Teacher friends- get ready for a bold opinion. If we want to have a happier teacher life, we need to say NO (politely) a lot more often. For most of my 23 year career, I was under the impression that teachers are martyrs and that we had to work almost all the time. A lot of things starting piling up. The pandemic, my own children getting older (and that saying- bigger kids, bigger problems), and the ever-growing list of things added to our day. Over the years, the exhilaration and joy of coming to work was being lost!
To be honest, I worry about the future of our profession. We see both experienced and newer teachers leaving the profession in droves. Educators feel undervalued, overworked, underpaid and not respected. How can we attract and keep the kind of people our children need in their classrooms?
There is much that is out of our control, but there may be more than you think within your control.
Don’t Say Yes To Everything: Say No Politely
Teachers receive a salary to work their contracted hours, and there is some expectation of work beyond the school day. If you are experiencing burnout or exhaustion, really think about NOT agreeing to take on anything new or extra. For example: data committee, curriculum writing, tutoring homebound students, after school clubs or programs, school improvement committee, school cheer committee, coaching, online learning assignments, etc are just SOME of the different things teachers are asked to do. To be fair- many of these in my district come with a stipend or take place during the school day.
But remember: if you agree to be on a committee during the school day, it means you need to make sub plans and deal with what happened while you were gone. If you agree to tutor after school, that’s another hour that you are “on” and making those more than 1500 decisions a day that teachers make.
I’m not saying to never volunteer. I am saying that it’s ok to say no politely. That can be sometimes or every time. No teacher should feel obligated, even when compensated, to do more work than they signed on to do. And we so often do! It’s time to let go of that feeling and prioritize. Being tired, stressed and burned out does NOT help our students.
Keep Some Data Of Your Own
In a time when teachers have become statisticians with all the data we collect, track and analyze, here’s another way to use this skill! Start tracking the things that you’re doing that feel “extra”. You know, the things that no specific time is given for during our school day, like reading 50 emails per day, responding to them, filling out report forms for PPT meetings, classroom set up before school starts, writing college recommendations…. the list is endless.
When you write something down, start tracking how much time it takes you. It may surprise you to see that 1/4 of your planning period was spent walking a test down to an accommodation room and explaining to the supervisor what you need your student to do.
Then, if you have an administrator who is open to ideas, schedule a meeting. Show this person what you spend your time doing. Explain that when you spend 20 minutes filling out a survey, you have 20 minutes less to plan a great, engaging lesson. Perhaps the result is the same lesson you did last year that wasn’t as good as it could have been. Maybe you students end up waiting several more days to get their feedback on their last test. Maybe seeing this kind of thing in “data format” might spark a real change. Remember: our administrators are also very busy. It’s easy for them to get caught up in their day-to-day work. I imagine it can be easy to forget or become completely out of touch with what daily life looks like for classroom teachers.
Find Your Voice
Many teachers are such naturally nice and helpful people! They don’t enjoy rocking the boat or making other people feel uncomfortable. Some are afraid of retaliation or not getting tenure. It’s hard for them to say “no” politely.
You don’t have to be aggressive to be heard. If you don’t feel that your administrator will really hear you, here are some suggestions:
-find a group of people you trust to work with on this issue. Help strategize how to take things off teachers’ plates and to stay accountable for saying no and not letting guilt get the best of you!
-save a list of things to give to your local teacher’s union when the next contract negotiation comes up. Our local was able to negotiate a data entry time for teachers every week!
-become a member of your local union’s executive board! Learn how it works and how teachers can advocate for better situations for our students by creating better situations for their teachers!
Specific Ways To Say No Politely
To wrap up, here are some very specific ways you can say no, politely!
- Thank you for thinking of me, but right now I’m focusing on _____.
- Wow- that sounds like a great opportunity! Can you keep me in mind for next time?
- That’s a great idea. Right now I don’t have the time that I would like to dedicate to that.
- I’m flattered to be asked. But I need to concentrate on ___.
- This is really important work. I’m interested in the future, but now is not the right time for me.
All of these statements validate the important work that we do but allow you to say no without looking lazy, uninterested, not a team player, etc.
Choose the “extras” in your professional life very carefully! It will help so much with your work-life balance!
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Remember: We don’t have to do everything ourselves! Treat yourself once in a while to a no-prep, FUN activity!