Boundaries for Teachers: 9 Essential Tips That Will Save Your Sanity
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Boundaries for Teachers: 9 Essential Tips That Will Save Your Sanity. New perspectives on education…
As a teacher, you’re an inherently selfless person. You didn’t get into this profession for fame and fortune, but rather to have an impact on children’s lives in your community. Although the nature of your job is to give so much of yourself to others, it’s important for your mental health to set healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are the key to helping you bring your best self to the classroom every day. Having clear boundaries can help you mitigate the stress and burnout that are such common feelings for teachers. Read on for some helpful tips to help you learn how to set boundaries as a teacher.
- Plan ahead for success
So much of what you do as a teacher involves planning. Whether it’s lesson planning or planning for substitute teacher coverage, you are always thinking ahead and anticipating what’s next. It’s easy to feel bogged down by the need to plan, but when you reframe your perspective you will see that it is actually freeing.
Although planning surely comes naturally to you because of the duties of your job, it’s also a way to protect your time and energy as a teacher. Stress and anxiety most often rear their ugly heads when you feel out of control. Creating a plan can help you take control of your situation and avoid those feelings. Planning ahead may not feel like a boundary in the most traditional sense, but it lays the foundation for a healthy relationship with your job. Planning helps you approach the school day without feeling rushed or distracted so you can remain present with your students and keep your stress low.
Set aside some time either on Sundays before the week starts or each afternoon when school is over to plan for the days or weeks to come. Find a time that works for you and commit to that time so that you don’t find yourself having to cram planning time when it’s inconvenient.
- Leave your work at school
This can be a difficult one, but it’s so important. Try your best to leave your work at school at the end of the day. When you close the door to your classroom and walk to your car, focus on leaving all the good, bad, and indifferent of the school day behind you.
This boundary is arguably one of the most important ones for your mental health. By not taking the stress of your job as a teacher home with you, you can prevent it from creeping into your personal life and wreaking havoc.
So much can happen throughout the course of the day as a teacher. Whether you had a challenging moment with a particular student or a lesson that didn’t go as planned, don’t let it define the rest of your day.
When you leave school at the end of the day, focus on returning to your true identity outside of being a teacher. Doing this will help you be a better person in the other areas of your life that are important to you.
It may help to create a ritual that you do at the end of the day to signify that you are taking off your teacher hat for the day. Maybe you listen to a certain song on your ride home or you close your planner and set an intention for the next day. Whatever it is, make a point of it.
- Avoid taking on too much
It might be tempting to take on “extras” at work over and above your teaching job. Whether you’re asked to chaperone a trip, chair a committee, or coach a team, there is no shortage of things that you might want to get involved in. Having a boundary in this area helps you avoid overcommitting.
Sometimes these extracurricular activities come with pay which can be a big help to augment a teacher’s salary but remember that it’s not all about the money. Before you sign up for anything, think about the level of commitment required and what that will mean for your life. Will you feel excited and motivated by taking on this additional work or will it leave you feeling resentful and depleted? Will the potential money that you earn offset the amount of time and effort that you have to put in? These are important things to consider before you decide.
- Don’t take it personal
This is a boundary that should become your mantra as a teacher. There is so much that is going to go well and so much that is going to go wrong within the four walls of your classroom and there is very little you can do about it.
Students will talk back, administrators will give difficult feedback, you’ll disagree with your colleagues, and countless other things won’t go your way. If you protect yourself by not taking things that happen in your teaching career personally (as much as possible), you will reap the rewards. When you feel tempted to take something negative to heart, take a step back. Think about what happened and whether you could have prevented it or done anything differently. If you could have, accept that lesson and keep it in mind for the future. If you know you did your best, try to move forward without feeling blame or shame.
It’s certainly not easy to avoid taking things personally, but it’s essential to protect your sanity. As long as you show up every day and do your best for your students, that’s all that matters. When you know you did your best you can avoid becoming rattled by things that don’t go according to plan.
- Take time for yourself
You spend so much of your time as a teacher pouring your heart and soul into developing your students, but you must remember to take some time to pour into yourself too. As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”.
Take some time to find an activity that feels good to you and commit to it on a regular schedule. Self-care has become something of a buzzword thanks to social media. It doesn’t always have to be the bubble baths and face masks that Instagram would have you believe though. Self-care can come in many shapes and sizes, but it is crucial to maintaining your health and happiness in a stressful career like teaching. Taking time for yourself isn’t selfish, it’s a way of caring for yourself so that you’re able to be better for other people. This is why self-care shouldn’t be seen as a luxury that’s out of reach, it should be an important boundary that you are committed to.
Maybe you decide to book a monthly pedicure after school on Friday afternoons or you take a yoga class on the weekends. It could even be as simple as a daily journaling or meditation practice. It doesn’t matter what your practice is as long as it makes you feel happy and whole. When you take time for yourself, it reminds you that you are more than just a teacher. It helps you remember that you have individual needs and interests that need attention just as much as your students do.
- Schedule school-free days
As difficult as it can be to set regular working hours and leave your schoolwork at school, deciding on work-free days can be even harder. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sticking to your regular working hours during the week and then spending your entire weekend prepping. This does not give you the break that you need. It is essential to realize that school is your work, and you need a chance to recharge before tackling the next week. Sometimes grading tests and papers and preparing lessons for the following week have to fall on the weekend. If this is the case, use one of the weekend days and set hours to do this work. Be sure to take at least one whole day off. This means an entire day every week when you don’t look at a lesson plan or even think about a student’s grades.
Another good piece of advice to keep in mind is to take a vacation when your students are on break. Use the opportunity to catch up on some much needed mental recharging. School vacations may be a great time to get ahead on your lesson planning or catch up on work you may have let pile up. Be sure to take at least three to four days to devote to no work at all. Not only is this critical to keep your mental health in check, but it also benefits your students. If you are able to rest and recharge, you will be more attentive to their learning needs.
- Give Yourself a Little Grace
You can’t do everything. This cannot be emphasized enough. Give yourself the grace to accept your limits and don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself. Be honest about what you can handle and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about not taking on too many commitments. Guilt can be a driving factor for piling on too much work. You can’t be everything to everyone. Give yourself the grace to be the best teacher you can be which includes space to make mistakes.
No one is perfect. Just as your students are learning from you, you can learn from your students. Show them that you are growing together and they will be more open to suggestions that you have to help them move forward. Giving yourself the grace to make mistakes and not feel guilty about declining an opportunity will not only help you grow into a stronger and better teacher, but also provides a wonderful example for your students. Your honesty about your own boundaries will show you students that it is necessary to be honest about their own boundaries too.
By allowing yourself leeway, you are helping to break the cycle of anxiety that some students may feel when they think they can tackle it all. You are showing them that it is not only healthy but necessary to set boundaries and not berate yourself for the things you can’t do or need to try harder to accomplish.
- Set Clear and Achievable Expectations
Setting expectations for your students’ achievements in the classroom is important to let them know what you are looking for from them. Be very clear about what it is that you want them to do not only in terms of attitude towards school but also in other aspects of the classroom. Let them know that if they are struggling they can come to you during office hours.
Set your office hours at specific times during the week so that you are not overworking yourself. Setting expectations for your students and communicating them is very important, but perhaps more crucial are the expectations you set for yourself. Don’t shoot for the moon just because it’s there. Set reasonable goals about getting tasks done for school so that you are able to realistically schedule time for yourself. Just because you are the teacher doesn’t mean you should overload yourself with more work than your students.
Teach your given academic subject but also lead by example. Show your students how to set goals and clear expectations for the things you need and want to accomplish. If you find that something major is trying to detract from your expectations and stretching you too thin, bring yourself back to your original goals and expectations. See how you can rectify it to make sure that those boundaries stay set in place.
- Eat Sitting Down
This may seem like a small insignificant action, but it is very important. When you are having lunch in the middle of the work day, sit down to eat. Do not surround yourself with all the papers you need to grade or the lesson plan you’ve been working on. If you need to pick up something else other than your food, grab a leisure book.
Actions speak louder than words. This small action sends a big message to your body and your brain that you are taking a break. By allowing yourself to spend a few minutes in the middle of the work day completely checked out of work, you will find yourself reinvigorated to get back to work for the afternoon. Training both your body and your brain to actively take a break together will help establish a healthy pattern of working and resting. All of these boundaries are important to keep in mind so that you can be the best teacher for your students.
Feeling teacher burnout? Check out these 9 tips for setting healthy boundaries that will save your teaching career!
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