- Why I Microwaved My Strawberries: An Analogy for this Entire School Year - October 19, 2021
- Setting Boundaries for Type A Personality Teachers - September 13, 2021
- A Letter to My Seniors: The Class That Conquered the Pandemic - June 30, 2021
- Mental Health Awareness for the Teacher's Soul - May 11, 2021
- About Me, By Me Assignment: What Happened When My Students Spoke - April 20, 2021
- Always a Scapegoat, Never the G.O.A.T - March 4, 2021
- Online Learning: Headaches and Heartbreaks and Whispers of "You're Lagging" - December 7, 2020
- Teamwork Makes the “COVID-Dream” Work - November 5, 2020
Think about the number of things you do each day. Now think about how many of those things you do that are actually things you enjoy doing. I hope that the number of things you enjoy doing outnumbers the things you don’t enjoy, but for many of us, I believe that’s untrue. We live in a fast-paced, always moving world where we do for others before we do for ourselves. And although you may be thinking, “well yeah, it’s really important to serve others and put others before ourselves”, there’s the old adage that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Sometimes you need to be selfish. Sometimes, you need to say “no”.
Choosing to Serve Others
Those of us with careers who serve others have oftentimes chosen to do so because it’s something we are passionate about. If you are a Doctor, Nurse, Teacher, Therapist, Social Worker, or even a Car Salesperson, you more than likely chose your profession because you enjoy working with people and helping others.Setting Boundaries for Type A Personality Teachers Click To Tweet
For many of us, this was a calling we had when we were young. I’ve known I wanted to be a teacher since I was young enough to set up my Barbies in rows on the floor and create lessons for teacher Barbie to teach her students. My love of playing school turned into an obsession over school supplies and life of different jobs serving others.
From checking out shoppers at my local grocery store to my now current career as a high school Special Education teacher, I’ve learned that helping and providing education and guidance to others (at this point in my life, my students) has brought me such an extreme sense of satisfaction and feeling of self-worth that I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’m sure many teachers can look back to the first few (or 20) years of their careers and remember that feeling of going all in and doing everything they could to enhance their teaching careers. Sometimes we get so swept up in all of the extras, we lose sight of the importance of our main goal in the first place: serving our students.
People Pleasing is a Dangerous Habit
When working in a school district, the number of people making the district function range from the very top of administration to the teacher trainers, maintenance and custodial workers, to teachers and teaching assistants. The buildings don’t run effectively without the secretaries and school nurses. Everyone has a part to play. If one of those jobs is missing or not functioning properly, the equilibrium of the school building can end up in disarray. It’s in these times that people in other roles in the building are asked to step in and step up. And those of us who are people pleasers, always seem to take on the extra tasks.
I am by nature, a people pleaser. I don’t like to burden others to do anything that I can take care of myself. Delegating tasks has never been something I’m good at and it usually takes an outside force like my teaching assistants, a friend, or my husband to tell me to sit down and let them do something. I would imagine that there are many others like me and I am not alone in struggling to relinquish control.
The people pleasers out there (including myself) are the ones who are the go-to's for covering an extra class, taking on the new training initiative, leading the teacher discussions, and continuously presenting at meetings. And we are always asked because we are the ones who always say yes. We have an invisible target on our backs because we help out when others refuse.
As a young people pleaser, I couldn’t believe the number of teachers I worked with who never did anything other than teaching. No committees, no presentations, no creating Google Sheets with organizational strategies for the department, and no extra-curricular.
How could they possibly get everything out of their teaching careers without participating in things?
Then I would get angry. If everyone else would just carry a little bit, maybe the other people pleasers and I wouldn’t have to do it all. I was stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, and failing as a teacher. It was only then that I realized that pleasing others was failing my main purpose and that maybe my colleagues who focused on their students knew what they were doing. I wanted to be a good teacher to my students, and by taking on every other activity that didn’t serve them, I was in actuality failing as a teacher.
Our Time is Worth Something
How many times have you heard “teachers don’t teach for the income. Teachers teach for the outcome. Thank all teachers for their hard work”. Isn’t that sweet? The connotation is that we don’t do our jobs for the paycheck, we do our jobs because we want to change lives and we love children. I used to agree with this. I’d see these words in some meme online and think, “yeah! I’m so selfless that I do this job because I want to teach kids and make a difference in their lives. Whatever money I make as a part of it is just a nice bonus”. That was still back in my people-pleasing days.
It wasn’t until post-pandemic teaching that my mindset started to change. Teachers have always hung out on the balance beam between being praised and being attacked. We’re praised one minute because you can’t imagine doing our job when you’re at home with your child expecting to be the teacher, then we’re vilified as lazy, incompetent people who are paid “too much” for “only working” ten months out of the year. I saw that meme again online but it was edited to read: “teachers are skilled professionals who deserve a competitive income. Professional level pay is how to thank all teachers for their hard work”. Huh, interesting thought.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The original meme pulls at my heartstrings because I truly believe that teachers work hard and love their students and want them to succeed. If you don’t like kids or want to help kids or want to see them succeed, get out of the teaching profession now. Stop reading this and just go write your resignation letter. Those types of people don’t belong in this profession. That second meme though, the one about paying teachers because we are professionals, blew my mind even when it really shouldn’t have.
We are professionals.
Our time is WORTH something.
All of those extra things we take on, we do it because we feel like we should. We take on extra tasks that eat up our planning periods and after-school time. We take time away from our families, our friends, or even time to refill our own cups so we can continue to pour forth all the energy we need to serve others. It’s time to start looking at the things we say yes to and see if they are truly what we want to focus our unpaid time and energy on.
The reality is that in a school building, there are many tasks and activities that need to be attended to that you won’t receive extra pay for. We may not have control over being paid for every additional thing we take on, but we do have the control to set boundaries and choose to do the extra things we want to do that will serve us and help us continue to serve others, rather than the things that don’t serve us.
Setting Boundaries for Type A Personalities
Going back in time a few months to the end of June 2021.
I was exhausted. I’m sure many of my teacher friends can relate.
The end of the longest-feeling school year arrived and even when it was all over, I couldn’t seem to relax. I’m an avid reader and I tried focusing on my books as a way to decompress in the week after school ended. After chatting with a friend of mine, also an avid reader, she told me she just couldn’t focus. She couldn’t relax into what was supposed to be the first week of rest from an incredibly trying school year.
It was then that I decided I needed to start setting boundaries for myself. I am an extreme Type A kind of person. More like Type A++. Throw on top of that my people pleasing attitude, it is so hard for me to say no and set boundaries. I want to help and take on all of the extras and be involved. There might even be a little bit of FOMO on my end that pushes me to take on every little challenge that is dropped in front of me. I’ve always felt like this was very noble of me. I’d take on one more thing so my colleagues didn’t have to. I’d spread myself so thin that I was spinning out of control not being able to figure out what needed to be done.
Although I’ve felt honored being the go-to for administrators and colleagues, going home and not being able to function as a human to do the things I want/need to do hasn’t been pleasant. Taking on so many additional activities was causing me to not focus as much on planning solid lessons for my students. At the end of the day, my title is ‘teacher’ and I was slowly creeping away from being an effective one.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy to stop cold turkey during the school year so I practiced a bit during summer vacation. I decided if it didn’t serve me, got in the way of plans I had already made, or if I just didn’t really feel up to doing it, I said “no”. It felt good to set boundaries with activities in my life outside of school and I am happy to report I ended up having a very relaxing summer!
Setting Boundaries at School
The summer came to an end. It was time to face the music and begin prepping for September. Although I adopted a “if I don’t feel like doing it, I’m not doing it” type attitude in the summer, I know that’s not realistic in the real world of work (I know you read that above and were thinking, “gee, must be nice” with sarcastic undertones and that’s ok).
I made a decision to think about what I really wanted out of my career this year. I can only work with where I am and how I’m feeling right now. Maybe three years from now I’ll decide I want to take on coaching or be in charge of the Junior class, but right now at this moment, I want to be a teacher. I want to be effective for my students. Using my plannings to plan thoughtful lessons to bridge the gaps in their learning rather than for other tasks not directly impacting my students will make a huge difference. I want to write my IEPs and reports at school rather than working during my nights at home with my family or on the weekends.
In order to do this, I know I need to say no and set boundaries. I know I can’t take on more additional tasks than the ones I already do. I need to limit myself to one after school committee that I find important. Closing my door during my planning periods to focus on my tasks rather than socializing and always helping everyone with what they need and tabling what I need will help me stay on track. I will not stay after school with students unless they have made an effort during the day to get the help they need. I will continue to do some of my other extra activities because I love them and they don’t take away from my ability to be a great teacher, but I will take on nothing more.
It’s easy to say you won’t take on another thing that you can’t handle. The hard part is actually sticking to the promise you made to yourself. Setting boundaries and saying no is a lot like flexing a muscle. The more you practice, the stronger it’ll get. A few days before school I was asked to take on another (very large) responsibility. I asked the questions I needed to be answered to make a fully informed decision. And the final question I asked was “how much time will this take me away from my students?”. In the end, although me taking on this responsibility would have really helped out my district, it would have added an exorbitant amount of additional stress on me and would have set me up for a very difficult start to my school year. I chose to say “no”.
I hung up the phone and immediately felt guilt and thought for a second about emailing her back and saying that I would do it. Instead, I called my mom and told her that I said no to something. I immediately felt proud of myself and she was elated.
I urge you if you find that you’re starting to lose your way whether you’re a teacher or not, start saying no to things that aren’t serving you. It’s time to take back enjoying more of the things that we do in our lives. And if you’re a Type A++ people pleaser like myself, just practice flexing that muscle and I believe it will get easier.