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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 2, October 2004

On being well: Finding the balance

by Julia Johnson

In Quesnel, we have difficulty keeping doctors. They come to us from a variety of locations, establish their practices, get overwhelmingly busy, and then when they become frustrated over limited resources and are on the verge of burnout, pull up stakes and move on to less demanding locations.

During the past two years, I have been building a relationship with another new doctor. When we first met, his approach was relaxed and unhurried. Now his clinic is very busy. The medical assistant often skips lunch, and the doctor enters the examination room as though he has been running. Wearing my wellness-associate hat, I brought these observations to his attention with the intent of increasing his awareness for his own personal well-being and the well-being of his staff. He responded to my comments with good humour, and now when I make medical visits he jokingly tells me that I am his conscience.

Recently, in a conversation we had about finding the balance between our work life and our personal life, he had this to say: "Lately, I have been rethinking my perspective about work. I used to think that I would work very hard during my 20s and 30s and retire in my 40s. But I see now that if I keep going the way that I am, I may not get to my 40s, so I am trying to make time for relaxing activities." Then he let me know he would be taking the next few days off to go on a fishing expedition to Bella Coola with a few of his colleagues, something he had organized.

In the teaching profession, finding the balance between work life and personal life is a constant battle. Teachers think, breathe, and live teaching. At the forefront of our minds are the needs of our students, often at the expense of our own needs. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) Education Monitor reported in its 1997 spring issue "that [teachers] are working longer hours than ever and that they are digging deeper into their own pockets to subsidize expenses in the wake of deep education funding cuts." The study was conducted by the Environics Research Group with teachers from Ontario, but the work life of teachers in B.C is similar. The study revealed that 86% of the teachers surveyed spent between one and five hours a week preparing lessons before morning classes, 62% spent one to five hours a week on class preparation work during their lunch hour, 96% spent one to three hours after school with further preparation, and 90% spent one to three more hours every weekend marking, preparing lessons, and doing other work-related activities. Teachers have a difficult time switching off their teaching brain.

In North America, the majority of us ascribe to the belief that our worth is determined by the amount of work we do. As a result, we spend an inordinate amount of time at our jobs. In the teaching profession working 24/7 seems to be a common practice, particularly at the start of a new school year. However, when demands and expectations can become overwhelming, making personal wellbeing a life’s priority is an option. All that is required is a change in one’s belief system. Living is a balancing act, balancing the needs of work, family, and personal life. How we balance these areas can influence our physical and emotional health, which, in turn, affects the quality of the work we do and determines how long we stay in the teaching profession.

Once we choose to make wellness a priority in our lives, we need to create personal boundaries and honour them. Honouring boundaries requires us to determine how much work we will do in the day and when we will schedule time for personal pursuits that meet our physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. By honouring our boundaries, we maintain a sense of personal integrity. When boundaries are not honoured, feelings of victimization surface and, if prolonged, may cause discontent, which can lead to ill health.

The need to find balance in our lives is not a new concept. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) had this to say about it:

"Every now and then, go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgement will be surer; since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment..."

Let this be the year you make a commitment to find balance in your life. Such a life-changing decision will strengthen your resolve to travel the road to being well.

Julia Johnson, a learning resource teacher at Red Bluff School in Quesnel is a BCTF-PD wellness associate. johnsonj@abccom.bc.ca

To book a BCTF wellness workshop, or other workshops, call 1-800-663-9163 (local 1857), or 604-871-1857, or check the web site, www.bctf.ca.

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