Balancing Work, Life, and Professional Development

As a full-time math teacher at a public school in an urban environment (in which my classes are overcrowded and my students are new English speakers) I am often tired. I was tired before my graduate coursework started back up in January. I was tired before I discovered my passion and affinity for data in December. Yet the additional effort of graduate classes in Educational Research and personally pushing the pace in Data Science/Engineering coursework online seems more energizing than draining.

What exhausts me about classroom teaching is the high-alert emotional effort involved in classroom management and character development during classroom learning activities. Grading low-level assignments or cold multiple-choice quizzes does not overwhelm me, but giving feedback on more organic and distressingly incorrect open-response assignments spikes my blood pressure. It leads me down slippery slopes of “I’m a terrible teacher” or “These kids are struggling too much for one teacher” lines of thought, though I know there is so much more time for them to learn after their high school experience. Keeping up hope in the urban environment can be a challenge, though. I truly believe that youth development is one of the most important careers in a society and I really wish I had the personality to thrive in classroom teaching, but I’ve made peace with my personal needs in a work environment. My education policy motto has always been “idealism is not a sustainable retention strategy” and I finally hit a point where I accepted that I just don’t like teaching in the current extreme-as-the-norm status quo. As a hyper-analytic ambivert, my brain has been craving remote/flexible work in a technical field.

As I strengthen the technical skills that I will need as a Data Engineer or Data Scientist, there are a few key things helping me to stay balanced and focused.

  1. My wonderful boyfriend, the Network Engineer, has been a huge influence on my focus during this current period of career transition. I feel secure in our relationship, so my work time is exponentially more productive and focused. He works from home and often pulls long/late hours for client crisis management or after-hours changes, but this makes us value the down time that doesn’t get interrupted. I’d never taken a real vacation before I met him, but he showed me how to unplug. So rather than working at a slow burn around the clock, I now aim to finish all my work during specific time frames so that I can maintain the routines that give my off-time structure. In reality, it is accountability and a renewed dedication to off-time routines that keeps me balanced healthy in so many ways. I balance his private-sector mentality by voicing empathetic perspectives where his preconceptions are not well-rounded; he balances my weaknesses by supporting self-care perspectives in the context of career.
  2. It’s a cold, wet/snowy winter in Ohio. Unlike the beginning and end of each school year, I’ve got fewer outdoor activities trying to pull me away from the desk at my home office window. In the summer, I am pretty productive because there are no constraints on my time to work around. Setting my own hours is ideal, but incompatible with classroom teaching. So early fall and late spring tend to be brutal or unproductive; either I give in with reckless abandon and take full advantage of the beautiful weather or I change my sleeping habits to accommodate my work schedule, graduate school, and the most irresistable of the season’s offerings – at the expense of short-term balance. The necessarily rigid schedule is one of the variables I aim to address in seeking remote employment, but winter temperatures (and poor ski conditions in Ohio) make it particularly easy to make substantial progress toward marketable Data Engineering/Science skills.
  3. I keep clipboards on hooks around my home office with syllabi and checklists. This helps me to balance my weekly and long-term graduate coursework assignments with my self-paced independent learning on Udemy, Khan Academy, DataCamp, Codecademy, and Kaggle. Not every technological advance is accessible in my current environment, so this is one area in which it’s not practical for me to be paperless. I managed assignments on RealtimeBoard for a while, but my free upgrade trial ran out and my physical clipboard army proliferated. Add to this my large bulletin board, moderate physical whiteboard, and 3 remaining free RealtimeBoards – I’ve made plenty of space for myself to visualize and organize professional development project tasks. It’s a wonderful feeling to know exactly where to pick up a project in those 20 minutes you didn’t expect to have.
  4. Podcasts, specifically TBTL (Too Beautiful to Live), and the Super Data Science podcast, and the Learn to Code with Me podcast. These have provided a sense of companionship and professional stimulation through the long, solitary hours in my home office this winter. TBTL has been my companion since 2009 and is not a technical podcast, but I look forward to it in the same way that I look forward to time with friends. The other two listed are technical podcasts that are relatable and applicable to my interests. The hosts are balanced and ask insightful questions to a range of quality guests. I recommend the Super Data Science podcast by Kirill Eremenko to anyone interested in Data, whether in the space of practice/application or more general theory/comprehension. The Learn to Code with Me podcast is great for anyone new to tech careers in general. The hostess, Lawrence Bradford, interviews people in a variety of technology careers – from data science to software and web development. This happened to align quite nicely with my own varied interests!
  5. Various health & fitness apps. I’ve been using MyFitnessPal for years, currently up to a 757 day streak. This is partly due to the acknowledgement every 5 days of streaks in progress, but mostly due to the community that comments on many of these updates. I also began wearing an Apple Watch2 in 2016, which I am not entirely enthusiastic about because I don’t truly need a wearable technology. However, the goals and stand notifications have increased my awareness of prolonged chair time during desk sessions. My new mobile influencer is the Fabulous app, developed out of research on habit-building at Duke University. At first, I was annoyed at the format of the goals and notifications. Once I got my customizations and appropriate goals dialed in, however, I find myself meeting goals like morning AND afternoon exercise in attainable chunks, flossing twice daily, and rewarding myself for progress on healthy habits. It’s been a very positive experience.
  6. RescueTime. The free version of this product was a game-changer for my screen-time productivity. My urge to follow distracted impulses has decreased DRAMATICALLY since installing RescueTime.

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And yes, I’m still making time for my emergent skateboarding habit.


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