In my first year of teaching, I decided I would only stay at school until 6 pm, and I wouldn’t take work home. I had watched many of my friends in their first year of teaching who worked 16 hour days and I decided that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. Perhaps their classes were better than mine, however I thought that if I took longer to become a better teacher, I was ok with that. They say it takes the average teacher 5 years to establish their classroom management style. I think it took me 8 years. I was ok with that too. When we know our priorities and our goals, it is easier to establish boundaries. If it falls within our priorities and goals, we do it – if not, we don’t.
- Time – As a teacher, our work is never done. It’s important to establish a boundary with ourselves about how much time we will give to our job and to stay within that boundary. I would suggest 8 hours a day is reasonable.
- Energy – Energy is not as easy to measure as time, and it is partly a measure of how much we know ourselves. We cannot give all of our energy to teaching as we need some for ourselves, our family, friends, volunteer work, etc. As we know ourselves better, we can know when we are putting too much energy into work. It does not have to be perfect. It can simply be excellent.
- Money – It has been said that teaching is the only profession where people steal from home to take it to work. We often spend money on our classrooms that is not reimbursed and I think that is fairly common among teachers. We need to make sure we are not taking from ourselves and our family to provide for our students. Giving out of excess is ok – when you feel resentful about what you’ve given, your know you’ve crossed over your own boundary.
- Thoughts – This is often overlooked in discussions about boundaries. We need to set boundaries on our thoughts. When we realize we have been thinking negative thoughts and allowing them to go over and over in our minds, it is time for a boundary e.g. This student never listens to me or I will never be a good enough teacher. We can set a boundary that says whenever we realize we have been thinking negative thoughts, we can replace them with more positive thoughts, e.g. I can try many more strategies to help the student listen and it will work out or I am growing as a teacher.
- Health – Eating well, getting enough sleep, managing our anxiety are all examples of boundaries we set with ourselves to help us be healthy. As teachers, when we are not healthy, it is not only us but also our students who are affected. Our students learn as much, if not more by our example than anything else we teach.