Before I begin This blog post, a little disclosure will be necessary. I come from a family of teachers, am a teacher myself, and I'm married to someone how has been in education as long as I have known her. Most of the tips that I'm going to be sharing in this particular blog post I came to through a lot of trial-and-error, so don't get the wrong impression. I think I'm a good husband and partner (most of the time but I am in no way, shape, or form Superman, nor is that a requirement for any of these tips.
My wife is an amazing educator, and that is something I can say in complete honesty and not just because I happen to love her. She has had a remarkable amount of experience in the field of Education, which includes international work, outdoor education, working in both admissions and marketing, and lots of traditional classroom experience. As a former substitute, she has taught at every grade level K-12 including as a specialist on several occasions, and in rural, urban, and suburban schools. This kind of experience is not typical, and something that, in my opinion, gives her a unique point of view and the ability to think outside the box when approaching instructional problems and issues.
Recently, she has returned to her role as a full-time classroom teacher, this time in 4th-grade, at an urban charter school. Despite her wealth of experience, this year is essential “year one” as it’s a new grade level, new curriculum, and a VERY new population for her. Behavior issues and systemic problems within the school have been energy-sapping enough, but combined with the demands of lesson preparation time that a “year one” teacher needs to deal with the situation seems unfair.
Remembering well the demands a “year one” assignment makes on a teacher I committed myself to do whatever I could to support her during this busy time (my “first year” plan involved a lot of late night and an embarrassingly large amount of take-out good)
In doing so, I hit upon some effective and very appreciated hints that are worth sharing;
1. Accept that you’ll never fully understand - Since I had a decade of classroom experience and now coach and support teachers, I went into most situations assuming that I understood exactly what was so hard about her day. I was very, very wrong, and no offense to anyone reading this post, but if I as a classroom teacher and coach can’t fully empathize, then any of you with no classroom experience have less then no chance. Accept that. Don’t try to insist that, “you totally know how he/she feels” because trust me, you don’t. The good news is that not knowing is totally fine and you can be supportive in spite of all that! It might even give you an edge as your point of view, unlike mine, isn't colored your current role (I would be lying if I didn't say that on more than one occasion my wife has reminded me, "not to coach her!)
2. Find ways to take domestic tasks off your partner's plate - This doesn’t always mean that you will have to cook or get the kids into bed all the time, but during certain times of the school year you’ll probably be called on to take on some extra duties. And don’t let “but I don’t know how to do laundry” become an excuse to dodge this responsibility. Can’t cook? Try Blue Apron. Not good at making the bed? Watch Martha Stewart videos on YouTube. Make sure to also communicate when you’re feeling swamped as well so that during key times you can get more support from your teacher-partner.
3. Don’t always talk shop - For most teachers, their lives revolve around school to a degree that they sometimes wish they didn’t. Every face-to-face interaction they have between 7am and 3pm involves school or learning or grading or management.... or something else that is potentially frustrating. Keeping this in mind, don’t always expect your partner wanting to relive their day at work with you, even if you are curious or interested. You may also want to try and shift the conversation to other life topics to give them a break from their career.
4. Create spaces for breaks - There is always something a teacher can work on, no matter how much they get done. There is always a lesson to plan, or a project to grade, or an email to write, and if teachers aren’t able to self-regulate their workload they can work right through the weekend. This is a fantastic way to burn out, so make sure that you, as someone with some emotional distance from the classroom, creates spaces between weeks for your partner. Insist on taking time away from work to pursue something that you can both enjoy. Take a walk, have a night out, watch a movie, or visit a local attraction. Try to get away from home as well so that there is physical space that creates the illusion of a longer, fuller weekend.
5. Help them to process the positive - Teachers are fatalists because they care so much. They will be able to recount the worst parts of their day with little to no trouble while overlooking anything positive. When my wife come home after a rough day which she might insist every part of was "the worst" I sometimes try to go through it with her, helping reflect on what was manageable and what was actually "the worst" This type of reflection helps to sometimes lighten the load after a difficult day.