Learning to Compartmentalize in Teaching

Over the years, I’ve always thought how men are so much better than women at compartmentalized life. Now this is not going to be an exploration of the difference between men and women, but I’ve always thought that life should be de-compartmentalized.

There should be no boundaries, to blur the lines, and having life seemingly blend into one another as in it’s all about love, love. . .love. It’s all covered by love, everything should be happy and fun as in an idealistic outlook and “it’s all cool,”  and having a “no worries” carefree lifestyle.

An educator’s job never ends when you close that classroom door. When walking through Walmart, especially a sales table somewhere, I tend to look at items and think to myself, “How can I use this in my classroom? In a lesson?” Teachers are also great recyclers. The most mundane tips that no one else thinks about will fascinate a teacher. For example, have you ever considered folding plastic bags into triangles, like that of a ceremonial flag?

Now, I’m not comparing plastic bags to the symbolic importance of national flag folding, but learning this from another teacher blew my mind. So everywhere I go, I have my teacher thinking cap on. “Oh, my students would love that?” “Oh, I could sew that and decorate my classroom.” But why in the world, would I even bother to fold plastic bags into little triangles?

I won’t go into the difference between teachers across the K-12 spectrum, but the elementary classroom and its teachers are very different from the high school atmosphere and the teachers that guide them. Like my junior high students, I too am betwixt the two extremes. I love the bulletin boards and sometimes envy the creativity that my elementary school colleagues put into their spaces, and the little children are so appreciative and adorable about it. Then at the other end, there is the maturity level of older teenagers, where having an intelligent conversation may be possible.

The concept of compartmentalization is a challenge for me as I try to find a comfortable middle ground. But as I got older, I found a definite need for compartmentalization, especially as a teacher. When I first started teaching, I brought everything home with me – papers, notebooks, I just couldn’t leave it at school. I would lug a medium sized roller suitcase with composition books. Once I even graded essays on an airplane to Minneapolis from Honolulu. Then I caught conjunctivitis, and the pink eye germs I know I caught from flipping though composition notebooks.

Now I teach myself to leave everything on my desk at school, and walk out the classroom with only my purse, especially on Friday.

While the idea of compartmentalization as a psychological defense mechanism is necessary, at times there is a need to draw the line and recognize where one situation needs to end and the another can begins. It cannot and should never be blurry for anyone, and I suppose I’m reflecting on it as a teacher but in order to live a healthy life, teachers need to learn to say, “no”, when necessary. Can little compartments of all that we need to do be, to do, to think be that clear cut for anyone?

So what have I learned about compartmentalization and being a teacher?

  • Leave the student work at school; do not bring work home with you.
  • Take the 30 minute lunch break stated in the teacher contract.
  • Enjoy a good book, for fun.
  • No friending students on Facebook.
  • No letting students call me “Auntie” (I live in Hawaii, everyone is either an uncle or an auntie, even when not blood-related. See the movie Lilo & Stitch for reference).
  • It’s okay to close the classroom door during prep period and pretend no one’s there so you can work in peace. . to prep.

I may be botching the concept of compartmentalization from a psychoanalytic point of view, but it does not need to have a negative connotation. In fact, I stumbled a Forbes article entitled, “5 Steps of Compartmentalization: The Secret Behind Successful Entrepeneurs.” It is though, written by a male. Regardless. . .

It is all about dealing with the struggles of life coming at you all at once. If we learn to slow down, step by step and compartmentalize a bit, we can live that happy, carefree life. Something I am learning to do as a teacher.

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3 thoughts on “Learning to Compartmentalize in Teaching

  1. Hi there…I stumbled on here through wordpress. I found your post interesting because it’s something I’ve definitely thought about. I’m a secondary teacher (middle and high school in Japan at the moment). The work culture here is pretty extreme, so that pressure on top of the normal pressures of being a teacher can be a lot. I don’t think I could stay sane if I brought work home all the time. No matter how much we do, there is always more to do. It’s better just to draw a line. Work/life balance really is important.

    Nice blog! I’ll stop by again sometime…..

    1. Thank you for dropping by the blog. Yes, we absolutely need to draw that line and balance work and life. Everyday I need to make that choice. I can imagine the work culture in Japan must be an interesting topic to think about as well. The values and work ethics would be interesting to explore. Do you write about that?

  2. I just started a blog. I am really new to this blogging thing. But I am enjoying exploring other people’s blogs and putting my own thoughts onto the computer. I think it could really be helpful to put ideas out there, taking the time to clarify them instead of just letting them stay all jumbled inside my head. There are so many things to think about related to teaching, so that’s why I thought I would give the blogging a try.

    My (very young) blog is at http://theactiveteacher.wordpress.com/.

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