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Keeping the Faith: Balancing Teaching, Practice, and Family in the 21st Century

David C.
David C.

Social work is an open system with many opportunities, such as teaching, research, and practice.  I am fortunate to have opportunities to grow in these areas as a full time social work educator and a part time clinical social work practitioner.  But finding a faith-filled balance between family life and these opportunities is a real challenge!

I love my family.  Kori and I have been married for 16 years and we have two super-active kids.  Aidan is 10 and Carter is 7.  We are in to hiking, biking, skateboarding, swimming, soccer, basketball, and (most of all) traveling.  We are in such a sweet spot right now, as both boys are full of energy, interests, and curiosity.  We hit the ground running every single day and every night ends with Aidan asking, “What are we doing tomorrow?”  Sleeping in is not allowed!

I love being an educator because of my students and the constant motivation to deepen my learning.  The reinforcement of teaching social work content repeatedly is so beneficial, especially with my tendencies toward distraction and forgetfulness.  I also love the challenge of teaching (and it can be a real challenge!)  There is an ironic twist to teaching for me; the more stressed and serious I am, the less effective my teaching.  So in addition to the intellectual stimulation, it forces me to relax and stay in the moment.  And to have support to do research and to be able to travel and present findings is a remarkable experience!

I love practicing because it is a fascinating, humbling, and transforming experience that also provides a mental break from campus.  Many say that if a social work educator is not in practice, they are less effective as educators.  I disagree!  As Forrest Gump’s mother said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”  Teaching is an art, much like practice, and there is such rich theoretical ground to plow that we are fortunate to have scholars devoted full time to teaching and research.  But my practice does benefit my teaching by keeping me current in an ever-changing health care landscape and by providing endless opportunities for humility. When I reflect on distant past practice experiences, I tend to remember the more poignant moments.  In my current practice, I am more acutely aware of the real trudge of daily helping.

But here is my confession… I am stressed!  Doing all of this is really hard.  From week to week it can feel like the wheels might fall off of my makeshift structure.  Doctor’s offices call during class about the assessment fax they did not receive.  Clients call for directions for the third time and then no-show.  Meanwhile, assignments come flooding in at such an astonishing rate it makes you wonder why on earth you assigned all of this.  Then there is the subcommittee you agreed to chair.  Add to that my loving and very active family; with my wife’s part time job, there are two days per week that I am the first responder to the inevitable stomach and flu bug phone calls from school, not to mention my son’s penchant for forgetting his violin.  And this is only some of the fine print of blending family, teaching, and practice.

So just as I find with my clients, I have much ambivalence to resolve.  And I have learned that the nature of ambivalence is that there is good and bad, easy and difficult, fun and boring either way you go.  But I cling to this routine for now because I am learning a ton! There are many days I do not get to look before I leap.  And I am glad to have those moments when it all comes together in spite of my stress.  I recognize this as a tempering that God wants for me.  He wants me to stay in the moment, trusting Him.  As a good friend once told me, “You always have to be somewhere, so you might as well be peaceful.”  I love that.

David C., PhD, LCSW, is an Associate Professor at Asbury University and also a private practitioner. He has been a member of NACSW since 2003.

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