A Year of Saying No

Melissa Girmscheid Uncategorized

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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?


Melissa is a passionate advocate for physics education. She is currently in her twelfth year of teaching high school students about the world around them through the study of physics and carries this passion to her secondary job developing and leading Computational Modeling in Physics First with Bootstrap workshops. Melissa is a Master Teacher Policy Fellow with the American Institute of Physics and American Association of Physics Teachers, and in 2019 worked with a team of Arizona physics superstars to successfully lobby for ongoing education funding for STEM and CTE teachers. Her goal is to ensure every student in Arizona has access to a high quality physics education. She continues to advocate for students as an Ambassador with the American Physical Society’s STEP UP program and a coach in the Arizona Educational Foundation’s teachSTEM program. Melissa achieved National Board certification is 2017 and now serves candidates as a Candidate Support Provider. She believes in the power of Modeling Instruction, student-centered learning, and the Five Core Propositions.

Comments 4

  1. Mike Vargas

    What most people don’t know is that Melisa is responsible for more kids in the largest distributed area in the hardest subject of any teacher I’ve ever heard of and still involved in more organizations most teachers participate in over a career .. I’m glad to hear that your family gets a piece of you back.. I am going to miss your blog posts, thank you for sharing your journey – your students and your community are so lucky to have you …


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  2. Susan Collins

    So beautifully said! I have also faced a journey of making my “yes” my BEST “yes” and learning to use “no” as a complete sentence. There will always be someone who can take on the roles we fill outside of our families. There will NEVER be someone that can be who you are in your family. I will miss your posts, but look forward to thought provoking and challenging comments to further the discussion.

  3. Rachel Perugini

    As a tech coach at my school the last 2 years, I said no to being a Canvas coach next year. I’m google classroom all the way and really don’t want to stress myself out all summer learning something I don’t like enough to be able to help others. It took a week of thinking about saying no before I finally deleted the email application I was sent and I haven’t regretted the decision once.

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