sleepover nights together! Awwww!!

    And you are doing well with your class!!! Yes you are!! :-)

    Take care

  14. @ Emy, thanks. This definitely would've been easier to begin in my 20s, before I had children.

    @ The Words Crafter, thank you. The conferences are five minutes each, so it's going to be like speed-dating. I have a feeling I'm going to get ready for bed as soon as I get home.

    You work all day and are about 10k from the end of your manuscript for NaNo. I'm so impressed!

    @ Jessica, thanks. When I first started, I was in shock. It's definitely better than before, so I know it wil continue to become easier. I think. ; )

    @ Sarah, thanks. I've definitely sacrificed a little sanity here. I don't know how single parents do this.

    @ KarenG, thank you. I was just thinking about you. Haven't been to your blog for awhile either. I promise to visit soon.

  15. What a lovely post. I think you're doing an amazing balancing act. I know I've had trouble balancing the things I have on, and that doesn't include a full-time job. My hat's off to all those who manage to do it all. You rock, Theresa! I only hope to do as well when I'm back at work! Have a great day!

  16. @ Neurotic Workaholic, thanks for the pep talk. I've only cried 2x in a month, so that's not too bad, right?

    YaY for Thanksgiving break!

    @ Paul, thanks for the advice. I've missed your blog too. An adjunct job is looking appealing right about now.

    @ Clutterbug, something always has to give - I agree. The question is, what?

    @ Jennifer, thank you. I hope it's soon!

    @ Brigid, I agree, neither situation is best. Working part-time has a lot of advantages. If only it paid more.

    @ Missed Periods, I believe that. And day-to-day a class can behave completely differently. It doesn't help that I see each group in three different rooms during the week.

    @ Samantha, thanks for the laugh.

    @ Old Kitty, I love your comments. Thanks for the pep talk. If I hide under a rock, it will just get worse!

    @ Debbie, thank you. I wish you well when you go back. You have a great day too.

  17. Theresa, I'm raising my coffee cup in a toast to you. What shines through in all your efforts here is a great and honest attitude. Kudos to you for holding on to that.

  18. Let me be the first to say -- You're doing an excellent job juggling. I'm very proud of you. I remember the post when you got the call for the job.

    You're doing just fine. We all feel like you do. Just breathe. And don't feel like you have to be superwoman either. That's one way to a stroke. We won't hold it against you if the house is a mess. You should see mine.

    Take it slow, remember to take a deep breath once in awhile. It'll all work out.

    and once the permanent sub job is done, you'll have more free time. Don't sweat it.

  19. Just hearing that you have these concerns...I bet you are are an incredible teacher. It means you actually CARE and that you want to, to not only teach, but learn. These kids are lucky to have you. I bet you will find your voice and your routine and your stride before you know it :-)

  20. I can't wait for the post about the conferences. I'm betting that you hear lots of good feedback about how much the children like you. They don't know how much you struggle (they don't read your blog). They see you as a competent adult who is in charge of them for the time they're with you, teaching them things they need to know. And your own children are way more flexible than you think. It's nice they miss you, but honestly, they'll adjust and in the future they'll remember you as a great role model.

  21. Thanks for the update. It sounds like you are trying your best at balance--not something easy to find.

    Good skill with your conferences

  22. aaww good luck and somehow everything will be in place for you.

  23. I completely admire you! I couldn't teach full-time. I know that about myself.

    As a PT teacher, I totally understand the roller coaster you are on--that not knowing if you are reaching students, wondering if your lessons are successful, feeling victorious one day, a failure another. Yep...that's teaching in the nutshell.

  24. *sigh* oh, Theresa, you've voiced so many of my concerns as a working mom/aspiring novelist--from losing all the freedom to the time lost with children. And now I'm facing the prospect of needing to add *more* work to the pile. It's frightening b/c how will I ever do it all?

    (((big hugs))) hang in there. Things can only get better, yes? :o)

  25. Theresa - what a beautifully written & poignant post. I think it's one of your best. I have such respect and admiration for you and all those like you; I honestly don't know how you do it. I'm so happy to hear that your confidence is growing and that each day you're getting better - at teaching, finding balance, creating time for you & your family and making time to write.

    I've missed your updates - thank you for this post!

  26. Beautiful post. It's so hard to find a balance between all of our other duties. It's so easy to never make time to write. But we are writers, it's what we do. This blog post alone is so well-written. Good luck with the conferences! My sister is a teacher and she has some tonight and tomorrow. I know she's not looking forward to them.

  27. I love this post, Theresa. I can totally understand and relate to you. When I was workin full time, I felt guilty all the time not spending enough time with my husband and my son, felt guilty being tired at night and not being able to do the laundry, cooking, etc. Yes, it's a balancing act...but you will always be a writer. You have written this post so splendidly and everybody, including me, loves it!

    I'm so touched about your daughter asking for a sleepover with you, I think that is so sweet. It's priceless.

  28. Good luck with your conferences. I've worked as a 7th grade History teacher for 4 years now and I still dread conferences. It sounds like you're hitting good strides with the kids and that matters a lot.

  29. @ Joanne, thank you. I have some coffee brewing right now.

    @ Anne, thank you for the thoughtful comment. I try to put it in perspective so I don't have a stroke. I'm not the first mother to work full-time. Plenty of teachers have had to endure being first year teachers and survived. I'll get a handle on it. This will pass. Then I freak out all over again.

    @ Melissa, thanks. I do care. But it makes me agonize all the time.

    @ Judy, thanks. The conferences weren't bad. Only one or two felt negative. I tried to be inspiring about what I had planned for the class. Now I have to live up to it.

    @ Slamdunk, this is the hardest time I've hard achieving balance yet.

  30. @ Joanna, thank you. I can use all the luck I can get!

    @ Katherine, it's good to know I'm not alone. I appreciate it.

    @ LTM, being paid for writing full-time would be easier in a many ways, right? So many mothers struggle for balance. I hate when I get home and feel like I've been wrung out. I wish you luck too.

    @ Kathleen, thanks. More days are better now but there are plenty of setbacks too.

    @ Nicole, thank you. I'm happy the conferences are over. I plan to add to my manuscript this weekend. I'm in my own NaNoWriLe. I've missed writing personal posts too. I'm glad I was able to get my feelings across.

    @ Len, I appreciate the comment. You know the struggle to try to do it all well. I'm glad you liked the post. I'm striking a balance about being vague about school specifics and sharing my feelings.

    @ Haley, thanks for sharing that. I hope in four years, I'm much more confident.

  31. Hi Theresa .. I can feel you .. I can see you .. but you're there and you're succeeding .. you'll be exhausted - but what achievement ..

    Life is life .. and this post expresses that life!

    Sounds fun .. but hairy scary .. it's the highs we enjoy & the highs we remember .. enjoy!! Happy weekend ... Hilary

  32. Such a nearly impossible balancing act. I don't know how others do it either. With me, when I was in that work/home/mom/write situation I always felt like I was one second away from an anxiety attack. I couldn't do it all as perfectly as I wanted no matter how much sleep I gave up to my many "causes". People like you and me just struggle along because we have more than enough dreams and aspirations to fit into a dozen lives. Either we have to lower our standards for some things or I'll have to invent a human replicator/cloner. My money's on the replicator. :o)

    Good luck, Theresa. I'm pulling for you. Know you are making a difference!!!

  33. To me, you are AMAZING! I couldn't do all that. Thinking of you and hoping you find that balance soon.

    Hope you are enjoying the weekend, taking time to relax and recharge. Wishing you more days where you find your inner-fierce-teacher.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving with your family!

    Take care...:)

  34. After five years of that, I'm glad I don't have to put up with marking and parent-teacher conferences and reaching students. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed teaching--just not all the paperwork and long hours that came with it. I guess my manuscript called louder than my students did.

    In any case, you'll get there soon. It takes time developing your own teacher voice, as you already know, just like it takes time to develop a writer voice. At the moment, I'm developing two martial arts instructor voices: one aimed at young children (younger than what I used to teach) and the other aimed at adults. Slowly getting there...

    Chin up! :)

  35. @ Hilary, thanks. Friday was a good day. I hope I have more of those.

    @ Jackee, it's nice to hear you know how difficult it is to be stretched thin. A second from an anxiety attack sounds about right.

    @ Jamie, thank you. Working on my inner-fierceness while I nurse my cold. Why do I almost always get one just before Thanksgiving?

    @ J.C. Martin, the paperwork is out of control. It all takes time away from perfecting lessons.

    My children take Taekwondo and they respect their instructors. How great you get to teach martial arts.

  36. I feel the same way about balancing flute and writing. Right now flute is winning. Oh well. You'll write again soon and I'll be here waiting to read it!


  37. Oh, my post just got eaten by blogger!

    Suffice it to say, you are amazing for doing what you're doing...being you and trying to be the best you can.

    And from one working mom to another, I take my hat off to you. You are amazing and strong, and I can see it between the lines.

    Hugs, Lydia
    p.s. I hear you on the household chaos part. ;P

  38. Hang in there - it sounds like you're doing great with the kids! And like you said, you're getting better all the time. That's the most we can hope for. And I'm sure it will just get easier and easier with time.

    I hope those conferences are great!

  39. @ Aubrie, thanks. I hope your flute playing and teaching, along with your writing is going well. And I hope you get more time to write soon.

    @ Lydia, thank you. I appreciate it. You've been doing it a lot longer than me.

    @ Susan, thanks. Friday was one of the best days, so I hope it is getting easier.

  40. Theresa, thanks for commenting on my blog about "Six Writers Who Saved My Life." Deenie was one of my favorites also.

    I think it's great that you went back to work, but I understand the disadvantages that come with it. I went for a job interview recently, and although I want the job, I haven't worked full time in a long while. I will be losing all the freedom that I have had these past ten years.

    Have you considered teaching on the college level as an adjunct? Teaching four classes a semester will yeild you the same money as subbing, and there are no discipline problems. And if you Adjunct for a Community College, you have a good chance of being hired when there is an opening in the department. I've been teaching as an adjunct for the past five years, and I cannot go back to teaching High school. There are no discipline issues and you actually get to teach your subject. Just an idea. Good luck in all your aspirations and thanks for visiting!

  41. This was an excellent post, Theresa! I think you voiced what almost every mother experiences when they return to ful time work. It's always a challenge to get it all done and please everyone but as time goes on you'll be able to sort out what really matters and concentrate on that. I'm sure a full paycheck is a bonus, especially when you are saving for your children's future college expenses. Just remember to take a deep breath every now and then, and save time for a good laugh and cuddle with your family.
    Good luck with the P-T conferences!

  42. I'm sorry your life feels so cramped right now.

    At times I'm barraged by the day job. Then things slow down and I find news ways to prioritize and multi-task.

  43. @ Marina, thanks for the advice. It would be nice to be without discipline issues and dealing with parents, but prepping for four college-level courses is a lot of work for the money. In the long-run, I hope to get a high school job. We'll see. My biggest dream is to be paid to write, so I'll work on that as well.

    @ Pat, a bigger paycheck is a bonus. Besides college, we're looking at braces + we need a bigger place because my children need separate rooms. Like now.

    @ Medeia, work has calmed a bit. I don't know if that's permanent or just a lull. The kids' after school activities add to the hectic schedule.

    Hope your writing is going well.

  44. Looks like you the busy of a good kind. :) Congrats on the paycheck.

    Also, thank you for the kind words you left in a comment on my blog. My wings are flying again thanks to people like you. :)

    Hang in there.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  45. Theresa, you star! ((Big hugs)) I agree with Lydia and everyone here. Hats off to all working Mums who are trying to run a house, keep family time and write. It's hard but little by little we get there. Don't sweat it. You're not alone. Hope this week goes well for you my dear! xx

  46. Theresa, I really admire all that you're doing. You appear to be working hard in every area of your life, even when it's exhausting. I can relate to the busyness, and I hope you'll find time to rest this holiday season. Remember, you're doing great, keep up the good work! :)

  47. Teaching is such an amazing experience where you have hi and low points. I hope you find some balance. And yes, stepping in six weeks into the year is a very tough thing to do. As challenging as it is, it sounds like you are doing an amazing job :-)

  48. @ Jules, I'm glad you're back and things are better.

    @ Talei, thank you. I'm glad it's a short week.

    @ Shelley, it's nice to hear all this encouragement when I feel a class (or two) hasn't gone as well as I'd hoped.

    @ Paul, I'm just impatient to be in the "expect" place, but I have to earn it. I wish I were getting more advice and support. I'll just have to ask for it.

  49. hi miss theresa! wow you sure got a lot of that real life stuff happening. you gotta think you mostly just got back started teaching so it gonna take a little time getting comfy. for sure you gotta do that balancing stuff but so far youre doing ok and it could only get better. do some nice stuff just for you and let you just be you. keep sharing stuff right here cause you blogger friends care bout you lots. for sure i do!
    ...big hugs from lenny

  50. Stopping in to say hello :) I heart you, miss you and look forward to a future post! Hope all is well!

  51. Yes, life is such a balancing act and you are doing SO much!! You definitely deserve a million pats on the back. It takes a lot of awareness to realize that we have to find the middle ground among all of our roles and from the looks of it, you are doing a fantastic job. Your manuscript will understand and will always be there for you!

  52. @ Lenny, each day I'm becoming more balanced. I have a cold and I'm not freaking out, even though I can't even call out over them. It's great to be able to hear from my blogging friends who provide so much support and encouragement. Thanks!

    @ Jen, I'm going to post this morning. Miss you too!

    @ Saumya, thank you. I've been bummed about the manuscript because I had such a flow going. But I got 600+ words done last night and I'm thinking about it again. Perhaps the rubble is clearing.