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2015: Energized, Engaged, Patient and Prepared

by Kate Smith, York County Teacher of the Year Music and Outdoor Classroom, Central School

I can juggle. Not literally, unfortunately. That third ball really throws me off. But figuratively I am one of the best jugglers around. I have been known to manage three grant projects, numerous committee responsibilities, concerts, a full teaching schedule and my children's after-school activities at the same time. Recently, however, I decided it was time to do a little less juggling.

The day was December 21st. I was still recovering from a week of holiday activity at school. For an elementary music teacher this meant a full week of mastering holiday songs with my 400 preK through third grade students for our upcoming caroling expeditions and whole-school sing along. My voice was sounding strained, my email folders were full, I still had a dozen tasks on my Christmas list, and my three kids and husband were eagerly awaiting my attention so we could enjoy our own holiday traditions. I didn't know how much longer I could maintain my pace or energy level.

I knew I had reached a dangerous breaking point when a friend said, "Just think, the days are getting longer!" and I misunderstood and groaned.

I LOVE what I do. I am blessed with amazing students, invested parents, a tight-knit family of teachers and a loving family. I have a "We Can!" attitude; I am proud of the many accomplishments my school has had these past few years and my role in them. Our outdoor classroom and "Chefs Move to Schools" cooking program are just two examples of the community-wide collaboration that makes South Berwick and my school so special. But like a frog in water that slowly warms, I didn't realize just how many commitments I had made until the water started to boil. My heart was in the right place, I wanted to be the best music teacher, outdoor classroom coordinator, parent and spouse I could be. But my priorities were all out of whack. The truth is….


And so comes my New Year's Resolution: To take better care of myself so I can take better care of others.

"In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it." (airodyssey.net)

Just as an adult must first put on their own mask before assisting a child, so must I. Putting myself before others was about as likely for me as mastering Chinese overnight. I just didn't know how to begin.

I turned to Mike Anderson's book, "The Well-Balanced Teacher: How to Work Smarter and Stay Sane Inside the Classroom and Out" for tips. Anderson's book is a delightful and insightful book that offers strategies for balancing personal and professional lives that are simple, straight forward and full of common sense.

My colleagues deserve my utmost attention and best collaboration.
My students deserve to have me energized, engaged, patient and prepared.

...and so does my family.

Kate has been an elementary music teacher at Central Elementary School in South Berwick since 2003. She has also served as a Sylvan Learning Center Instructor and Music Director at the Presentation of Mary Academy in Massachusetts. Kate worked with the Maine Alliance for Arts Education as a Visual and Performing Arts Teacher Researcher and at the Department of Education as a VPA Teacher Leader. She is the Outdoor Classroom Coordinator and is currently writing a book about how other schools can start an outdoor classroom.

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