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How To Say 'No.' As A Teacher & Mean It.

One of the most difficult things I had to learn about teaching was a tiny two-letter word followed by a declarative punctuation mark signifying that I meant what I said and I said what I meant. I worried that if I uttered the word when asked, I would get a target on my back or be labeled as not being a team player. I feared that my evaluations would reflect that I was ineffective because I was not going above and beyond the requirements of my job description. I thought that I would never be asked to do anything again or recommended for opportunities that would further my career path. I hesitated to speak up when I was being guilt tripped to "Do it for the kids." The one word that sparked so much fear in me was a simple "no."

Here's a secret...saying 'no' and having boundaries can make you a more effective educator.

I know, I know, but hear me out. Think of teaching as a balancing act. We are riding a unicycle while spinning full plates on long sticks with a beach ball on our noses, trying our best to keep all of the most important tasks "spinning." As less important tasks are removed from the plates, the overall balancing act that is teaching becomes more manageable. With less non-required tasks, you're better equipped to zoom in on the one plate that you have with the most important tasks. This is the plate that deserves your 'yes' along with time and dedication. This focused approach will benefit you and your students.

So how does one say 'no,' exactly? Consider taking an audit of the tasks you must do in order to do your job effectively each week. Your list may seem pretty short, but remember this is all that you have to do ON TOP OF TEACHING every day. So in reality these are the tasks that are to be done during contracted planning period. They can also be done during your non-contracted hours before or after school. Write the tasks down and put them in to the following categories: Non-negotiables and Negotiables. Beside each task, reflect on or write down WHY this task needs to be done. With each negotiable, consider its' impact on student learning in order to justify how you move forward with your response.

Here is my example...I was asked to lead a professional development for a group of teachers and I did not have the capacity to commit to it. I recognized that an additional ask on my plate was just too much and I politely declined. If you notice that you're asked to do many of the 'extra' tasks in your building, you could use it as an opportunity to lift another teacher up to complete the task. Administration may be unaware of the fact that your new teammate may have shown you a really great way to integrate math and literacy. This is an awesome chance to spread the work, elevate a colleague and learn from each other.

Your example may look like saying no to a practice that you've always done, but you may have not taken time to reflect on why you do it recently. My example is grading. We just got a new curriculum and there are SO many assignments. At first, our team graded every thing. It got even worse during the pandemic. We were able to lighten our workload by establishing the exact assignments we would be grading at the beginning of the quarter. This gave us plenty of wiggle room to really focus on the standards and skills, instead of focusing on having a plethora of grades. We also eliminated required homework. It was too much for us, our scholars, and their families. It could also be bulletin boards. I'm not the most crafty, Pinterest-y teacher so my bulletin boards are used for student work and review games. Bulletin boards may be your JAM and something you enjoy doing each month. Same goes with volunteering for a committee or club. If you enjoy the extra task and it does not take away from your scholars, ENJOY it, my friend. These types of tasks are negotiables to some degree depending on your school. As with all things teaching, you have to find what works for you.

To wrap it up, realize that your 'no' will disappoint some people. You will not please everyone and that's okay. Your no to extra obligations is a big YES to yourself, your mental health and your life OUTSIDE of teaching. Below I have included some phrases you can use to politely say 'no.'

Here are some ways you can politely say no when asked to do something extra at school or before school or after school:

  1. "This sounds like a great opportunity, however, I am unable to fully commit right now."

  2. "Thank you for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I am not able to help with that. Perhaps you could ask ______________."

  3. "I really shouldn't this time, but thank you for the offer."

  4. "Let me check my schedule and get back with you."--> Although this is not a direct no, it is not a direct yes and leaves space for you to respond with yes or no.

  5. "After examining my workload, I cannot take on another task."

  6. "I'm going to pass this time. Perhaps we can collaborate next month."

  7. "This timing is not good for me. Please keep me in mind for next time."

  8. "I don't volunteer for more than two opportunities each year."

  9. "I don't check emails before work, after work, or on the weekends."

  10. "No. I am not able to do that."

Let me know what you're saying NO and YES to next school year. Until next time,

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