How (and why) teachers should start saying 'no'

Teachers have a lot to do. There’s always some background buzz going on between the “oh you get out at three and have summers off” haters and the “we work hundreds of hours a week and we hate you for implying we don’t work hard” crowds.
Like most things in life, the truth is hanging out somewhere in the middle. Sure, there are perks of teaching – like not being shackled to a 9-5 cubicle and getting what is probably more time “off” than traditional office workers in the summer, and it has it’s drawbacks too – like finding yourself grading papers until 1am or stuck after school till 6 helping students who are having trouble with a concept.
But we aren’t here to talk about just *how* hard teachers work. We’re talking about how saying no can help you be a better, more productive educator and human being.

You MUST Lean In. Now. Hurry!

We’ve been culturally wired to always want to do more, have more, be more. The Joneses need keeping up with. We can never be the slowest, last, least productive, etc. Sheryl Sandberg tells us to lean in. We do. We must be the best teacher, the favorite teacher, a great athlete, an awesome mom/dad/family member who can throw an amazingly designed, perfect party, and have a vibrant social life.

Actually, No. Let’s Prioritize.

Well, here’s the truth: Doing everything, having everything, and being everything sucks. It may mean you work crazy long hours. It may mean you rarely see your family, and when you do it certainly isn’t quality time. It may mean you lose any spare time to do things you truly love doing. Those of us who are mere mortals need to prioritize.
How? In a world where everything is important-top-priority? It sucks, but you have to pick. The Guardian recently published an article about a teacher who chose demotion in favor spending more time with their family. Having to choose between taking steps back in your career vs. family time seems to be the prominent decision happening, but the concept applies to every area of life.

Identify your top 5 priorities.

Say no to everything else.

This might mean you have to say no to something you’d really like to do. You might go to work, do all the outside-of-work work stuff that stinks but is necessary for teachers, make food for your family, clean your house and exercise casually, instead of working, coaching sports after school, being on committees at work, church, and your family’s social organizations, taking cooking classes, learning a new language, having a girls/guys night every week and training for marathons.
This may sound a lot like “just” getting through your days. It is. Getting through your days is a great thing.

Key Questions To Ask Yourself

If you’re having trouble figuring out what items need to be on the top 5 list, you can ask yourself some questions:

  • Does this task really NEED to be done? We often do superfluous things because we think they should be done, but they aren’t really needs.
  • Must I be the one to do it, or can the task be completed by someone else, or a group? Learning to hand off tasks, delegate, trust others, or work with others can both save time and improve the quality of certain items on our to-do lists.
  • Must it be ‘perfect’ or will ‘done’ be enough? This sounds really slacker-like, but really: do you have to make the seven part, twelve layer cake for that birthday party, or will a simple but delicious chocolate cake do? It’s fine to spend your time on things you’re interested in and love, but not everyone can be an expert at and interested in everything.
  • Does it have to be done now? If not, put it on tomorrow’s list, or another day altogether. Or, make a ‘later’ list. Stuff that you’ll do when you have a few minutes later on in the day. Despite what we’re so often told, not everything is urgent.

How (and why) teachers should start saying no

Stop Reacting

Reacting takes time away from our must-do tasks. It is a distractor of massive proportion. Dare I say THE distractor. Let’s envision a scenario:
You sit down at your desk before classes start in the morning with the intention of sending a couple of quick emails. Instead of just sending the emails, you start to read through everything you’ve received since you last checked: requests from administrators, questions from students, a rant from an angry parent. Angry parent’s email makes you prickly; you follow up with them, administrators, and colleagues. Discussions ensue. You never send the ‘quick emails’ you had intended, class starts, and you’re shuffling around for the materials you need because you lost your prep time.
teachers saying no

Okay, So What’s The Key Takeaway?

Do what you need to do, save the other stuff for later. The discussions will still happen, the stuff will still get done, and unless you’re a first responder, a doctor, and maybe a couple of other things, no one is going to die in the process of waiting for you.

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