5 Tips Teachers Can Use to Practice Self-Care & Set Boundaries
It’s 5 PM. You need to go home.
It’s 5 PM. You need to go home. You need to eat some dinner, take a break, and then dive into some more grading that you know you can’t just finish during your prep.
An email comes in from an admin: They’re going to stop by after class tomorrow to talk about your recent observation periods. You reluctantly add it to your calendar.
Your phone rings. A student is having trouble with the homework and her parents are too busy at their jobs tonight to help. You spend twenty minutes struggling to tutor her over the phone.
You get a text from a co-worker. He can’t figure out how to get files from his flash drive to his Google Drive, even though you’ve explained it twice already. You search the Internet for a few minutes and then send him a link to a support page, hoping that helps him.
It’s almost 6 PM and you’re no closer to finishing your grading. You’re starving. You’re stressed. And you’re already thinking about how you have to be back in the classroom in just over 12 hours. You hope you can get a solid 8 hours of sleep, but you doubt it’ll happen tonight.
If this story sounds all too familiar, you might need to practice more self-care and set more boundaries. Learning when to say no can help the moments when you say yes be much more effective.
Understanding How to Maximize Your Own Value
It can seem cold to tell a student or co-worker that you don’t have the time for them, even when they seem desperate or nobody else looks willing to help. But if this sacrifice ultimately hinders you, making you more tired during your classroom lectures, or delaying your grading, then you could end up hurting your entire class over a few extra minutes with students. Worse still, if too many co-workers see you as the lone reliable and helpful asset, then you’ll end up spending more of your time on their projects than yours.
It’s hard to strike the right balance between helping individuals and making sure that you can complete the tasks that affect all your students, but we hope that the following tips can help you get there.
Set Office Hours
Office Hours aren’t just for college professors. Sure, there are certain expectations set by administrations and other teachers about how long you need to stay at school, but if you have clearly defined Office Hours where students can come to see you if they have trouble, then people won’t expect you to be available at all times.
Pick a place to make yourself available, like your classroom or the school library, and then set a period of time each week to be there. Try considering the timing of your office hours with the due dates for homework and projects as well.
If you can’t find a specific location to have office hours, consider setting up a time at home where you can answer video calls or IMs from interested students or parents.
Keep Communication Asynchronous
Outside of your office hours, don’t give students or parents a direct line of communication with you. Have them send emails or direct messages on Edmodo so you don’t have to give them your phone number.
Then, use some time set aside to answer these questions or comments from students and parents. If you don’t have a lot of visitors or appointments during your office hours, you can use that time for this as well.
Direct, synchronized communication can be helpful, but too much access to it is a one-way ticket to poor boundaries at school.
Use Your Personal Life in the Classroom (Sparingly)
Plenty of us remember the first time we met a teacher outside the classroom, whether it was at the grocery store or the local movie theater. It was usually accompanied by the first time we thought about the teacher outside of the setting of the classroom.
You can use a few stories from your personal life in classroom lectures to gently remind students, especially teenagers, that you have a life outside of school. Talking about visits to the mall and the park, or talking about your family, can show students that you’re not an infinite resource.
Schedule Your Own Breaks
Just like scheduling office hours and your availability, schedule some time where you can’t be interrupted. Maybe it’s half your lunch break where you sit and read a book, or an hour or two at home every week where you catch up on Netflix.
It’s important to make sure you have a break of some kind, otherwise, you risk overworking yourself and your overall teaching ability may suffer. If you find that people are trying to schedule your entire day for you, plot some time for yourself and do something that gives you energy. That way, when you have to go back to work, you won’t be stressing over how little time you have for yourself.
Use Time Off for Self-Reflection
The last thing you want to think about on vacation is work, but that’s exactly why you should use your time off to think about your career goals and performance. Instead of focusing on what happens the first week of the new term, consider what you want to do with your classroom time overall. Ask yourself what went well and what went poorly, then think about what you can change to improve the experience.
Breaks between terms are also an excellent time to connect with colleagues and friends in your professional leaning community (PLC). Collaborate with other teachers and learn about their own self-care practices so you always have a clear understanding of boundaries in your classroom.
Hopefully, you’ve found these tips helpful, and we hope in the new year you have a chance to breathe and take some time for yourself to recharge. If you have any tips about self-care or setting boundaries that weren’t covered here, please feel free to share.