• Beth Ott

3 Reasons Why Teachers Should set Some Boundaries

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Things teachers have in common (besides coffee): we love to help each other, we love to see our students learn, and we would do anything for our students. That last one is tricky. Sometimes this translates to ‘we-will-do-anything-and-everything-possible-and-sometimes-even-try-to-do-the-impossible-and-usually-at-the-expense-of-ourselves-and-our-time-and-our-well-being’. If your goal is to give your everything and anything all day every day including nights and weekends to your students then you can be prepared to teach for about 5 years (statistically so..maybe even less). Why? Because doing ‘all the things’ does not actually translate to sustainable teaching (nor does it make you a better teacher). SO you better have a plan for after that, because you will be BURNT. OUT.

But there is a reason why we as teachers struggle to not take on too much. Any guesses?


We are GREAT at feeling guilty. If there was an Olympic sport called Guilt, you can be damn sure a teacher would win it. I mean, we feel guilty for feeling guilty!

So first thing is first...let that guilt go! And then...set some boundaries.



Listen up. Your students need you at your best. And you can’t be at your best when you are emotionally, physically, and mentally spent.


It is so much easier for students to know when you’re available for help, rather than try to ask you all the time if you can help. It is also much easier to point to a procedure or system rather than try to treat every case as unique. For instance, if you have a retesting procedure, then you can rely on that rather than argue to necessity every single time a student asks to retest.


By not bending over backwards to help students, parents, admin, etc. we can begin to highlight some of the systemic inequities that have long persisted in education. Yes, the school needs an after-school tutoring program. Yes, the school needs additional counselors. Yes, the school needs a behavior support system that is anti-racist. No, you as a teacher can not be an additional tutor, counselor or behavior specialist. Set those boundaries.

Here is how it might look in action:
A parent emails you and asks if you can work with their student after school a couple times a week on their reading fluency.


(1) Say no, feel guilty because this student does need extra support on their reading skills. You do actually have the time for it on some days, but not on Mondays because of the staff meeting, and not on Thursdays because of the department meeting.

(2) Say yes, because technically you do have the time in your schedule, and set up 45 minutes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to work with the student. You can always prep and plan at home or after tutoring. The student needs your help, and you are going to help them! But you begin to feel guilty because you have to cancel some things so you can prep at home.

(3) Lesser known option 3...say no, not feel guilty because by saying no you are actually saying yes to planning and prepping like you had planned. You are saying no without guilt, because you are able to point them in the direction of the after school tutoring club, a list of private tutors if they so choose, and a list of resources you have set up for improving reading skills at home. You are saying yes to giving yourself some space to breathe so you can be a better teacher for the whole class.

Which option do you choose?

Your first consideration when evaluating your capacity to do something else for someone (or even for yourself) is your own well-being and happiness. So with option 1, your well-being (until you learn how to not feel guilty) will be compromised because you hate to feel guilty. With option 2, your well-being is compromised because you are giving up your own time. But with option 3, your well-being is preserved, the student is supported and you have maintained your boundary.

Let me know in the comments where you struggle to set some boundaries...let's see if we can help each other!

P.S. Need some additional support in figuring out what (besides boundaries) you can do to rock that teacher life? Download my free toolkit and see where your teaching practices stand.

Do you need to learn to let things go? Or maybe organization is more your area of concern...

See for yourself.

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