Setting limits: Superhero strength needed!

Goodbye August! For teachers, back-to-school month is BRUTAL. On average, I worked 11-12 hour days over the last few weeks to keep up with the fast pace of my classroom, school, and district activities. Being a teacher in August takes superhero strength and endurance. Certainly, I was not alone. This is just what teachers do this time of year.

As I enter my tenth year teaching, my classroom finally runs like clock-work. But the hours before and after school felt like all-out war for survival this year! There were so many papers to read, trainings to attend, and things to do at the beginning of the year. As a teacher-leader, there were even more things to do beyond running my own classroom. I spent a lot of time this year planning trainings, mentoring new teachers, and attending trainings for teacher-leaders. At times, I felt completely overwhelmed and exhausted…especially when my doctoral coursework started again two weeks ago. This three-day weekend finally offers some much-need time for recharging. I know that other teachers feel the same way.

I absolutely love the opportunities to serve as a teacher-leader, train new teachers, and encourage veteran teachers in the field. I think that my contributions can advance the profession, retain quality teachers, and influence student progress. I don’t take that job lightly. My district fairly compensates me for the roles I serve in teacher-leadership, paying a few extra hours to develop and deliver after-school trainings. But there are so many things to do with such a small amount of time! When I design trainings and resources, I want them to be the very best they can be, so I often put in my own time on top of the hours I am paid to work. As all teachers know, there is always something that can be “better” when it comes to instruction. I struggle with limits in my own classroom and as a teacher-leader because I care about what I do. Still, there have to be limits when things are good enough.

This year, my professional leadership goal is to cut down on the many hours I spend working for “free” outside the hours I am allotted to work. Though this statement may seem selfish or greedy, it’s not about my own personal time or my own financial gain. I think that it’s important for all teachers to be more transparent about the amount of time it takes to plan instruction or develop resources. I’ve noticed that there is a whole lot of working for free going on out there in the teaching community. When we do this as teachers and teacher-leaders, we are agreeing to the resources we have: the time and the pay. If teachers need more time to accomplish the great things we do, we need to start talking more about it. We need to protect ourselves and avoid burn-out. We need to set some limits. 

I have struggled with limits my entire teaching career, so I know my leadership goal will not be easy this year. I’ve already had to decline some things that I really wanted to do, and it was painful. But I look forward to the opportunities this year to talk about the resources it takes to be an excellent teacher, an excellent teacher-leader, and an advocate for the field. This year, setting limits is going to take some superhero strength, but exhaustion is one fatal flaw that teachers can’t afford.

What are your professional goals this year? How do you set your own limits as a teacher or teacher-leader?

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