How Saying NO Will Make You a Better, Happier Teacher

Do you often feel like you have TOO much going on in your life? That you’re constantly on the go? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max?

Teaching is a crazy, time-consuming job in itself. And many of us have lots of other responsibilities at home—as well as things that we want to do for fun and to stay healthy!

It’s difficult to balance it all. Honestly, I feel out-of-balance more often than not.

But I’m working to correct that. And one thing that’s helped me is to learn to say NO!

What I mean is this: I’m learning to think more carefully about whether an opportunity or activity is aligned with my goals—for myself, for my family, and for my students. If it’s not, then I turn it down or eliminate it.

When you say NO to something, that means that you’re saying YES to something else. For example, if you say NO to an after-school responsibility, you might be saying YES to more time for your own kids, time to exercise, or even just time to relax!!

In theory, this sounds pretty easy. But in practice, it’s not that simple. In today’s post, I’m going to take you through a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Photo Credits:  vgstudio, Shutterstock

Step 1: Make a list of everything you’re involved in and responsible for.

Okay, I know, this can seem like a giant task in itself. 😱 But keep it relatively simple. Here’s my current list:

  • Reading specialist job (part-time)
  • Running an early literacy preschool program (once/week)
  • Learning At The Primary Pond (blog, TpT store, etc.)
  • Book club
  • Women’s social club (I’m the organizer)
  • Taking care of the house
  • Taking care of our cats
  • Food prep

Step 2: Take a sheet of paper and create “webs of responsibilities.”

Draw small circles or bubbles on your paper (1 for each item on your list from Step #1). It’ll look something like this:

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Next, create a little “web of responsibilities” for each item. For example, for my reading specialist job, I’m responsible for lesson planning, finding materials if I don’t have them, prepping materials, assessing students, and communicating with staff/parents.

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

Do you often feel like you just have TOO much going on in your life? Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed or stressed to the max? This post has a step-by-step process to help you simplify your life and make you a better, happier teacher!

You can get as general or as detailed as you like.

Step 3: Analyze your webs.

Once you finish your webs, take a step back.

THAT’S A LOT OF STUFF YOU’VE GOT GOING ON THERE!!!!!!!!

It’s no wonder we’re all so stressed out—we have a LOT to handle! All of that takes up time and mental space.

So now it’s time to step back. Turn your paper over, and on the back, jot some notes about things that you really value. For example, here are mine:

  • Time with family & friends
  • Helping my students become successful readers
  • Supporting other teachers
  • Being healthy and active
  • Free time

After you’re done with that, look back at your web. Are there any responsibilities you have that don’t align with what you value? If so, think about how you might eliminate them. Could you get help from someone else? Could you just QUIT doing them entirely? Could you cut back on the amount of time you spend on them?

Sometimes, though, your responsibilities seem like they DO align with your values. However, if you’re doing too much and constantly feeling stressed, then something’s got to give—even if it’s something that seems important at first glance.

Is there anything you can start saying “no” to? Here are my own examples:

Things I say “no” to at school:

  • Extracurricular / other responsibilities that are outside of my regular work hours (I still spend more time than I’m paid for at school, but only when it’s something that’s directly related to my students’ success)
  • Seasonal bulletin boards (this is more from when I was still in the classroom, because I don’t have any bulletin boards as a reading specialist—but what I did was create bulletin boards that last all year long and are simple to change out, and you can read about how to do that HERE)
  • Teaching activities that take a ton of time to prep, but that aren’t reusable or that students finish very quickly (trust me, I spend plenty of time prepping, but I very rarely spend hours on something that the kids will do once for 20 minutes!)

Things that I say “no” to at home:

  • Being responsible for all the housework and cooking (when I was first married, I took on too much, but now hubby definitely does his share and sometimes more!)
  • Making homemade food for our book club brunches. Everyone loves the store-bought stuff just as much!
  • Running frequent errands (I use Amazon Prime and a Prime subscription box that brings us things we use consistently each month!)

Sometimes we feel like we HAVE to do something, but in reality, it’s an internal expectation that we impose on ourselves rather than something that others truly expect of us. Do you HAVE to do a super cute and Pinteresty “thank you” gift for your room parents? No, you don’t—unless that brings you a lot of joy AND you happen to have time for it. (A heartfelt thank-you note takes less time and is just as meaningful.)

This feeling that we HAVE to do something is super relevant to planning lessons and activities for our students. Through the internet, we have access to so many different ideas and options. But that doesn’t mean we can or should do them all.

As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of activities that require tons and tons of prep and then students finish them in 15 minutes. If I’m going to invest a lot of time and effort, I want to create something that will last a while, or that I can at least re-use.

I want my students to learn and have fun, but I can make that happen with even the most mundane lessons. My students love having choices, developing relationships with me and their peers, and becoming competent with what they’re working on. I can accomplish all that without always having the most outrageous, over-the-top lessons and activities.

Now, I’m not saying that you should eliminate EVERYTHING in your life that’s not necessary for survival. Sometimes those “unnecessary” things are what make teaching (and life) fun, and sometimes you want to go the extra mile to show love for others!

All I’m saying is this—you have more control over your time than you might think. If you choose your activities wisely and align them with your values, you’ll likely be happier and less stressed.

Step 4: Do it! Say NO!

By now, hopefully you’ve identified at least a couple of things that you can say NO to. But I think that’s the easy part; the hard part is actually doing it and following through, especially if you’re saying NO to someone else.

My friend April likes to say, “No is a complete sentence.” (She’s much better at saying “no” than I am. Maybe someday I’ll get to her level. ;-)) Anyway, what she means by that is that you DON’T have to explain yourself or justify yourself when saying “no.”

If someone asks you to do something and you want to decline, try saying, “I’m not able to do that,” or “Sorry, but I’m not able to help.”

If you’re an “impulse yes-person,” then you can also ask for some time to think about it. And then say “no” later. 😛

What are you going to say NO to?

I hope that this post and process help you make some decisions about how to simplify your life a little.

It can be really hard to say NO, especially if you’re someone (like me) who enjoys making other people happy. If it helps, think about it this way: when you’re happier and less stressed, everyone around you benefits—your students, your family, your friends.

So what are you going to say NO to this year? I’d love it if you’d share in the comments. Happy teaching!!

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