“Let your no mean no.”
Over the years I was proud to have built up my use of the word NO from my understanding of this common phrase. I believed I had to build a protective circle around my schedule. “Are you able to help with Parents Night?” “No, I need to be home to get my kids ready for bed.” “Would you like to teach Sunday School?” “No, my plate is full of teaching at school currently.” “Can you volunteer to coach t-ball? “No, I would like my kids to experience learning from others besides just mom and dad.”
My first years of teaching were overwhelming. Like all new teachers, I was finding my place, my routines, and my voice among the plans, paperwork, student needs, and parent demands. I worked in three different districts in the first four years of my career. I had children and took maternity leave twice. Looking back on my first few years of teaching is the same as the first year of parenting my twins: a blur.
There were so many mandates and requirements that my work schedule was already full during contract hours and the additional hours I allotted myself outside of school. I needed to hold the line on the rest of my time. I needed to develop a better work-life balance. The time I had available was finite. I could not make more hours in the day (nor did I want to because they would be full too!).
Family dinner, a friend’s birthday party, a playdate… Grocery shopping, laundry, dishes… adding anything to my teaching responsibilities meant less time for family and friends, less time for household business, and less time for me. So I said NO to many of the additional work requests and volunteer opportunities that came my way.
Then I started tracking my hours, batching tasks, and planning with my team. I stayed in the same district and grade level for several years. I felt my career responsibilities start to become a lighter load. I felt like I was finally able to take a breath and my pace had gone from running to walking. I felt like my eyes were opened to the shift I needed to make as I entered the next chapter of my career: step up.
My fellow teammates were veterans with 10 to 20 years more experience than me. What were they doing that I wasn’t doing? Volunteering in a leadership capacity. One teammate served as the building representative for our teacher’s union. He had time to connect with all the staff in the building, meet with administration to address contract issues, and coordinate with the executive team.
My other teammate, our grade chair, worked with an educational organization outside of the school to plan, schedule, and implement different enrichment programs, assemblies, and field trips for the entire school. These examples set before me were the catalyst for the shift in my “no” mindset as I was finishing my first decade of teaching.
I wanted to do more. I knew I could do more. Yet, before I could say yes, I knew I had to be selective. My years of saying “no” had shown me that what I said “yes” to had to be a good fit. Where I wanted to add to my schedule had to work for my family, friends, and myself. I was going to be picky to ensure my yes did not upend the balance in my home or school schedule.
What do I feel passionate about?
It is easy to identify what I feel passionate about because I could talk about these topics at length to anyone. I can explain the importance, relate it to the classroom and real world, answer questions, and even make others feel passionate about it as well. This is where I know I should say YES.
STEAM is a current hot topic that may excite you and speak to your interests that may not always fit into the curriculum. You may be inspired by a summer PD book and want to share this excitement beyond just your own classroom. Scheduling and structuring a recess, both indoor and outdoors, to better meet the needs of both students and teachers, could be an area your building needs to focus on. Decreasing math anxiety or helping students become life-long readers is as important as the curriculum.
What skill set do I have to offer?
I love to scrapbook my vacations. Putting together the pictures with receipts, brochures, and stickers has always been therapeutic for me. After being on the Retirement Committee for a few years, I offered to make retiree memory books. I gathered the memories and well wishes from faculty and staff over several weeks and then put them together in memory books. I could batch this task and make several memory books at once. Also, because of my enjoyment of scrapbooking, the memory books did not seem like work at all.
If you have a green thumb and gardening is your summer hobby, it may be time to research the possibility of and funding for a community garden at your school. You may enjoy photography or even have a part-time business taking photos. This skill could be utilized by taking pictures throughout the year or at school events to contribute to the yearbook. Attending or hosting a book club is something you never miss, so you should share this with your colleagues or students.
What project will be different for me?
Teaching works a certain part of my brain. Teaching also consumes a large portion of my thoughts. I want to make sure that I am giving myself opportunities to both differentiate my portfolio and work another part of my brain.
A chance that would allow working with students from a different grade level than I teach. Volunteering with different teachers than I work with on a daily basis. Helping students who feel marginalized in a way I do not experience. Supporting the passions of my students over my personal interest choices.
When I chose to step up and take on extra, my focus in the classroom actually increased. I was able to streamline my attention during my time for planning, prep, or grading because I knew my other time would be put into my new responsibilities. I was motivated to get my classroom work done due to the different tasks I would then get to do within my new leadership position.
Do you have time in your schedule to say yes? Do you find that you have something to offer? Do you bring a different perspective or helpful voice to the table?
We are all still reeling from pandemic teaching. We are still overwhelmed. I see teachers being resistant to volunteering. I see teachers who are shouldering too much. “I can’t quit because no one else will do it if I don’t.” I see how collectively we are hurting our own efforts. “I don’t have enough members at the meeting to even vote on the budget.”
Find the equilibrium in your schedule and stick with that system. Observe veteran teachers and see the needs. Join an existing committee or start a new project. Say no when you need to but seek out chances to give your best yes. Help shoulder the burden. Review each opportunity. Create a space where you can succeed.
As we enter the new school year full of fresh possibilities, let’s take this wisdom from John Maxwell: “Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.”
Shelly S. Budziszewski
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