When I first transitioned from teaching to working from home (WFH) full-time, I made a whole lot of mistakes, which I plan to share today. I suspect we’ll see a mass exodus of teachers next year due to long-standing exploitative work practices (that were exacerbated during the pandemic). By sharing my mistakes, I hope that teachers transitioning to WFH will be able to avoid similar pitfalls.
I hate most types of exercise, and I care little about my fitness level, provided I can reach all of my snacks easily. The exception to my distaste is walking, preferably in nature. I made the mistake of not prioritizing walking in the first few years I worked from home, and as a result, I ended most days with achy legs and a sour mood. I did try to get up from my desk often to move around, but it wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t until COVID hit that I finally invested in a treadmill, and I’m so glad I did. My husband and I have used it daily since it arrived. It’s so nice to not have to depend on the weather for a long walk. The bonus is we get to watch our cat be baffled by its mechanics. He sits on the belt, we turn it on, he falls off the back and paws at the belt with suspicion. Pure entertainment.
Here are the benefits I’ve noticed in my health since getting the treadmill:
- My body isn’t aching at the end of the day
- I feel more energetic overall
- I can walk longer and faster without getting tired
- I’m more focused when I’m working at the computer
- Random walks during the winter keep me warm throughout the day
Unhealthy Work Habits
When I first started working from home, I sat in front of the computer for no less than eight hours every day. As a music teacher, I thought it was a privilege just to be able to go to the bathroom whenever I wanted. It seemed the height of luxury to not work every weekend or lead rehearsals for upcoming concerts. Eight hours in front of the computer sounded pretty easy in theory, but the reality was much different. Here are some of the things I experienced with my unhealthy work habits:
- wrist pain
- depressed mood
- elbow pain
- lack of creative inspiration
- neck pain
- leg pain
Because of the pandemic, many teachers have experienced what it’s like to sit in front of a screen all day and can attest to the special kind of exhaustion it creates. Here are some of the things I did to get rid of my unhealthy work habits:
- I stopped labeling myself as “lazy” if I wasn’t sitting in front of the computer all day.
- This was the perspective shift that I needed to fix all the other mistakes I was making.
- I incorporated the following items into my definition of work:
- thinking about how to solve a customer issue
- brainstorming ideas for new resources
- reading books about the latest music education research
- organizing my song collections
- discussing work goals with friends and colleagues
- I took breaks when I felt that I needed them.
- Breaks are not earned. They are simply a part of my daily life that I need to function well, just like sleep, food, and shelter.
A False Sense of Self
I made the mistake of believing that my job as a music teacher was the only thing that made me valuable to the world. I felt like my new job had to be validated by others before I could accept that I was worthy outside of the classroom. My false belief was strengthened each time I ran into someone who thought I didn’t have a “real job”. This should sound familiar to music teachers, since many of us experience this type of dismissive ignorance from our own colleagues.
My outlook improved with a mixture of high quality therapy and a support system consisting of my husband and our cat (Dr. Watson). Did how I feel change how others viewed my job? Absolutely not. I have no doubt that there are still people who don’t believe I have a “real job” and will never care to understand. And the more I focus on the joyful life I’ve cultivated for myself, the less I care.
Whether you stay in the classroom or not, I hope you’ll keep the following thoughts in mind:
- We are more than what we do to make money.
- We are complex human beings inside and outside of the classroom.
- Our value is not as a martyr to an unjust educational system.