Candle boundaries

Teachers are very prone to burnout.

They have to be good at putting up boundaries.

Emotional boundaries between them and their students so that they can get some sleep at night.

Physical contact boundaries with children for child safety reasons, and to send a clear message that they are the teacher and not a parent or a friend.

Time and working hours boundaries to maintain their sanity.

And topic professional boundaries with their co-workers in order to follow the code of conduct and to remain respectful.

It’s a very delicate balance. And this last one, in some workplaces, can be the trickiest of all.

Here’s how I manage it.

1. I ask myself “would I be comfortable saying this to their face?”

If I find myself in a conversation about a fellow teacher, I ask myself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If the answer to any of these questions is no, I walk away or change the subject.

I try to always give people the benefit of the doubt, to see things from their perspective, and to understand that each of us has our strengths and weaknesses, and that variety is the spice of life.

I don’t spread unverified slander, I don’t pass on information that will only make things worse, and I don’t buy into the notion that people “have a right to know” every little thing that is said about them.

If I personally have a problem with someone, I either deal with it directly or I move on.

2. I know the difference between debriefing and putting together a plan for change (and who to involve in these discussions).

If I find myself riled up about something that happened at work, I talk about it with my husband or my bestie or my Mum. I try to let it out in my personal sphere and not my professional one. If all I want is for someone to listen, I go to my family.

If, on the other hand, someone or something at school needs to be fixed, I talk it over with my colleagues. Not to whinge or to moan, but to devise a plan of attack. To change the situation and not to dwell in it.

And then I action the plan as soon as possible.

3. I don’t let people use me as a doormat.

If a colleague wants to debrief with me, I acknowledge their frustration, their disappointment, their stress. But I don’t play the “blame everyone but myself, woe is me” game.

If all they want is a sounding board, I make all the right sounds and nod and pat them on the shoulder. While at the same time going about my work.

If they ask for advice, I guide them with some strategies that they may like to try in order to avoid the same issues on repeat.

But if they accept no responsibility for their own actions, trying instead to blame the kids in their class, their teaching partner and their supervisor, I’m out. I refuse to be someone’s doormat, or the receptacle for all of their woes.

4. I carefully curate my social media interactions.

I distance myself from all things unproductive. I step away from pettiness and gossip and white-anting.

If a post comes up on my Facebook feed that is full of hate, I unsubscribe.

If an acquaintance uses their account to vent about their career unhappiness, I unfollow.

I broadcast my passion and my pride and my gratitude for my job.

Don’t get me wrong… not every day is sunshine and lollipops. If I am ever dissatisfied about an aspect of the status quo of education, I speak my mind. But I generalise and I postulate, always protecting the anonymity and the rights of my fellow candles.

5. I dress for the job I want

As I have leadership aspirations, I pretend that I’m already in the job. I choose an inspiring leader and, in any given situation, ask myself “what would that person do?”

I remember that I am a role model, a mentor, an experienced educator. I sit firmly in my values, my standards and my integrity.

And if I slip up and act in a way that makes me feel guilty or ashamed, I admit my mistake and I apologise. I forgive myself because we all falter from time to time.

But then I get right back up on my high horse! 😉

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