It was Welcome Week my first year of college. The student orientation leader shared the “College Triangle” with the group of bug-eyed freshmen before leading us to a campus-sponsored comedy event. The “College Triangle” is a popular analogy used to prepare students for the sacrifices and decisions they will face when working to balance college life.

The “College Triangle” has three different points: School, Social Life, and Sleep. Our orientation leader explained that you will only be able to fully commit to two of the three points on the triangle, or one side of the triangle, at a time. A natural questioner, I was eager to challenge this theory of the College Triangle. To my despair, the orientation leader was right. Try as I might, one corner of the triangle always had to give.

When I became a teacher, the idea of the College Triangle kept reentering my mind. I thought being an outstanding, dedicated educator meant constantly maintaining all three sides of the triangle. I eventually learned that the College Triangle is not exclusive to college. It is relevant in the teacher world, too. I had to become comfortable with the fact that one side of the triangle at a time was not just reasonable and manageable, but also acceptable. I’ve learned about the different corners of the “Teacher Triangle” through trial and error, mistakes and successes. Below has been my experience. I would be curious to learn from the experiences of other educators, so we can work towards the self-care and balance we need and deserve.

School
When I first started teaching, school was connected to whatever line I was maintaining in my triangle. It was always the anchor. School infiltrated into my days, nights, weekends, relationships, and breaks. This felt right; if I wanted to be an exceptional educator, I must demonstrate exceptional dedication to learning and growth within my craft. I toggled between loss of Social Life and Sleep, but never lost School. I would travel to visit my family and friends on breaks and holidays, never without a stack of papers to grade or a list of lessons to plan.

In November of 2018, I was traveling home to visit my family for Thanksgiving, papers and lessons in tow, when my dad became dangerously and suddenly sick. While he was in otherwise excellent health, his appendix had inexplicably ruptured. He was septic, and medics were pessimistic about his outlook for survival. It was a traumatic experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. If I could turn back time and prevent it from happening, I would in a heartbeat.

I learned harshly that disconnecting from School is sometimes what we need to be better educators. Click To Tweet

My dad defied the odds and is now happily and miraculously healthy. That being said, my dad’s sudden illness forced me to let go of the School point for perhaps the first time ever. I learned harshly that disconnecting from School is sometimes what we need to be better educators. School will always be there: the papers, the students, the teachers, the lessons, the assignments, the emails, and all. Being present wherever we are allows us to be mindful and present when we are at school as well.

I have since been better able to commit to presence and mindfulness, not just in tragic times but at any time when I am nourishing my Social and Sleep points. I am working to make every minute of my contracted hours count and to prioritize tasks so I can commit non-contract hours, including after school and over holidays, to the Social and Sleep line.

Social
Teaching is an innately social field. As an introvert, someone who tends to recharge through alone time, the Social point has always been a challenge for me. As a Special Education Teacher, I navigate through my day constantly interacting with others: students, teachers, student teachers, instructional assistants, administrators, families, therapists, custodial staff, cafeteria staff, and more. At the end of the day, I can convince myself that I have satisfied the Social point of my Teacher Triangle. While there is technically an element of truth to this, there is more to the Social point than merely interacting with others.

I have found socializing outside of school with people disconnected from school invaluable. My tendency to allow everything to center around School caused me to avoid making certain Social plans if it meant disconnecting from School. However, when I began labeling my time and prioritizing out of school Socialization, I found benefits in my School corner. When I was taking intentional breaks from work to spend time with friends and family or to be active outside of school, I was becoming more productive and thinking more clearly and presently while at School.

Sleep
In terms of the College Triangle, Sleep was the point I sacrificed most. I had a concrete understanding of the expense that was college, and the need to prioritize the School point. I was also aware of Social opportunities limited to my four years of undergraduate school, four years that can’t be relived. The undeniable advantage the Sleep point has in the College Triangle is the conduciveness of a flexible college schedule to incorporate naps in the day, which I did expertly.

When I first started teaching, I continued attempting to make the School to Social line my priority. This inevitably proved unsustainable through personal bouts with bronchitis, flu, common colds, and sinus infections. Sure, the papers were graded after sacrificed hours of sleep; but the subsequent hours spent with (and planning for) a substitute teacher could have minimized had I prioritized my own self-care and sleep. It takes much direct intentionality, but Sleep is still undeniably my weakest point.

How are your lines looking? Where are your strengths, and where can you look to connect or disconnect more? Know this: it’s OK to take it one side at a time.

Mindful

Man walking on rope between two high mountains at sunset. Concept of taking a risk, adventure, motivation. 3d illustration

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