Why is it so hard for teachers to maintain boundaries?

For many teachers, boundaries are an ideal, a pipe dream. Something they know they ought to have but just can’t seem to put in place and keep in place.

Maybe this is the same for you. You know teaching shouldn’t take over your life, but it has, whether you meant it to or not.

What is a boundary?

A boundary is:

A mental barrier that says, “I’ve thought about school enough today”.

An emotional fence that says, “I love my job but I care for my own wellbeing too.”

A physical timeout that says, “I’ve worked really hard today and deserve time outside of teaching.”

A boundary empowers you to put a ring fence around teaching. It empowers you to value teaching but keep it at arm’s length when you need time away from it. It empowers you to take a breather from your teacher mask and hang it up at the end of the day.

colourful fence with fence posts made from pencils
Photo by Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernández on Unsplash

Why is it difficult to maintain boundaries in teaching?

  1. School culture often demands 120% of you

Let’s face it, the education sector is in such disarray that it relies on the goodwill and generosity of teachers to keep it propped up. The list of responsibilities on the shoulders of teachers continues to grow as they are expected to not only be teachers but also surrogate parents, social workers and mental health care providers.

However, there are ways that you can reduce your input (workload) without affecting your output (student progress). This may include whole class marking, recycling previously used resources or sharing lesson planning responsibilities with colleagues. There will be ways for you to cut corners without impacting your results.

2. Teaching as a vocation does not encourage boundaries

The word vocation has a lot to answer for when it comes to teacher wellbeing. Yes, it is a valuable and fulfilling role and something that you may want to dedicate your time and energy to. However, without boundaries, you can become overworked, overwhelmed and lose your love for teaching.

Vocation also implies that teaching can seep into all areas of your life. If you find yourself thinking about teaching in the shower, talking only about teaching and feeling guilty when not doing your work, your boundaries may need addressing.

woman with hands over her face behind some sunflowers
Photo by Fin MacBrayne on Unsplash

3. Teacher guilt is too strong

Teacher guilt is that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you feel like there is something you ought to be doing when you are away from school. The feeling is so uncomfortable that it feels better to return to the to-do list rather than take the time out from school that you need and deserve.

This feeling is most acute when you call in sick and still need to provide cover. You imagine your colleagues’ resentment and judgement and worry that the children will not cope without you. This overrides the knowledge that really, it is best for all if you stay at home and get better.

It is clear that there are many challenges that lie in the way for you when you are seeking to put boundaries into place. Often, it can feel lonely and different to how you may perceive your colleagues’ behaviour.

Yet, with Education Support reporting 82% of teachers describing themselves as stressed, now really is the time to begin building in those boundaries to protect your wellbeing and promote a happier and healthier lifestyle. If you would like help with this, reach out and let’s chat.

Gemma Drinkall helps women in education to create clear boundaries so that they can love teaching again. Receive your free 6 Tips To Overcome Overwhelm resource here: subscribepage.com/overcome-teacher-overwhelm

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Gemma Drinkall

Gemma Drinkall

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Helping teachers to create clear boundaries and love their job again.