Boundaries for people who aren’t good with boundaries, Part 1. (Set your “hours”)

My first boundary discovery is that I can and must set my “hours.”

I say that in “parentheses” because, as a teacher, my hours are set, but not really.  I am sure that most teachers would agree that there is always more that you could do at the end of each day.  Even if you are pretty good about getting out of the building soon after the school day is over, this is not always in your control.  There is a staff meeting, or a team meeting, or a department meeting, or a parent meeting, or a student club, or a committee, or any other endless number of time-consuming obligations after work.

First of all, I would say that you can and should limit the number of things that you are involved in, to limit the number of days in the week where you experience this issue of not having control over when you leave after school hours are done.

However, some of these things are unavoidable, and it is definitely expected that you are involved in at least SOMETHING extra in the school community.  On these days, I find it helpful to mentally set my “hours,” and do everything within my power to adhere to those hours.  Lots of professionals have office hours, and if you want to do business with them, you must do it during their set office hours.  I try to do the same thing for myself.  For example, if I must stay after for a committee that I am on that is extracurricular to my teaching duties, I determine beforehand how long I will stay, and I make it clear at the beginning of the meeting that I have to leave at that time.  Some meetings go on and on and seem like they aren’t getting anything done.  If the meeting is still going on after the time I have set for myself (within reason and the bounds of tact, of course), I ask if there is anything else that I should do on my own to help the work of the committee, and I excuse myself.  Remaining for too long at a meeting that is not very productive or useful only perpetuates the wasting of time.

Sometimes committees meet every single week, and they don’t have to.  For these kinds of situations, I sometimes prioritize other important things during that time, such as going to the doctor or exercising or running an errand.  The “extras” after school hours can suck your time and energy and will to liv..I mean, work.  Set limits on them, to the best of your ability.  Focus your time and energy on the work done during the school day, with and for the students, and don’t allow administration to use you to simply boast on paper about how many committees they have.

Some may say this is selfish.  I say, we are people first, teachers second.  It can be hard to remember this sometimes in the school environment, which encourages teachers to give everything and more, without a thought as to how the teacher is balancing the rest of their life.  I also believe that a teacher who shows up for several years to teach classes is of more value to the school and the students than a teacher who gives every waking hour to the school just because it asked and then finds out it is unsustainable and burns out in a year or two.  Do few things, and do them well.

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