March 31, 2021
As teachers, we often feel a sense of urgency with the tasks we do. Deadlines, testing windows, end of term, personal goals set by us, parents or even students—so many things impose this on us.
What if I told you that not everything is an emergency, would you believe me?
Because they are not.
It is so important that we learn to set boundaries and stick to them so that we can maintain balance in our lives and avoid burn out. If we take the time to properly prepare for anticipated situations, we can avoid many of them. Here are some tips I implemented that have made this idea a reality for me.
Set Work Hours This one is huge. You MUST have boundaries. You are not paid for 24/7 work, so stop giving it. If the amount of work needing done constantly pushes you over, keep a detailed activity log for a week or a month to analyze what you are doing and perhaps you can find some things to eliminate or do more efficiently. Most teachers I know that work so much in the evenings or on weekends are also those always chatting during planning time.
Set Days/Times for Routine Tasks You know you have things that always need done—calls, planning, copies, grading, teaching, projects, tutoring, duty. If you set up days and times to complete these tasks, you will find yourself much better prepared and using your time a lot more efficiently. I made a video about this a couple of years ago (when I still made YouTube videos) that can talk more about this. Check it out here https://youtu.be/UT2-Utq9Jcw That was one in a series on time management, so you can check those out, too.
Don’t Create Extra Work for Yourself Whenever possible, create templates or frameworks for the lessons you do, such as Mastery Menu tasks, that can apply to all kinds of lessons and they can choose how to show what they learned. This also includes EXTRA CREDIT and MAKE UP WORK PACKETS. Don’t do this! Have a folder for a copy of every lesson you do and then you can make a make up work packet from that. As for extra credit, they usually only want it from not doing prior work, so only offer existing work and, if they want a better grade, implement some type of redo policy to earn lost points back. This also reinforces the idea of revisiting missed learning to work towards mastery.
Don’t Let Another’s Urgency Become Your Emergency Just because someone else needs or wants it done right away doesn’t mean you do that. Incorporate these into your routine tasks and tell them it will be done at that time. Late work or work turned in to bring up a grade? Set up a grading policy—work is graded and returned in XX school days from day received. Phone calls, emails and text messages returned within 24 hours—set up an autoreply on this one and include it in your voicemail greeting so they are aware of it. Many “emergencies” are often the result of procrastination, so by working in lesson planning, grading, calls, and projects into your daily routines, you will be able to address these on a weekly basis and defer it to that time.
Don’t Take Work Home If you plan efficiently, you can get it all done at work and force yourself to stick to those hours. It can be way too tempting to work when we need to rest our minds and focus on other things. This also means not checking emails and calls after hours. If you create an internet phone account (Google Voice has a free option) then you can set up the do not disturb hours, so it won’t go through at that time.
Delete Work Related Apps Seriously, it will be too tempting to jump over and check your email after scrolling social media. Delete your email, google voice, chat programs, whatever you have, and only be available during hours. If there is a true emergency, your Principal, Assistant Principal, co-teacher, or team will have your personal number and can reach you. But be sure they are aware of your boundaries. If you aren’t sure what they are calling about, let it go to voicemail—you can always call right back.
Set appointments To Hold Yourself to These It can be easy to make excuses but setting up appointments to be at can not only help you stick to them, but it can also give you a reason to NOT do something thrust upon you at the last minute. Find a walking or workout buddy, have a set dinner time, set up a standing coffee or dinner date with a friend or family member (or rotate who each week!), set up a date night with your significant other, make a self-care appointment for each week (yoga, manicure, pedicure, a chair massage, hair trim or wash and blow out—these are all options you can probably find for around $30 each and can work into your budget easily). These are all things you can do that will give you a reason to have to leave and help you mentally shift from work.
Apart from a true emergency, there is nothing that cannot wait until the time you set aside for it. Your peace, your mental health, your family, your relationships—none are worth sacrificing to grade a stack of essays or prepare a lab for class. With that said, when people do ask things of you that don’t fit those boundaries, especially if you always have before, do not be rude about it, and don’t say NO, just get into the NOT RIGHT NOW mindset by letting them know when you will get it taken care of and to them. There is no need to create a riff in your workspace. Instead, share with people what you are doing and why and you will probably find that they will probably support you, and some may even join you on your journey.
These tips can also apply or adapt to non-education career fields, especially in this new normal we are living in that is exponentially overwhelming to so many. Share this article with your friends, family members or coworkers, it may help them. I hope it helps you.