Boundaries are challenging for anyone. Boundaries at work are particularly a challenge, because technically you are being paid to give up part of your life, and it can be hard to determine how much of your life that constitutes.
I think that boundary problems are epidemic in teaching and other professions that are considered “helping professions” (nursing, counseling, social work, etc…). This happens for a lot of reasons.
First, the people who are drawn to these professions tend to want to help people–that’s why they got into the work.
Second, if they want to help people at work, they probably help a lot of people outside of work, as well, as it is their nature to want to help, and so they most likely have a hard time saying no to people who need help (or who have a perceived need for help…).
Third, administration (wittingly or unwittingly) plays with the hearts of teachers when they ask them to do extra things or very hard things because they are there for the children, and the children have it so much harder than you (especially in inner-city schools), and don’t you care about the children?
Fourth, society projects an image of teachers as selfless superheroes who can and should give up everything, if even for the sake of one child, and this image makes it all too easy for teachers to neglect their personal needs yet again because they feel like they are the only selfish ones who need a break.
I have problems with boundaries. Moving to NYC, being in a church for over a year that manipulated a lot of my time and personal life, and teaching in an inner-city school have all tested and formed my boundaries over the past few years, out of absolute necessity. Since I don’t think that I am the only one who struggles with boundaries, I wanted to start a mini-series on this blog about some things that I have learned that I must do (or should do) to maintain healthy boundaries for myself as a teacher and human.
Stay tuned for boundary lesson #1.