Nobody, not even the Son of God, can do it all. In the Gospel According to Mark, we learn about a trip Jesus takes to the bustling and sin-filled city of Capernaum. Jesus heads into the synagogue there and starts teaching. The people are left slack-jawed by his awesomeness and one guy, possessed by an evil spirit, wants to know if Jesus has come to destroy them. With a handful of words, Jesus exorcises the demon and everyone is even more amazed. (Mark 1: 21-28)
After preaching, Jesus takes his pals James and John over to the home of Simon and Andrew, where Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. So Jesus goes in there and cures her. By night, word of the exorcism and the fever healing has spread and the whole damn town gathers outside and starts screaming like a crowd calling for an encore at a Stones concert. Jesus obliges them. The gospel says, “Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons.” (Mark 1: 29-33)
The next morning, before the sun rises, Jesus gets up, leaves the house, and wanders off to a solitary place, where he prays. His buddies eventually find him and are all, “Hey, man, everyone is looking for you!” I imagine that by this point, anyone with a runny nose or blisters on their feet were looking for some free health care. (Mark 1: 35-37)
Jesus, perhaps growing weary of his celebrity, says, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1: 38)
It happens again a bit later. After healing a loquacious leper who, in defiance of Jesus’s instructions, blabs to anybody wearing sandals about his miracle, we learn that, “Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.” (Mark 1: 40-45)
There are a number of lessons here for busy teachers. First, it’s important to notice that the gospel doesn’t say that Jesus healed all who came. It says he healed many and drove out many demons. Jesus got tired, and he called it quits. Second, Jesus was wise to get away from it all and pray. He took time for himself. Third, Jesus recognized that he couldn’t accomplish his main goal of teaching if he spent all his time healing people, so he decided to get out of the city and go to nearby villages where he could teach, because that is what he was there to do.
As teachers, we have many opportunities to do good. We are offered chances to join committees that do important work. We are encouraged to attend before- and after-school activities that benefit our school, students, and parents. We could coach, run an after-hours club, write grants, be a class sponsor, or volunteer to help our principal with state-mandated reporting. Our time and efforts are requested for a lot of worthy endeavors that will help others. But we have limits. We have to remember to take time for ourselves. And we shouldn’t forget what our purpose is. Like Jesus, we need to focus on what we’re there to do.
Our main goal is to be the best teacher to our students. And while taking on extra work to help our colleagues, our administrators, or students in other classrooms is good work, it’s not our main work. We need to recognize that we can’t do it all. Even Jesus couldn’t add more hours to the day. Even he couldn’t escape the hard reality of trade-offs. When Jesus spent his time healing people, he couldn’t preach. And when teachers spend their time doing important work that isn’t teaching, they too have less time to focus on their greatest contribution.
So be like Jesus. Be careful how you use your time. Take care of yourself. Keep the main thing the main thing. Remember why you’re there. And when things start getting in the way of your teaching, stop doing those things.
I write a lot about how teachers can do a better job taking care of themselves. That’s because you can’t help your students if you’re overworked, stressed out, and exhausted. If you don’t want to miss anything, subscribe to Teacher Habits and receive new articles in your inbox.
I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort starts in July, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to join!