Setting boundaries in our lives is absolutely crucial, but it’s typically not something we think about until we’re totally exhausted and overwhelmed. And contrary to the belief that setting boundaries is restricting, knowing how to set boundaries as a teacher before you leave the classroom is actually one of the most important steps for you.
The truth is, you need to make sure you are setting appropriate boundaries around your classroom teaching in order to make space for working on your side hustle, thinking about your exit strategy, or learning new skills for a career outside the classroom.
So putting certain safeguards in place to protect our time, preserve our mental health, and shield our hearts is pivotal. That’s why this episode is about how to set boundaries as a teacher that will set you up for success if and when you choose to leave the classroom!
How to Set Boundaries as a Teacher & be successful
Work only during contracted hours
The belief that teachers should work 24/7 is a huge problem because it has permeated the world of education. There’s an unspoken expectation that teachers will be available and accessible at all times to parents, students, and admin.
But I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to fall victim to this faulty narrative.
You have a choice to set up strict boundaries around your profession, your family, and your life. You get to choose what you do allow and don’t allow into your life contrary to the opinions of others.
One of the best ways to do this is by working only during contract hours. Now, it’s imperative that you know when your contract hours begin and end each day in order to do this.
Choose a specific time you will leave school each day and make that your priority. If you don’t have a certain leaving time, you’ll find yourself in an unhealthy habit of staying way too long…and if I were to take a guess, this is probably where you find yourself as you’re listening to this episode.
Remember, there will always be more work to do than you can possibly get done in a given day, but never having a deadline makes accomplishing those tasks harder.
Knowing you need to leave by 3:30 or 4:00 gives you an incentive to stay focused during the time you’re at school. Set an alarm on your phone and allow that alarm to remind you why you set this boundary.
As one ingenious teacher shared, she set her school alarm to sound like a phone call. This allowed her to exit a conversation or situation easily and stick to her predetermined boundary!
My last year in the classroom, I did this and I was amazed at how much more work I got done each day simply by knowing I HAD to leave at 3:30 pm!
Obviously, there are exceptions that have to be considered including faculty meetings, parent teacher conferences, etc. But the key is remembering these are the exceptions, not the rule.
One additional (and vitally important) step to this boundary is making sure that work tasks are left at work to be completed during your contracted hours. In other words, don’t leave school with a bag full of work you will have to complete at home because this defeats the entire purpose of leaving work at your designated time.
If you know you must work late, choose one specific day of the week and plan to stay an extra two hours (or however long is absolutely necessary) at school on that day ONLY!
Trust me when I tell you this is life-changing and truly life-giving. You will NEVER regret making this a boundary in your life!!
But you must be willing to actually set the alarm and leave. It will be really difficult at first, but you will find that your attention and ability to get things accomplished during your contract hours will increase dramatically once you get into the groove.
Set up email autoresponders
An email autoresponder is an automatic reply that’s sent to anyone who sends you an email when you are unavailable. And the best part is you can create a completely customized message with whatever information you choose to include like…
- office hours or availability
- when the sender can expect a response from you (typically within 24 hours)
This teaches parents, students, & admin that you are NOT always available and to respect your time. But most importantly, it helps you strengthen the boundary you already established for keeping work at work.
Because setting up an email autoresponder is a little different for each email service provider, I’ve included links to tutorials on some of the most popular email service providers.
Simply click the links below to access the tutorials!
The last important piece of setting this particular boundary is deciding when you will check your school/work email. Obviously, you need to check it during working hours, but predetermine specific times of the day (i.e., 8 am, 12 pm, 3 pm) to check it so you don’t waste valuable work time checking email.
Then once you’re ready to leave for the day, make sure your autoresponder is running, close your email, and don’t check it until the next morning.
Another important part of this particular boundary regarding email is to remove any app or shortcut you have to your work email on your phone or home computer. This will require you to go through the login process each time you want to check it and this act alone will deter you from checking it outside of contract hours.
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Determine what you are willing to do ahead of time
As teachers we are expected to do soooooo many things that are outside of our job requirements. And although you have the choice as to whether you will do them or not, sometimes it feels like our hands are tied. In fact, we fear losing our jobs if we don’t do all the things.
To remedy this, keep a copy of your teacher contract so you can see exactly what the requirements of your job are and how to meet these requirements more efficiently. Make sure you’re doing everything included in your contract as well as you can so that you will feel more comfortable saying no to things that are not required.
There are so many volunteer (and even additional paid) opportunities that fall outside of your contract requirements. Yes, you can choose to be involved in any and all of these activities you want. But remember, you do NOT have to volunteer for every committee or be the one everyone turns to for specific things.
In fact, you don’t have to do any of them.
You have the ability to say no and if you know you are going to say no to something, it’s better for everyone involved if you learn to say no sooner rather than later; take it from someone who’s learned the hard way.
If you’re a people-pleaser, this is going to be really difficult for you. But that’s why I say make the decision BEFORE you’re put into a situation where you might say yes out of guilt.
Determine how many hours you are willing and able to give to any other activities outside of your required job. Then make a note to yourself about why you are choosing to stick to this number of activities.
- need to use the time to start your TpT shop
- want to start a blog
- need to finally make a decision about whether or not to leave the classroom
- want to learn some new skills so you can be a virtual assistant
Regardless of the reason, determine ahead of time how much time you can devote to “school” stuff outside of your contracted hours, write that amount of time down, and then write why you are going to stick with this.
Audit your social media
This one may seem totally outside the box since we’ve been talking about how to set boundaries as a teacher, but this one goes hand in hand with the others.
Social media can be a wonderful way to communicate and connect with people, encourage others, and be encouraged. But social media also brings with it a wealth of negativity and lots of imposter syndrome opportunities.
As a teacher who wants to leave the classroom, it’s super-important that you use your time wisely as you embark on starting or growing your side hustle. You still only have 24 hours in a day which means you’re going to have to be diligent in your use of social media.
So, how do you audit your social media?
Well, the first thing I did was unfollow people on FB…lots of people.
Yup, I sure did!
I know, I know. It might make you feel bad to even think about unfollowing people, but I promise it’s a game-changer. Here’s what happened.
Every time I went to send someone a message on Facebook, I was getting sucked into the rabbit hole of drama in everyone’s lives which got me completely distracted and usually stressed.
Then I’d look up only to realize that an hour had passed and I’d completely forgotten to send the message that lured me to FB in the first place.
So, after one disturbingly long morning wasting my life on Facebook, I made the decision to unfollow EVERYONE except a very specific few people.
And I’ve NEVER felt better about a social media decision in my life!!!
Just so you know, unfollowing people and unfriending them on FB are not the same thing. When you unfollow, it just means you won’t see anything they post in your feed. You can still see everything they post by going to their FB account…it just doesn’t show up in your feed.
If you think this might be a good decision for you, but you don’t want to unfollow everyone, ask yourself these questions…
- How do I feel when I see a post by this person? Do I feel encouraged, stressed, angry, happy, etc.?
- Does following this person add value to my life, health, business, career, etc.?
- Would I feel differently if I quit following this person or would I not even notice?
- Does this person’s posts make me feel less valuable as a person, teacher, mom, etc? Am I always comparing myself to this individual and never measuring up?
If after reviewing these questions, you notice ANY negative feelings toward a particular account or person, unfollow them TODAY!
Then take a few minutes to research accounts that align with where you are in life. For example, I’d love for you to join me on Instagram @classroom_exit_strategies where I share tips, suggestions, encouragement, (and funny reels) designed to help you leave the classroom on your terms.
There is so much negativity in our world and we want to make sure that we surround ourselves with people who encourage us, build us up, and help us see the value we add to the world. So set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with positivity on social media.
Create and maintain your boundary systems
I know this seems odd when learning how to set boundaries as a teacher, but if you don’t ever create the systems and maintain the systems, you will not be successful. Without a doubt setting healthy, manageable boundaries is pivotal whether you plan to stay in the classroom 5 more days or 25 more years.
The difference between success and failure when it comes to learning how to set boundaries as a teacher and ultimately your career outside the classroom, is simply taking control and doing it! Think about it…
1. You want to leave school at a specific time –> so you’ve created an alarm to remind you when it’s time to leave school.
2. You want parents, students, and admin to respect your quitting time –> so you’ve set up an automated email letting others know that you will respond within 24 hours.
3. You want to be encouraged when you are on social media –> so you’ve unfollowed people that aren’t breathing life into you.
You’ve created a system for each boundary, but now it’s time to actually stick with it!! And I know how hard it can be to retrain your mind in this way, but I promise it will be so worth it.
Remember, the point of learning how to set boundaries as a teacher isn’t to feel confined by them. You’re completely welcome (and encouraged) to change or adjust them as you see fit.
The important thing is that you have chosen to take control of your life and no longer let others dictate your choices. You’ve drawn a line in the sand and said, “This is what I need to do for me and my family.”
And, friend, you should feel completely empowered by that.