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StateImpact Indiana

How Do New Teachers Balance School And Personal Life?

First year teacher Gabe Hoffman is working to balance his demanding school schedule and making time for his personal life.

Part of The First Year series

Gabe Hoffman proposes to his girlfriend, Chelsea, in his classroom at Nora Elementary School. His third grade class helped him with the proposal.

It’s been a taxing few weeks for the Gabe Hoffman and his third graders at Nora Elementary School in Indianapolis.

“We just got done with ISTEP, we just got done with IREAD, we have ISTEP one more time,” he says. “So there’s a lot of stress in being a third grade teacher at this time in the year.”

The majority of Gabe’s class have special learning plans or are English Language Learners. At the beginning of the year, he spent 12+ hours at school, and time on the weekends grading and preparing lessons. He says, after a semester of that, he needed a change.

“My New Year’s Resolution was not to stay at school past 5:30.”

He wanted to watch sport again, go to Pacers’ games and make more time to see his girlfriend – who is also a teacher. Chelsea Brothers is an Algebra 1 teacher at Southport High School, also in Indianapolis.

They’ve been together for six and a half years, mostly long distance, but this year, both living in Indianapolis, has been one of the hardest. They’re navigating their first years in the classroom, and often, doing it together.

“We do grading together, planning together,” Brothers says. “If we can do that together it helps us have more time together.”

Then he made his new year’s resolution, became more efficient, and started leaving school earlier. Gabe says this winter they got in a rhythm and were seeing each other more than ever.

“Then I decided to coach a month and a half ago, and now we’re back to never seeing each other again,” he says.

“Some people have art, some people have reading. I have baseball.”

Gabe is a pitching coach for North Central, a high school in his district. When the opportunity came up to be a coach, he was excited because he played baseball in high school and college, but also worried.

“To be honest, school is a lot of work,” he says. “So I contemplated should I coach or not coach based on the amount of time it’s going to take.”

But for Gabe, being a part of a baseball team means a lot more than having an extra job. Not only does he love playing and coaching baseball, he’s a huge Chicago Cubs fan. His classroom displays a Cubs pennant, he painted a chair in the reading corner red and blue and used to have a Cubs flag hanging in the room– until he needed more space for educational posters.

“When I was two, I knew my dad got home from work at 5. At 4:30 I would get a bat, a glove and a ball and I would wait at the gate from 4:30 to 5 to wait for him to get home from work.”

And while coaching takes up more free time, Gabe says just being around the game helps his stress levels.

“Some people have art, some people have reading, my thing that helps me is baseball.”

 When Balancing Work And Home, Sometimes The Two Have To Mix

Now that he’s coaching, Gabe is back to more planning and grading on the weekends, and spending less time with Chelsea. But she’s a first year teacher too, and he says he’s thankful for that, because someone else wouldn’t understand: teaching is a 24/7 job.

“She understands that sometimes I’m busy and I need to get stuff done for school,” Gabe says. “I think if I was in a relationship with somebody who was working a 9-5 and I was getting home at 10 o’clock at night after leaving at 6 a.m. they would be pretty upset with me because I’m not spending any time with them.”

On a recent Wednesday, Gabe’s students are lined up facing the door of the classroom. Each kid is holding a paper letter, spelling out, ‘Will You Marry Mr.H?”

Chelsea is on her way to the school, thinking she’s going to teach the students a lesson on fractions. Gabe is having the kids rehearse what they will say when she gets there, and gives them one last reminder.

“Be nice and cute and sweet, please!”

He leaves the classroom for a few minutes to intercept her in the front office. When he returns to the classroom, a student opens the door, revealing the group as they shout:

“Will you marry Mr. Hoffman?”

Gabe gets down on one knee and pulls a ring out of his pocket. She says yes.