Happy Teacher Series: How to Say No

Are you guilty of taking on too many commitments as a teacher? Try these tips for saying no to more and instead doing what you are already doing well. Included are tips to graciously backing out of things you might have already committed to.
As teachers we are often guilty of saying yes to everything that is asked of us even after our plates are overflowing with responsibility. This is a quick way to wind up burnt out, tired, and feeling like we just can't take it anymore. The truth of it is, the happiest teachers know when to say no. Instead of having to pull back from over-committing ourselves we can instead say no to items that don't follow our passions or impact our students directly. 

The short version of this is that in order to be our best we have to prioritize where to spend out time. For me, this was always with my students. If I was asked to do something that didn't positively affect my students I learned to say no, and was a much happier teacher for it. 

Why Saying No Can Make You a Happier Teacher

Are you guilty of taking on too many commitments as a teacher? Try these tips for saying no to more and instead doing what you are already doing well. Included are tips to graciously backing out of things you might have already committed to. Everything in life must be prioritized. Sometimes school comes first, especially our students. Other times though our lives and sanity need to be taken off the back burner and placed front and center. This means that we have to say no from time to time. It smarts a little, okay a lot. I have always been a people pleaser, and I want to say yes to everyone, but this practice was really hurting me. As I slowly pulled back to only committing to things that I was passionate about I saw my stress levels decline and my engagement in the task at hand increase. 

You must also value your own time. If you don't value your time then no one else will either. When I first started teaching I had a teammate that expected that I always be the one that stay late for PTA meetings and the such because I didn't have children. While I was more than happy to stay most of the time I really hated the expectation that my time was less valuable than theirs because I didn't have kids. It wasn't until I talked to them about this that I began to feel better. This is all to say that you must be the defender of your time and place a high value on it. 

You don't have to be everything to everyone. It is not your responsibility to be "on call" at all times. Teaching is a draining profession and you deserve the ability to take care of yourself. Place your health and sanity as a top priority and keep it there. We, as teachers, need to take a step back from the teacher martyr role and enter the reality that we may appear to be superheroes, but we are not. 

How to Say No

Right now the mere act of saying no may seem daunting, and I get it. I too want to be perfect in everything I do and that means doing everything that anyone asks of me, but when I think about it I know that this isn't actually possible. Wouldn't you rather do a few things really well, rather than slapping together your whole life? I know I would. 

Like anything else saying no gets easier with practice. The first time stings a little and will probably leave you feeling a little guilty, but give yourself permission to move past the guilt and choose you. If people around you are used to you being the "yes" teacher then you will likely get a lot of practice quickly. Be sure to stick to your guns though, and continue to say no if you are being asked to do something you don't believe in or won't benefit your students. 

Once you have said no, don't feel the need to apologize. I am all too guilty of this. I will say something like, "No, I can't stay for that PTA meeting. I am so sorry." What do I have to be sorry about? Am I sorry that I have chosen to value my own time, certainly not. So, why am I apologizing?

When saying no sometimes you have to explain where you are coming from, and that is okay. Be honest and detailed about why you have chosen to say no. To the above comment I might say, "I can't stay for the PTA meeting because I need to go grocery shopping and get in a workout." The more detailed you can be, the harder it is for someone to rebuff your choice. 

What If I Already Said Yes?

Sometimes we get caught up in the moment and say yes to something that we regret. It seems impossibly hard to then back out of our commitment, but sometimes it must be done. This is not to say that you should go around and back out of every commitment that you have made and start fresh, but I am giving you license to prioritize what is important to you. 

If you need to back out of something you have already committed to be sure to be upfront with whoever you agreed to the task with. The whole idea of prioritizing your choices does not mean that you leave others in a lurch, because that tells them that you don't value their time. Try to give as much notice as possible, preferably as soon as you know you can't do it. Be honest with them. Let them know why you are backing out, and leave open the door for them to let you know how it affects them. 
Side note to any fans of FRIENDS. Think of when Joey is trying to lie and always starts with saying there was a raccoon... yeah, don't be that person.
You don't want to be the person that negatively affects your coworkers by backing out, so stay aware of how you not attending changes the dynamics. There are some things that it just isn't possible to get out of after you have said yes, in which case you should honor your commitment unless there will be serious repercussions for you. You may be able to offer to reschedule your commitment to a time that works better for you in order to soften the blow.

For more ways you can be a happier teacher check out 11 Things Happy Teachers Don't Do.


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  1. This is so true and something that new teachers are very worried about. It is usually surprising how fine people are when you say no.

    It can be done in a very nice polite way but putting yourself first isn't a crime! Love this post :)

    1. Thank you Ginger Teacher! I know that I was petrified that saying no would ruin my career for at least the first few years I was teaching. It took me a long time to realize that putting myself first was beneficial for everyone.


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