Take a moment to honestly answer these questions: Has a colleague or administrator ever asked you to do something extra and you felt the need to say “yes” even though you didn’t want to do it? Have you ever said “yes” to an extra task only to immediately regret it? Have you been approached to do extra work simply because you are known for taking on extra work? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you might be a Yes Teacher.
The Yes Teacher says “yes” to every opportunity or extra duty. The Yes Teacher has a really hard time saying “no.” In fact, the Yes Teacher often feels guilt when they put their foot down and back away from putting more on their plates. The Yes Teacher will continue piling on responsibilities even if it means compromising their mental, physical, and emotional health.
I know the struggles of being the Yes Teacher firsthand. I spent the first three years of my teaching career drowning in a sea of extra duties, committees, and volunteer opportunities. It didn’t take long before I started feeling dread and resentment towards my job. I gained 20 pounds each of those first three years from stress eating and spent many nights wide awake, worried about getting all my work done the next day. On most nights I was only getting 4-5 hours of sleep and started to experience episodes of sleep paralysis as a result. In short, I was miserable, which meant I wasn’t able to give my best to my students.
So, how did I overcome being the Yes Teacher? These five steps were key to my journey to say “no” to extra work and “yes” to my mental and physical health. They can help diminish the “yes” in your workload, too:
1. Look inward.
I recognized that many of my problems were ones I created myself. I admitted to myself that saying “yes” to everything didn’t make me a better teacher. When I recognized that I was a Yes Teacher, I began making better choices for myself.
2. Make a move.
I moved to a new school, which helped me press the reset button. This seems drastic, but for me it was necessary. In a new building, I didn’t have to uphold a reputation of taking on extra responsibilities. It gave me an opportunity to reshape the image I projected to my colleagues and administrators. The move was freeing and it has saved my teaching career.
3. Find an identity outside of teaching.
When I started my teaching career, everything in my life centered around being a teacher. It felt like my only identity, so when I hit bumps in the road, I felt like a failure. To overcome the struggles of being a Yes Teacher, I committed myself to spending time on hobbies and interests that had nothing to do with teaching. Experiencing the successes of my non-teacher interests helped me develop a more positive self-image.
4. Commit to a healthier lifestyle.
Overcoming the Yes Teacher persona improved my overall mental and physical health. Less stress allowed me to treat my body with the respect and love it deserved. I joined a gym and started being more “mentally present” while eating, preventing me from overeating as a result of work-related stress. I no longer view food as something to comfort me, but as something to energize me.
5. Examine future opportunities with a discerning eye.
To combat falling into my old Yes Teacher ways, I carefully examine the extra duties and opportunities that come my way. When something pops up on my radar, I consider whether the opportunity aligns with my core beliefs and philosophy as a teacher. I also take into account the time commitment. If something feels off, I graciously say “no” and enjoy the feeling of making the right choice for me.