5 Boundaries Every Teacher Needs to Set
It’s important to set boundaries in all aspects of your life. Boundaries allow you to make sure your needs are being met and your mental, physical, and emotional health is protected. Setting boundaries can be hard, but the benefits to your personal well-being are well worth learning how to tell people when enough is enough. The following list has five boundaries you can set as a teacher to help your work-life balance.
Now, before you dive in make sure you take everything with a grain of salt. None of these things are off limits. It’s just a good idea to set a clear boundary so that you can keep yourself in a positive and healthy state:
1. Time Spent on School Work
Here’s a controversial idea: Don’t do school work when you are not on the clock.
Every one of your students deserves to have the best version of you walk in to teach them, but putting in an extra one to five hours of work at night probably won’t make you teacher of the year. In fact, it’s more likely to give you burnout.
You may ask, “If I don’t work at night how will I lesson plan, add modifications for English Language Learners and Special Education students, grade papers, prep for tomorrows lab, fill out my part of the administrator’s evaluation, answer emails, blah, blah, blah…”
The answer, “That’s not your problem until the next school day begins.”
No other profession expects their professionals to work extra hours at home with no pay. Does your doctor look over charts to find ways to increase overall patient health after a long day at the hospital? No. Does your plumber create an engaging presentation to compare and contrast the different types of pipes they can install in your home? No. Does the manager of your local grocery store go over inventory, track shipments, and order food after a ten-hour shift? No. Why should educators, who are arguably doing the most draining job on Earth, have to put in this much overtime for free?
Set a boundary and respect your personal time! At a certain point you have to prioritize your own well-being and make time to take care of yourself. When you take care of yourself you can better take care of others. Having energy and a positive attitude will have a greater impact on students’ learning than an elaborate lesson taught by a tired, grumpy teacher.
That being said, sometimes a teacher needs a little extra prep time. Don’t feel bad if you have to put in an extra hour or two here or there but don’t make it a habit because in the end, that time is YOUR time.
P.S. Check your teaching contract! You would be surprised how many schools do not honor the time legally allotted for teacher prep. Know what you are legally entitled to!
2. Money Spent on your Class
Here is a lesson that is hard to learn. Don’t splurge and spend all of your money on classroom supplies and decorations. This is especially hard for new teachers who have finally gotten their first classroom and a Pinterest board full of ideas.
There is ALWAYS something else you need for your classroom. Before you spend $194 at the Target dollar spot and another $75 on Amazon (it happens to all teachers) do the following:
Check with other teachers to see if they have supplies or materials you need hiding away in their closet. Chances are what you need is right down the hall.
Ask family and friends if they have extra supplies that you need or if they would be willing to donate to your class.
Ask your administration if there is a way to get the materials you need. Many schools have department or grade-level budgets teachers can access by going through the proper channels.
Have your students bring supplies. If every student brings one type of item for a certain project the cost is spread out evenly and the teacher doesn’t have to foot the cost. This option can be difficult for some students’ families so just know this is not always an option.
If there is no way around spending money consider the following:
Garage Sales/Marketplace Websites. A couple of hours of garage sailing can yield many high-quality items such as books, furniture, art supplies, and decorations for a classroom.
Crowd Funding Websites. Many teachers use crowdfunding websites to help fund a specific project or get an expensive item for their classroom. If you decide to do this, don’t forget to check with your school before you post because some schools have strict rules about what information you can include.
Consider reaching out to local businesses or neighborhood associations. You may get lucky and be able to find a company to sponsor your class.
Know that you don’t have to have a rainbow themed, Pinterest-perfect classroom to be a good teacher. If there is something you have to have for your classroom, go for it, but you need to set a boundary and respect your paycheck.
3. Interactions with Students and Their Families
This one may be hit or miss depending on where you teach but many small schools, private schools, and charter schools give parents and students access to teacher contact information. Even if you are not at one of these schools’ chances are you may open up your Facebook to a message request from a student or parent.
It is important that you know your school districts policy on communication. Once you know that you will have a better idea how to proceed but it’s always a good idea to set clear boundaries about when and how you should be contacted. Saying something like, “I would be glad to help you with X but in the future, you will need to contact me at my school email/phone number during the school day” will let them know that they need to respect your personal time.
4. Communication with Family and Friends
When you leave work, you need to leave work. It’s not always easy but just like you (hopefully) don’t talk to your students about your personal problems, you don’t need to talk to family and friends about school problems.
Your family and friends care about you and that is why they will listen to you as you vent about your day from hell. The thing you have to keep in mind is that they weren’t there. Aside from the fact they love you and want to support you, oversharing your problems will bum them out because they can’t do anything to help you. Another thing to consider is the student’s privacy. You wouldn’t want you family or friends to talk in great detail about your struggles with a stranger so don’t do that with your students.
In the end, setting boundaries for how much you talk about your job to your family and friends will allow you to better compartmentalize your job from your home life as well as protecting your relationships from negativity and undue stress.
5. Interactions with Other Teachers and Administration
Setting boundaries with other teachers and administration is probably the most difficult suggestion on this list. This is because teachers are boundary breakers. Setting boundaries with the people who break through them is a major undertaking but having these limits is essential for keeping your sanity.
There are a thousand boundaries you could set with your coworkers. It will be up to you decide what are the ones that will ensure your positivity and productivity.
One of the best reason to set a boundary with a coworker is if they are overly negative. There is nothing worse than having to go into a work environment where every interaction with a coworker wears you down. If you are constantly interacting with people who are negative it is going to affect you. Don’t be afraid to say, “I can see you are having a hard time right now and I am here for you if you need help but, I don’t feel comfortable continuing this conversation”. If your coworker tries to press you for an explanation keep in mind that you don’t owe anybody an explanation over anything.
The main takeaway here is don't be afraid to set boundaries! You are entitled to work in an environment that is safe and healthy. You are also entitled to be able to walk away from your work without feeling guilty. Clear boundaries can help you take control and live the best version of your life as an educator.