I saw a tweet that I can’t stop thinking about. It was an important reminder to teachers that we are not, in fact, convenience stores, and we should not be available 24/7. It was also a plea for us to set boundaries as a kindness to ourselves. We need more of that—permission to log off, to work our contracted hours, to go home and unwind. That might mean frustrating others (admin, families, students), but if we’re going to make it through this incredibly difficult season of teaching, we have to protect our own time.
Set your hours
This process begins by setting a hard line on when you’re going to work. For many teachers, that’s the contracted day, something like 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Anything that falls outside of that time has to wait for the next workday. You need to be clear with parents and students about when they can contact you within that timeframe. When you’re with students (whether in person or virtually), you don’t answer. It is completely reasonable for you to set the expectation that all communications will receive a response within 24 hours.
Avoid the temptation
To give yourself a fighting chance, you’re going to set some limits for yourself. For some of us, that means leaving our laptops at school. Others may decide not to put work-related apps on their personal devices. The greatest gift I ever gave myself as a teacher was leaving my work email off my phone. It’s always a good idea to set an away message for students and families, so they get an automatic response if they contact you outside of your hours and a gentle reminder that you’ll address their concern tomorrow or Monday.
You are not the corner store, the Circle K or a 7-Eleven. You are not open 24 hours a day. Put up boundaries & stop answering emails, calls & texts after a certain time. Protect your time, your spirit & your brain power. You can do it!
Love & respect yourself!
— Dr. Desiree Alexander of Educator Alexander (@educatoralex) October 20, 2020
Make exceptions only when absolutely necessary
We all understand that these are not normal times. Everyone is under a great deal of stress, and there will always be situations with extenuating circumstances. We can schedule an evening call with a struggling parent whose work schedule won’t allow a daytime conversation. We can respond to a late-night text from a student on the verge of a meltdown over an assignment. There’s absolutely room for that. But those are exceptions, not the rule.
Support your colleagues
It’s really hard when some of us are trying to set boundaries, and not everyone is on board. Saying no to constant availability is certainly more effective if everyone in the school community establishes and honors office hours. That way, you can avoid “Well, Mrs. So-and-so answers my emails at night, so why can’t you?” problems. We know we’re getting compared already—let’s not give anyone another reason to do so.
Take care of yourself
Above all else, limiting your availability is for your benefit. It is a line of defense against burnout. It’s not easy. We’re teachers—it’s in our nature to want to help others. And I know, you have so much to do. But we can’t pour from an empty vessel. Allowing yourself to leave work at work is necessary if you’re going to be the teacher your kids need in the morning. And it’s very likely what you need to make it through the rest of this school year and beyond.
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