How To Set Boundaries

Melanie Green


I got to thinking recently about boundaries. While teaching in the classroom, it was damn near impossible at times to stick to any form of boundaries. There can be any number of reasons why the thought of even creating boundaries gives any teacher heart palpitations. Why do you ask? Well simply put, it just creates more stress.

Teachers are natural perfectionists and extremely hard workers. We want it done and finished, regardless if it's going to take us hours to complete. We don't like things hanging over our heads. We don't like to be asked the question, "Did you do that yet? or Why didn't you do that yet?" There are also all the regulations handed down by federal, state, and local administrators. It's truly a catch-22. The whole "we want you to focus on your mental health" while at the same time constantly reinventing the wheel with teachers getting the brunt of the "this program is going to be awesome for our students." Programs are great unless you are the teacher that has had to learn, implement, and demand to be successful every.single.year.

If you know a teacher, ask them to just for one day write down every decision they have to make. Teachers make an astronomical amount of quick-fire decisions every single day and it is exhausting. If you're a teacher you can attest to this exhaustion by the number of times you have gone home after a day of teaching and passed out on the couch!

If you are new to my blog, I was a para/teacher/sub in the same district for 16 years and left the classroom last year. Quite frankly, everything sucked. I absolutely LOVE teaching but I wasn't able to do that anymore. I was addressing non-stop behavior with no administrative support and had my administration playing immature, childish, power games which did not allow me to focus on what was best for the students in my classroom. I could go on, but you get the gist. So I said "See ya!" and it was the best decision I have made.

Dealing with so much crap last year made me realize I had to set up boundaries and actually stick with them or my mental state was going to suffer even more. Once I had written down my boundaries, I set my course to implement those boundaries and it is truly what got me through the year. How or what did I do to successfully make boundaries and more importantly stand firm in implementing them? I'm glad you asked!

These are the steps I followed, I hope they'll help you!

Step #1: Write a Step by Step Plan

I sat down & thought out what was negatively affecting me the most. I thought about the reason why I needed to set specific boundaries and what outcome I wanted to achieve by implementing these boundaries. My why was because my health, both mental and physical, was not good. I was on anti-anxiety meds just to get me through the day, I was ALWAYS tired, and I was sick and tired of feeling like I was ALWAYS working. I figured it was time for a change when my daughter asked me to play with her one evening while I was working on lesson plans. I told her I couldn't at the moment and her response was, "You always work." She was right. I did always work. I was putting my job before my kids and my home. After the kids were in bed that night I sat and wrote my list.

  • I wanted to start putting my family and myself before my job. That doesn't mean doing a half-ass job, it just means that I know my priorities in life. I should be a rockstar at my job, while also being a rockstar mom, wife, & overall person. I need to improve my time management so I am not wasting any "work" time and if something doesn't get done, it doesn't get done and will be there tomorrow.

  • I wanted my overall health to improve. I was on anti-anxiety meds for the first time in my life, just to get me through the damn day. That's ridiculous, I shouldn't have to take medication to do my job. I'd never had anxiety attacks before and I DID NOT like them or how they made me feel. I had to schedule every day with me time. I enjoy reading, working on my bullet journal, taking deep breaths (LOL), and crafting. I made new nightly routines that I tried to stick with that allowed me time to do these things every day. I made myself a priority.

  • Everyone wants to be happy unless you're a narcissist. (Don't be a narcissist, choose the happy route. You'll lead such a more fulfilled life.) I had noticed that I was so tired all the time, I was crying at the drop of a hat, and I was just so unhappy. I loved teaching, and I still do. There were so many negative qualities administration possessed and so many negative feelings and happenings I felt I needed to get away from. It was a hostile and toxic environment for the majority of teachers and paras on that campus. That's why 28 left last year and even more are slated to leave this year. I knew my happiness was not going to be found while on that campus and to find as much happiness as possible, I needed to get rid of, or at least keep at bay, as much negativity as possible. I think a lot of us forget that we deserve to be happy. What we also forget is happiness isn't just handed to us, sometimes you have to make tough decisions to find it amidst the crap.

Step#2: Implement Your Plan & Focus on Routines

This is the hard part for a lot of us. We have great ideas but often find ourselves struggling to be consistent. Once you have your plan written down as I did, you need to focus on your routines that will strengthen your plan. Keep in mind, it does wonders when you put this plan and these routines somewhere visible for you to view every day.

For example, I focused on what I needed to do to achieve what I wanted. To make more time for me and my family I set some hard boundaries regarding working hours. That bell rang and I was out. I would not accept meetings after school. The only time I stayed after was if there was a behavior/emergency that happened at the time of my last break to school being let out. I was adamant. Did everyone like that? No, but guess what? It didn't matter because I was doing what was best for me and my family. I made sure all the minutes I had while at school were spent on all the extra things we teachers have to do.

Another example is that I used my bullet journal to lay out a morning routine and an evening routine that included checkboxes. For my physical health, I know I needed to drink more water. To hold myself accountable I made a tracker for that as well. My routine in the morning was to drink 8 oz of water as soon as I woke up, take deep breaths, and exercise. My evening routine was to read for at least 30 minutes, write out my planner for the next day, and drink 8 oz of water right before going to bed. I made sure these were checkboxes that I got to color in when I did them because for me it was pretty satisfying to fill in each box after each accomplishment.

Step#3: Complete Monthly Check-ins & Adjust Accordingly

This last step is an accountability step. If something you're doing is not working to reach your ultimate goal then change it! Nothing is set in stone, especially when it comes to your life and doing what is best for you and your loved ones! Once you have your boundaries they're not going to set themselves. It's going to take work from you to make sure those boundaries are enforced. Good habits are formed the same way bad ones are. Set your boundaries, follow your plan, and celebrate during your check-ins! A lot of small victories add up to big ones!

I write out my bullet journal one month at a time. The reason I only do one month is so I can assess what worked and what didn't work at the end of each month before starting a new one. It might have been that I didn't have a functional setup. There could be something else in my life I want to hold myself accountable for. I might have accomplished forming a new positive routine and I no longer feel I need to track it.

Check in with yourself. Make sure you are thinking about your plan, your boundaries, and most of all your why. Why is this important to you? Who is your motivation?

Following these three steps has made a huge difference. It's helped me to realize how important boundaries are and what type of impact they can have on our lives. We should never be stagnant. We should always want to grow and be better than what we were a year ago. Will life be perfect? Absolutely not. How can you truly be grateful for the ups if you don't experience the downs? I wouldn't be where I am right now if I wouldn't have had a rough year last year. Is my life great and happy every single day? No, but I sure am grateful for the life I'm living every, single, day.

What Do I Want?

Family first. ME first.

Mental & Physical Health to Improve

How Will I Achieve This?

I will know my priorities and set boundaries that reflect those priorities.

I will recognize what causes me the most anxiety and stress. I will make a plan using boundaries to improve my mental and physical health. Implement healthy, positive routines.