HOORAY! Today I got the official paperwork to shift from being a full-time public school English teacher (which I’ve done for 17 years) to a half-time teaching position, starting this coming September! Many of you have been asking why — and how — I’m making this choice, so let’s explore the back-story and spicy details.
WHY Shift to Part-Time Teaching?
1. My 3 websites are ready to grow more!
I’ve run Around the World “L” since 2009, Teaching Traveling since 2010, and the new baby, Drawings Of… since 2020. Each site has grown exponentially, and is on the edge of massive breakthroughs — if I only could have a few more hours a week to spend on them beyond the 1am and 5am slots into which I’ve been squeezing their feeding and care. Stay tuned (and subscribe to my NEW DrawingsOf.com newsletter here) to see all that will be possible with this new job configuration!
2. Double full-time jobs + young kids = unsustainable.
My health — physically, mentally, and emotionally — was severely impacted by my spouse and I both trying to balance full-time jobs while also caring for two young kids. Anyone who’s done it knows how insane it is. For example, every single weekday morning for the past seven years since our first kiddo was born (minus the events of 2020 of course) looked like this:
5:30am: Sprint out of bed with the alarm and wake groggy kids to throw all of us into the car.
6:30am: Drop off kids for before-before-school childcare (yes, that’s childcare before the regular before-school childcare starts, which also cost money), race to our own jobs (each of us had to report by 7:10am), and eat cold breakfast at our desks out of a jar.
After each wild morning, I taught 140 middle school students (5 sections of 28) every day for seven hours. I love the students and the job, however, it requires energy to do well. Calculate how long it takes to give feedback on 140 essays, for example.
The rest of the day was a mess of grading, planning, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and trying to stay afloat. My spouse and I were exhausted, grouchy, and not feeling fabulous. Then one day, we did some math and began to realize something about our finances…
3. The finances for part-time shockingly work!
I’ve known for a long time that something needed to change in my job configuration if I wanted to remain functional, but I was terrified about the money piece. When Colin and I actually sat down to do the math, however, we realized: we were literally consuming our lives working just so we could pay for the childcare to consume our lives working!!!!
We were spending huge amounts of money on double before-school care, double after school care, and all the other expenses that sustain so many exhausted professional families: dinner delivery for all those nights I was too tired to cook, drinks and dessert to feel temporarily better, and superficial “professional” expenses like monthly hair dyeing. As we began to cut expenses one by one, the possibilities for new job choices revealed themselves (as did my grey hair — but I can live with that in exchange for thousands of dollars emerging).
4. I am a writer more than anything else.
As might be obvious from the fact that I’ve written and published over 1,200 articles over the past decade, every inch and ounce of my soul is: a writer. One of my most vivid childhood memories is siting on a silvery wooden back porch at the age of 8 or 9, hand-writing a multi-page story about Peter Pan. I remember adding my cartoons in the gaps between letters as the breeze ruffled the paper. Proudly presenting the finished “book” to the adults gathered nearby, I felt that first rush of, “This is what I love!” that I’ve now experienced over a thousand times since. Being a writer is who I am.
When people have asked, “How do you keep three blogs going while teaching full-time?” I answer: “How do you breathe? You need to do it to live, so you just do it. I need to write to live, so I do it no matter what.” My unstoppable passion for writing has meant many late nights and early mornings, but I WILL write, no matter what… so the key now is to marry that truth with another fact: that humans need sleep to survive — and move to part time teaching to clear daytime space for writing.
Now, would I say at my core that I’m a teacher in the way that I know in my core that I’m a writer? I’m not sure. I’ve been a teacher now for over 17 years, and have taught English to grades 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and adults (ESOL) over five continents, so I’m quite skilled at this point in this field — but I have concerns.
First, the craft of teaching rests on constantly shifting sands, yet is incredibly high-stakes. The moment you become cocky and think, “I got this!” is actually the danger zone, as you start to coast in a context which has actually evolved past the point which works well with your “trusty tools.” Mixing things up and self-reflection are key to success so you don’t get stale — hence the half-time plan.
Second, I profoundly dislike the concept of one “sage on a stage” imparting knowledge into empty young vessels, because that’s simply not how learning works, and that’s not what I do. Rather, I see my strength as an educator in providing space and guidance for youth to tap into their OWN passions as an engine for motivating ELA growth. Modeling how to write for a real audience by growing my writing career is a part of that.
5. I want to do all my jobs WELL.
My mantra lately has been: “Less can be more.” I want to do fewer things better, and to be proud of what’s done. In contrast, it’s an icky feeling to have a stack of 140 essays in front of you and know that the choice is either to give rushed, sub-par feedback, or to jeopardize your health. Students deserve a teacher who is fresh and focused on giving them her best.
It’s not just my teaching career and writing, drawing, and blogging career that will benefit from the “less can be more” increased energy and focus of going to part-time in my education job, however. It’s also my job of being present for my family, AND the job of treating my own body and soul with respect.
One of the most important changes of the past year has been my turbocharged commitment to at-home exercise, daily meditation, and regular nature walks (I took most of the photos in this article strolling the Emerald Necklace in Boston). Given the world of happiness and health resulting from these lifestyle changes, I don’t intend to give them up any time soon. Is gaining new time to take a walk and work out every day worth a big pay cut to me right now? YUP.
6. I’m starting a Reiki service!
Wait, WHAT?! Yes, you heard that right. By cutting down my hours at my teaching job, I can finally add in the new career which I’ve been training for over the past several years: Reiki healing touch practitioner. Once the rental for my studio is finalized, I’ll be able to share my booking website if you’re in the Boston area and are interested in trying the treatment. (Aug. 2021 update: my Boston Reiki practice is now open!)
If you’re one of the many people who’s been writing to me that they also see colors during Reiki, I’m especially excited to work with you and explore this phenomenon more! Further while I’ve enjoyed working with middle and high school kids, I’m hungry for more time building a career with adults.
7. Wide impact is a goal.
One of the absolute joys of being a teacher is having a student tell you that you influenced their life for the better. That cannot be replaced by any online exploits — it’s utterly different to have that on-the-ground, in-person touch. That said, it has been exhilarating to realize the growing reach of my electronic writing. For example, my online lessons, “Juxtaposition Examples,” “apart vs. a part,” “Liminal Space” (relevant topic, given my upcoming life shift, which is why I’ve included the corresponding video with this article), and “Awe vs. Aww” are some of the top search results on the web for those topics, and have now been used by classrooms from Indiana to India.
At this point, my three sites have had over SIX MILLION pageviews, and every day I’m getting an increasing number of lovely messages from readers around the world who’ve been moved in some way by something I wrote. It’s a wonderful feeling! I try to maintain a positive, helpful, educational vibe in everything I create, so my hope is that as the sites grow, so, too, does the happy impact.
8. I’m an HSP, and thus need to decrease sensory input.
One of the most life-changing revelations of the past year was learning the traits of an HSP: Highly Sensitive Person. I’m going to write a whole other article about this, but suffice it to say that I’m a textbook case. When I walk into any space with other humans, I’m so highly attuned to their energies that I can almost hear everyone’s thoughts screaming in my brain. I’m aware of all their unmet needs and what it would take to fulfill them, but also the forces that block that. Every piece of visual information is technicolor for me. Each florescent light’s flicker is like a siren.
You can imagine, therefore, how overwhelming it feels for an HSP to teach 140 students a day, every weekday, in an oooold building. Happily, by cutting down the number of days I’ll be in the actual school site and surrounded by people, I will be able to calm the sensory overload that floods my system during standard work days. This in turn will allow me to be more present as a mother and human.
9. Something needs to shake up.
I love that old adage, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.” At the age of 39, having worked two jobs simultaneously for many years, it’s now possible to take a bit of a risk and try something unconventional. It’s time to shake things up!
10. Let’s give someone else a chance in the classroom.
The public school district and school in which I work are highly-coveted. As comfortable as it can be to stay put in one’s position for decades, it’s ultimately unfair to all of those who are trying to get their foot in the door. What’s the perfect compromise to both maintain some form of the stable benefits and excellent position, while opening a spot and mentoring for fresh blood? JOB SHARING! But wait — there’s a twist regarding WHO I’m job sharing with. Read on…
How Part-Time Job-Sharing Works
In the district in which I work, there is an option to move to part-time teaching by finding a buddy with whom you can do something called “job sharing.” In a job share, you split one full time job in any of the following ways: half-days, alternating days, or half-weeks. It’s your responsibility to be in excellent communication and planning status with your buddy to provide a quality educational experience for students. In a phenomenal perk, this configuration still offers benefits, including healthcare. (I’m keenly aware that most part-time jobs do not feature this, and am deeply thankful that this one does.)
Guess Who I’m Job Sharing With…
Ready to grin? The buddy I’m job sharing my 7th grade ELA teaching job with is… my spouse, Colin! Yes, he is also certified in teaching middle school English — and 11 years and two biological children into our marriage, we have a sizable amount of experience in co-planning! He will be using the extra time opened by shifting from full-time to half-time teaching, himself, to launch his own fitness and running coaching business.
Colin and I will be splitting my previously full-time ELA teaching job by half-weeks (with an initial onboarding period of two weeks when I’ll train him, since he’s new to the school, though not the district) meaning we will each be in the building 2-3 days a week. We’ve decided we will both still be responsible for all 140 students (to maintain accountability), though we’ll now be able to split the grading.
In addition, I’m in talks with a certain illustrious graduate school to get another wonderful full-year intern teacher from them to train. (Being a mentor teacher has been one of the highlights of my career, and I’ve done it now for several years.) If all goes well, our incoming middle schoolers in September will have three adults looking out for them in English class instead of just one!
Family Benefits to a Half-Time Job
Here’s the brilliant part about job sharing with one’s co-parenting partner: it will VASTLY simplify childcare logistics and costs. Instead of rushing both kids out the door by 6:30am and paying for double before-school care, the one of us who is not working on any given day will be able to stay home and let the kids sleep, then leisurely walk them to the bus stop at the far more civilized time of 7:40am. Game-changer! Sanity-saver! With this extra sleep, time, and money saved, we will be able to be far better parents, too.
What to Watch Out for in Part-Time Work
Now, if you’ve ever spoken to someone who’s done a job part-time, they’ll always tell you the same warning: you need to have rock-solid boundaries and procedures so you’re not just doing the same amount of full-time work for half the pay. I want to remain “eyes-open” about this, and will periodically assess how this balance is going and adjust accordingly. The good news is that this isn’t locked in for every future year, and we can change the configuration after this year if things don’t go as planned. With rigorous planning, however, it just might work!
Job Change Love
This job configuration change has been a long time coming, and made me quite nervous in all the years I’ve been planning it and saving for it — but now that the paperwork is set, I realize it’s just the beginning. I hope this article has offered inspiration for envisioning creative new ways to have a work-life balance of income, impact, health, and happiness. Now I’m so curious about what your thoughts are, and how your own experiences relate. Do share!
Read the 2022 update about my decision after the close of the 2021-22 school year…
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!