Learn how (and when) to say no
Leah Marone, a North Carolina-based psychotherapist, was recently counseling an educator on the verge of burnout. In addition to caring for the students in her classroom, the educator also was mentoring a group of first-year teachers, many of whom frequently needed her attention.
“She told me, ‘oh, they just come in whenever they need something, and a lot of times I’m eating my lunch or I’m teaching or I’m doing something else, and I have to stop and help them,’” Marone says. “‘And these are issues I’ve already emailed them about or walked them through.’ She was frustrated. I said, “okay, so, you can’t just be a revolving door. The frustration and building resentment you’re experiencing are good indicators that you have some work to do and boundaries to set.’”
Many educators, Marone says, derive deep emotional satisfaction from helping others. This also means they have a tough time saying no—even when they’re failing to balance work and home life.
“On top of being an educator, there are so many roles they are asked to play,” Marone says. “‘Hey, do you want to coach? Can you be on this board? Can you run this committee? Teachers want to help. They want to be part of it. But in reality, they need the ability to say, ‘I am not able to commit to that right now. It’s not because I don’t care. It’s that I have other roles or obligations that are really going to feel the impact if I pull myself too thin.”
Choose extra assignments and responsibilities judiciously. In addition, put reasonable limits on when you’re available to students and parents. “I struggle with knowing my limitations, because as teachers, the one thing that is difficult for us to say is ‘no’—especially with regards to helping children,” says Kurt Russell, a high school history teacher in Ohio and the 2022 National Teacher of the Year. “But I have to make sure, in order for me not to burn out, to be able to say ‘no,’ and to make sure that it’s okay to say it. A lot of times when we say ‘no,’ it seems as though we are going against kids. But that’s not the case at all.”
Support others who need help—but don’t try to solve their problems for them. Marone says the latter can create unhealthy pressure on educators, and also sabotage learning opportunities for students. “Educators want to help, they want to fix, simply because they have high levels of empathy,” she says. “My workshops and sessions focus on how to adopt a supporting role rather than a solving role. It requires empathy and prevents us from taking false ownership, compassion fatigue, and resentment. Effectively listening, asking questions, and creating a space for others to process provides an opportunity for them to practice problem solving skills and gain confidence."