I’ve always been one of “those” teachers.

From Day 1, in July 2001, I have continually arrived early, stayed late, and worked my butt off in-between.  Even after I had young children of my own, I was lucky enough to have an understanding wife and a situation that has allowed me to put in more hours than I should.  I spent this time developing brand-new lesson plans (because nobody else’s were good enough), creating handouts and lab sheets from scratch, and providing detailed feedback to my students.

For years, I watched other teachers pulling out of the teacher parking lot before the final bell had even finished ringing.  I watched young novice teachers already recycling old lessons without even considering evaluating their effectiveness and revising them.  I preached about the power of digital tools for engaging students while convincing reluctant educators that the extra effort at the beginning was worth it–and then did much of the work for them to ensure their participation.

I knew that most other teachers had it easy.  They didn’t spend every waking moment thinking about what they were doing “wrong” and reading about pedagogical research in order to try new methods.  They were content in their efforts.  Never once, though, did I wish to be one of them.  Never once did I try to “turn off” this drive to be more effective in the classroom.


And then, at Thanksgiving, my mother got sick.  Eighteen days later, she was gone.

And, I spent weeks buried in a fog of doubt.  Time and effort had new importance.  I rethought my priorities and reconsidered by ambitions.  Why did I spend so much time outside the school day on school work?  Why couldn’t I just teach the lessons in the district pacing guide without modification?  Why did I think my ideas were so important that I needed to post them online each week?


Christmas came and went.  Inspired by the work we had done at my mom’s condo after her death, My wife and I spent the Christmas-to-New Years week cleaning out our own house.  Instead of grading papers, I threw out years-old broken toys.  Rather than plan out brand-new lessons for a unit I’ve already taught a half-dozen times, I put together new furniture to replace the plastic bins we had been using.  Being an active part of my family seemed more important.

And, at the end of the holiday I came back to school ill-prepared for the unit I was to begin. I was greeted by hugs, cards, and gifts from my colleagues.  My students showed subtle appreciation for my loss and welcomed me back.  The familiar surroundings and daily routine comforted me greatly.


A few days into my return, the urge to improve began to re-emerge.  I looked at my students’ faces and saw their apathy toward the lessons I was using.  I felt the return of my overachiever streak.

I tossed out the hastily made plans based on the district’s “cookbook”.  I got back into the rhythm of informally assessing my students and adjusting my lessons to meet their needs.  I slowly began to ramp up my goals for the quarter and looked for ways to reach those who seemed to struggle with the more abstract science concepts of the unit.  With my family’s approval I spent more hours at home on school work.

And, eventually, I opened up my blog editor again.  And, the keyboard felt like a confessional.

And, it felt good.

4 thoughts on “Priorities

  1. Good to see you back at it…thanks for sharing!

    As for the post…I agree that the cookbook is easy to use, but there is nothing like pulling in a bunch of random ingredients that you think will work and seeing what comes out on the other side. Sometimes it’s delicious…sometimes it’s gross…but that’s what teaching and learning is all about.


  2. Hi Paul,

    So sorry to hear about your loss…my thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Glad to see your blog post…You are right, family is number 1 priority…always.

    Even from reading your stuff, I know you are an incredible teacher…at school, at home, online, and in your community.

    God Bless,


  3. Hey Pal,

    First, so sorry to hear about your mom. That’s heartbreaking.

    Second, I’ve missed your voice — and that should be neat to know! You change minds, man. We listen to you and care about what you have to say. Your time spent here DOES matter.

    Finally, I wrestle with the balance that you are wrestling with, too.

    Sometimes I wonder whether or not the time that I spend planning and thinking and sharing is fair to my own family. Sometimes I miss my daughter and my wife — and worry that they are “missing out on” me.

    And to be perfectly honest, it pisses me off that this is an “either/or” conversation. Why is it that we have to sacrifice our own lives in order to do our jobs well?

    Anyway — we need to get together. I miss seeing you.

    Rock on,


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