#TBT: Start of a New School Year: "So Long Summer Heather"

This week’s #TBT post is from contributor Dr. Scott Butler, who is a school administrator and is also the co-developer of Eklund Consulting’s “School Workplace Satisfaction Survey.”  This post comes from 2012, but could not be more relevant at this time of the year.  Welcome back, educators!

So Long Summer Heather.

Heather, the other assistant principal in my school (who, by the way, gave me permission to share this story) and I came back to work fulltime for the school year on August 1st. The first week back, we frequently compared notes on the way our lives and the lives of our families change as we return to work; the difficulty of getting up early, managing family tasks in limited amounts of time, and ensuring the kids are busy in the last days of summer. Heather laughingly shared that her kids “like Summer Heather” better than “School Heather.” Each time we encounter a new difficulty, we say “So Long Summer Heather.”

Teachers across the country are, or soon will be, facing the adjustments Heather and I have experienced as we’ve come back to work. Educators, unlike many professionals, have jobs that have clear endings and beginnings. We have the experience, on a yearly basis, of getting away from work for a long enough period of time (though some of you may disagree) that we can create an identity for ourselves outside of our work environment.

Saying so long to “Summer Heather” has made me reflect on how much I change as I resume my professional role. I’ve come to realize that a certain amount of change is not only inevitable, it’s healthy. I find a great deal of meaning in my professional work. I enjoy the feeling of doing “good work.” Finding meaning in my professional life makes me a better partner and father for my family members.

When we administer our Schools Workplace Satisfaction Survey to teachers around the country we ask several questions about the balance teachers have between home and school. We also ask about how much teachers feel they have to change in order to do their jobs. How much of our “true selves” do we bring in to our classrooms or leave behind as we return for a new school year? The ability to be true to our values and beliefs has a direct and positive tie to our work satisfaction. More importantly, the level of satisfaction we experience at work has a profound impact on our families and those we hold most dear. We enjoy our jobs more when our values and beliefs align to our daily experiences at school.

Our survey data shows that balance and being able to express who we genuinely are can be an issue for teachers. 64% of teachers in our data pool report struggling to set and maintain a work / life balance. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising as only 39% of teachers report that their school encourages them to set a healthy balance. While 86.4% of teachers say they “like” the person they are in the classroom, but only 69% say their personal values align with the values of their school’s mission.

This is the perfect time of year for educators to reflect on these issues. Are your “cherished companions” excited to see you return to work or are they mourning the loss of an individual they won’t see again until Winter Break or next June? What will you and your family miss most about the “summer” version of yourself? Now is the time to make a plan for any changes you want to make as you return to work, a plan to do something differently. Share that plan with a family member or loved one so that they can hold you accountable for the change.

If you’ve mastered the challenge of family school balance, post your tips here to other teachers!