The Art of Saying No
Within the world of education, holiday season presents you with something we undervalue far more than we should: Time. Much more time than you ordinarily would ever be accustomed to for several reasons. For teachers, we have grown to embrace the ‘learning to survive’ mentality which allows you to wade through the academic year without losing your mind entirely: surviving the dormant volcano of marking waiting to erupt from your briefcase once opened or the tireless meetings or even just the incessant preparatory things in need of doing for a successful day, personal and professional. Without realising we could juggle, we become juggling professionals but, once again, to ensure survival. But what years of experience has consistently made me re-evaluate are:
How can this mentality possibly be a selling point in the recruitment and retention of new teachers?
How can we maintain professional excellence without sacrificing the entirety of our inner peace and personal lives?
In reality, I cannot say I possess a perfect answer applicable to all of the above questions but one thing I can say is that I’ve realised that we must treat Time with greater reverence and the only way to do that, quite frankly, is to bring that ‘learning to survive’ mindset towards the things that must survive, no matter what, in our daily and weekly schedules. During term time, it is easy to become overwhelmed and feel like you are quickly drowning in an ocean of responsibilities because at the heart of every teacher’s spirit exists the need to take on everything and emerge still swinging. But sometimes, that very same spirit becomes a lead weight around your neck that almost guarantees we lose ourselves and, in the process, the very same reason we chose to enter schools and classrooms to challenge, motivate and inspire the students we teach. Sometimes saying ‘no’ is an act of kindness that may not be fully appreciated until much later. An act of kindness towards yourself and, more importantly, towards those who expect your commitment and your absolute best which may not always be possible.
With another academic year looming on the horizon, many will be going back into schools at different points. Some in their NQT year, some in their 4th or 5th years and others closer to double-digit years of service. And especially when the world has seen seismic changes and instability rock it to its core since the end of 2019 even up till now, guarding your time to ensure you when you give it, it’s not only received but FELT is incredibly important. There are practical things that have helped me over the years that I can divulge but, again, this may not work for everyone:
To protect your peace, you must cherish it without fear of offence. No-one enjoys being told ‘No’ or hearing ‘No’ but be transparent about your availability and, equally, your lack of it. If anyone takes it the wrong way, it says more about them than you.
Let your hobbies be a featured part of your week, not an inconvenient addition. If you revel in what you enjoy then you re-energise yourself to tackle work with a warrior spirit rather than with a ‘learning to survive’ approach because you won’t simply be relying on reserves.
Your loved ones and your home should be a sanctum, not an extra office. Only let your home be a place for a top-up on work when necessary, not a regular library where you lose yourself in marking, planning and data. It is normally never that urgent. Let your loved ones know you are present in mind and body.
Keep a diary, re-visit it, grant yourself check-points and rewards for hitting those but also evaluate why some may not have been achieved and be lenient with yourself when necessary. Self-discipline is vital.
These four things consistently serve as reminders to me that although I identify as a teacher, my entire life and identity goes far beyond that and to build well-rounded individuals, we ourselves must be able to display to students how to manage our time but also that we value our time. It is the most sure-fire way to plant the seed within them that not only is time precious, but it is also important to say no to the things that means we use it unproductively.