10 Reasons why educators don’t say NO and why that has to stop

Educators (and our sisters over in the other helping professions of nursing, social work, etc) are really, really good at taking care of others…. and really, Really, REALLY bad at taking care of ourselves.  We give EVERYTHING we have to our kids and end up wrung out and miserable.

This has to stop. And the first step is the hardest.

The first thing you have to do is SAY NO. A lot.

  • No, I wont be a chaperone.
  • No, I wont stay late to read through your PD plan.
  • No, I wont come in early to meet with that parent.
  • No, I wont meet with that students during my lunch hour.

Ok, the reason I jumped right into those very specific examples was to get the hair raised on your arms. Are you feeling defensive? Are you ready to tell me all about how I don’t understand what it’s like for you?

You’re right, I don’t know your specifics, but I do know this:

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

  • If you are miserable and run down, something has to change or you will stay miserable and run down.
  • If you never have time to do what you love (yoga, knitting, reading, going for a walk in the park, watching Doctor Who), something has to change or you wont ever have that time.

You get the point.

Now, no one expects you to go from being “Go-to Gail” to “Nope Nancy” overnight.  But I do challenge you to say no to ONE THING this week.

Keep it small so you don’t become anxious, but DO IT.

Think about this week- what have you committed to that you can cancel? What do you anticipate you’ll be asked to do? How can you say no?  Make a plan, practice on your husband or best friend, and then DO IT.

As you begin to mentally scan your week don’t be surprised if you get more and more frustrated.

“Can’t cancel that. Can’t cancel that. No… no… no… I can’t cancel anything!”

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Here are 10 reasons why you think you can’t say no, right alongside my loving brick wall of resolve.

  1. It seems so small!  It’s actually easier to say no to large projects. “Sorry I can’t take on that 3 month project because I’ve already got this other huge thing I’m doing” is a lot easier than “I’m not able to do that 10 minute thing for you because I’m trying to wrap up my day.”  It feels so petty! But you must protect those small pockets of time- it’s the small things that add up to your day-to-day reality. If you have no bandwidth, it’s at least as much because you say yes to every small thing as it because you got dragged into the big projects. Feel free to say your first no to something really, really small. It will make a massive difference, I promise.
  2. I always say yes. How can I just up and say no now? Nothing changes if nothing changes.  And there’s never going to be a better time than right now. People are going to have to deal with it eventually, so they might as well start now. Take a stand and protect your time and energy starting this week. In fact, I think today’s the day.
  3. What I want to do is selfishly for me. How can I say no to something that’s for the kids? Is today the only day that you can help your kids? No. Unless your plan is to burn out completely and leave the field of education, you have to take the long view. Kids are always going to need more, and you can’t carry their whole burden. You MUST set boundaries to ensure that you have the time to rest and recover. You will actually do a better job supporting them if you do.
  4. I am a helper by nature, trade and identity. What does it say about me if I start saying no? This is a BIG ONE.  We are all helpers in a deep, fundamental way.  We LOVE to help.  And it feels like a betrayal of our very nature to say no when someone asks for help.Here’s the thing about that: Imagine that a young girl came to you and told you that she was being run ragged by her boyfriend. He asks her to do EVERYTHING and she’s happy to do it… except, she’s starting to fail at her schoolwork, she’s not getting any sleep, and she hasn’t seen her friends in over a month.What do you tell her to do?  Obviously, we tell her that she’s being taken advantage of and that part of becoming a woman is learning to stand strong against those people who will suck the life out of her.OK, now replace “boyfriend” with “job” and “school work” with either “marriage” or “parenting” or maybe even “life.”  How can we expect others to take our advice about strength and power if we can’t do it ourselves?  We have to live by example. The absolute biggest help we can be- to our kids, our colleagues, and the system as a whole- is to shine a light down a different path.  Show everyone that there’s another way to live. That would make you a HERO.
  5. No one else knows how to do it. And they never will if you keep doing it every single time it has to be done.
  6. I don’t want to be called out as not a team player. I hear you. Sometimes schools are very, very political. This can make people walk around on eggshells afraid of being caught in the cross hairs.  But, on the other hand, nothing changes if nothing changes.  Say no to something very, very small and see how it goes.  Then work your way up to larger refusals and eventually you’ll have the know-how required to say no without causing a ruckus.
  7. I don’t want to let down my colleagues. You ARE a team player!  You will go down with the ship, gosh darn it, because All for One and One for All!  Now, I joke but camaraderie is very powerful and it’s behind every single miraculous school turn-around story in the history of the American Public Schools.
    But you can be a team player without falling asleep on your commute. If you plan to stay with this amazing team for long, its absolutely critical that you find a way to set boundaries.  If your team is very supportive, you may try being honest with your colleagues. Say “I’m feeling really run down and I need a break. Can you take this one and I’ll cover you next week? Then we both get a break.”
  8. I don’t want to let my administration down. There is a major 80-20 rule in schools. 80% of extra projects are done by 20% of the teachers.  And while there is something seductive about being indispensable, that’s not a fair distribution.  It’s not fair to you- stuck there until 7pm or getting there at 6am- and it’s not fair to those teachers who would love to be trusted with an important project.  Administrators are usually just as maxed out as teachers, and sometimes they need you to say no so they can re-assess who else can do it. It helps them to develop a deeper bench.  So, see? It’s actually a favor to say no!
  9. It’s too late to say no.  Is it? Are you sure?  I think you should try. Just try.
  10. I actually want to do this. Ok, this one is hard. I want you to do ANYTHING that you really want to do. If it helps you to become the teacher (or human!) you want to become, I want you to do it… Except. Can I just suggest that you might be having some FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)?  If you are feeling run down, it might be the smarter decision to go home and get some rest. Good opportunities will come around again, I promise.

Now it’s your turn.


4 thoughts on “10 Reasons why educators don’t say NO and why that has to stop

  1. I completely agree with this article!! I find that this is really important when you’re working as well, especially if you find yourself always thinking about work. Down time is really important for you to rest and recharge, so that you don’t get burned out. I’m still trying to do this, still figuring out how to say no.

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