Teacher Life: The Demands, The Schedule, and Why We Travel

By on May 22, 2019

If you are a parent, you know the anticipation your kid’s experience at the start of a new school year and the excitement of summer looming at the end of the year. Teachers have the same feelings. We look forward to starting a new school year; we want to meet our new students, hear about their summer adventures, improve our teaching plans. At the end of the school year, we are spent. Our brains have been in overload for 9+ months, we are mentally and physically tired from the demands of our students and our administration. But before I talk about that and why we travel, let me tell you about what we do as teachers.

Brian and I live in two completely different teaching worlds. For Brian, the middle school and high school choir teacher, he has his nose to the grind day in and day out. He is preparing students for concerts, contests, and assessing their learning five days a week for about 6 1/2 hours a day. When he is not in the classroom he is grading, planning, listening to music, working on the annual musical, and finding new music so he can continue to inspire their love of music from around the world and through the ages.

For me, a Professor of Communication, my pace is a bit slower but just as mentally draining. I spend my days discovering the latest research in my field, working through the technical challenges of online learning, grading research papers, facilitating learning in the classroom, advising students, and meeting the demands of the administrative parts of my job.

Yes, we are blessed to be in similar, even complimentary, professions. Yes, we are acutely aware of how lucky we are to have large blocks of time off together. Twice a year, during Christmas and summer breaks, we are extremely blessed because we have that time off together. Few teachers are that lucky. However, let me take a few minutes to talk about the drawbacks in the education world, as it relates to home/life balance. Balance is something we all have to seek out when it comes to figuring out how much time you should spend on work, with your family, and self-care. The chunk of time needed looks different for everyone and for most balance doesn’t come naturally.

Brian at one of his many concerts

Brian lives by a bell during the school year. If he has students in his classroom, nothing else can matter (even going to the bathroom has to wait). His students and their parents know him very well, many students take choir for up to seven years. In the world of instant access, he is in constant communication with them unless he literally unplugs. Fortunately, I am not in the classroom to the same extent as Brian, it would throw me completely off balance. My days have a bit of research, grading, teaching, and administrative work. My students are in regular communication with me, but certainly not to the same extent. That constant communication, along with all the other demands is draining for both of us and just like every other professional, we need to unplug and recharge.

Michelle hitting the books in her happy place, the library

However, because we have a few large blocks of time, we don’t have much time to unplug during the school year. This is the part that people who are not in the academic world don’t fully understand. For example, during the school year if we have a niece graduating, a child getting married, and an opportunity for a cheap, long weekend, we would have to make sacrifices because we only have three personal days total in an academic year. Now Brian and I have been teaching long enough, that we know those sacrifices are typically manageable. But it’s something we have to explain to friends/family when we are planning out our school year. I am not complaining, we are blessed, but it’s our reality. And I won’t even start on how ridiculous that our Spring Breaks are never on the same week, so we both typically work through them unless we’re lucky enough to still have our personal days so we can leave for a bit on one of the two weeks. But it’s Brian’s busiest season with his musical and my busy time because the end of the academic year is looming, so truly unplugging during either Spring Break isn’t an option.

As I am sure many professionals face, we deal with the constant work pressures, the “Did I send that email?” “Did I forget to tell Sue about the meeting tomorrow?” and just the “What am I forgetting?” feeling, maybe it’s age! Haha! Working professionals are always thinking about work. Unfortunately, some don’t know how or when to unplug. That breaks my heart because unplugging is good for your soul and your relationships.

For us, during the school year, we are often working an average of ten hours a day, six days a week. Brian has a lot of evening and weekend commitments because of the nature of his job and I have a mind-blowing amount of grading. Haha! Therefore, we can’t truly unplug until school is out of session.

Hiking is our balance activity

This is why we love to travel! It’s easier to unplug if you go somewhere that doesn’t have cell service. For us, getting metaphorically “lost in the woods” feeds the soul in a way nothing else can. We figured this out very early in our marriage and have made traveling a priority ever since.

Every time we travel to a new place we realize how big this world is, our “to do” list grows, our time together on Earth feels limited, and our desire to see it all gets stronger. Traveling is more than simply seeing the landscape. Rather, for us, it’s about getting to know the people, the cultures, and learning about the social expectations.

Backpacking a section the AT for my 40th birthday

Traveling makes us better teachers. This isn’t simply because we unplugged, though it helps. Because we are responsible for teaching students how to communicate (Michelle) and how to sing cultural and historical pieces of music (Brian), we are better at our jobs because we have these experiences. I have been teaching Intercultural Communication for over 20 years but I have never been as sharp as I have been since I started traveling internationally. When we traveled on the Camino in 2017, Brian heard pieces of music where they were intended to be sung. He experienced the history that he only understood because of book knowledge up until that point.

Participating in “Hell Run” mud race for our 5 year anniversary with about 25 of our closest friends

Traveling is good for the soul, whether you hike, bike, kayak, lay on a beach, heat up in a spa, or hole up in a five-star hotel. Next time you travel in the off-season, remember that your kid’s teacher can’t just pull out of school like kids are pulled out of school. However, they are working to finding balance just like you do. They may have to travel during the most expensive times of the school year, but they are thankful for the ability to do it.



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