Setting Boundaries By Saying No

Teachers are notorious for burning themselves out because they take on too many tasks. Learn practical strategies how to set boundaries by saying no.

It happens so easily. Somebody asks for a small favour, a new teacher that really needs a mentor teacher, the advisor of a beloved program is retiring and it would be such a great fit for you. Suddenly your schedule looks more appropriate for a whole team of workers than for one individual, your hair is greying at a phenomenal rate, and you can’t remember the last time you had a Saturday afternoon to yourself.  Don’t worry; we’ve all been there. Today, let’s talk about some practical ways to help you prevent this chaos from happening.

Today’s blog post is written by Rebecca Gettelman who is a middle and high school teacher from the Midwest. She has been teaching for over eleven years. Kristy has added in some of her ideas throughout the post. 

Figure out how much free time you actually do have in your schedule.

One of the best preventative measures for overscheduling is to keep a calendar that includes all the draws on your time. Include everything from your work schedule to your doctor appointments and your kids’ t-ball games.  Don’t forget the things you do for you.  If family dinner is important, add it in each night. If you attend a weekly religious service, don’t forget to put it on the calendar. If you need a solid hour each afternoon for lesson planning, that should go there too. And self-care, family time, and date night are not things to be ignored either – these are valid and important parts of our lives.  By keeping an accurate calendar of all the demands on your time and obligations you have, you can figure out where and if you have extra time for additional tasks.

Keep in mind that you do not do your best work when you are overextended and burned out.

There are a million worthy tasks out there. There is always something important that needs doing that isn’t being done. There are good, deserving people who could use your help. But no matter how worthy the task, how important the need, or how deserving the people, no one person can do it all.  And when we try, we become overextended, overworked, and burned out. Instead of doing a good job with a smaller group of individuals or tasks and really helping, our time and energy get divided into such small pieces that nothing gets what it needs and everything suffers. And then, to top it all off, burnout happens and nothing gets done at all. By picking fewer tasks and dedicating your time and energy to just them, you will do a better job, help more people, and be able to continue doing them for longer. Read more about how to avoid teacher burnout here.

Strategies For Saying No

Make it a habit to not agree to take on something new immediately when asked.  

Because of the caring and giving nature of most teachers, when someone comes to us and asks, “Could you…?” many of us find that our instinctive response is “Sure, no problem!” without stopping to consider if doing the task will become a problem or if it is even something that we want to take on. Instead of this “no problem” response, come up with a few appropriate alternatives so that you can really consider if you have the time, energy, and interest to take on the task.  

Here are a few suggestions that I find helpful in different situations:

  • Let me check my calendar and get back to you tomorrow.
  • That is a pretty big undertaking. Let me talk to my (wife/husband/partner/family/etc.) about if that is something that we can make work.
  • Have you talked to anyone else who might be interested in doing this (or helping with this)?
  • Can you email me the details so I can look them over and think about it?

Lastly, remember you can do it, but you can’t do it alone.

Teachers become teachers because they want to make a difference. But no matter how much time and energy, no matter how much love and life, no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you dedicate to making the world a better place, no one can do it alone. Teachers can and do make a difference each and every day, but they can’t do it alone. And for every student you reach – even if it is just those in your single class of twenty-five students this year – remember this: You have just helped shape twenty-five individuals who can help you make a difference in the world. And that is no small feat.

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