Four post-it notes have been a constant presence in my home office since August. They’re stuck to the bottom of my Fellowship of the Ring movie poster, right above my computer monitor so they’re in my field of view whenever I’m working. Each post-it has an almost indecipherable list of acronyms: WPHS, TUEA, AMTA, AZSOC, SfS, StP, NBCT, etc, etc, etc.
In August I listed every organization I work with, every extra thing I’ve assumed, on these post-it notes. I wanted to remind myself of why I am always busy, why I’m exhausted and stressed. This exercise was how I began my year of saying no.
Looking at these post-its each day, sometimes for hours, led me to deep personal introspection. What do I value? Where is my energy best spent?
As educators, we overload ourselves all the time. We give, and give, and give until there’s just nothing left. We drag ourselves through to the next weekend, or the next break because our jobs are time-consuming and stressful. We forget to take breaks and keep saying yes because our careers are our passions.
Guilty. As. Charged. I am guilty of saying yes to everything that sounds like something I might be interested in without really considering what I will get out of it, or if I even have time. I am guilty of jumping at opportunities because I might be able to use the information in my classroom.
Along my journey, I employed the reflective practices learned during the process of National Board Certification. Because I know… I do… which helps students by… Does that experience translate to better classroom instruction? What benefit does my participation give me? Does this fit with my future goals and, in true National Board component writing fashion, do I have space for this in the allotted page count?
I began to ascertain which items sparked joy, and which had started feeling like a chore. I determined which would be coming to a natural close, and for which items I needed to facilitate closure.
Each time I found something I could eliminate I crossed it off on the post-it, and with each strikethrough, my stress level came down a notch. I started to spend more Saturdays sleeping in and drinking coffee while reading a book. I found myself able to recuperate more while finishing my grading and being prepped for classes earlier.
I turned forty-five this week and celebrated by taking the day off from work. My students’ response was amazing. One online student, in a nod to Donna Meagle and Tom Haverford, typed “Treat yo’ self, Ms. G” into our class chat. Another told me that, “That’s what students do, not teachers. Teachers always work on their birthdays.”
I will admit to waking up early to send my students a message about their day and checking my school email a few times but overall my day was peaceful. My students were successful with a substitute teacher, and I got a much-needed mental health day. Part of this journey has been learning to let go and to put on my own oxygen mask first.
Ten months into my journey, I am proud of the changes I’ve made. I’m ready to pass the torch and let others take those opportunities I’m setting aside. I’ve reduced my obligations to a select few and look forward to focusing my energy.
I’ve enjoyed my time as a Stories from School blogger and will always be thankful for what the role has given me. I am duly excited to welcome someone new to the site and see what they do with the forum. Come August, I’ll be right here waiting to read about a new blogger’s classroom and their experiences as an educator.
Saying no has transformed my outlook. Looking ahead to the 2021-22 school year, I plan to continue prioritizing my time and my energies. I will make a new set of post-its, prominently displayed, to remind me why I said no. I will embrace the roles I chose to invest in and make them my own.
How do you prioritize your time and energy?