The Necessity of Boundaries
Teachers need balance. You need to set professional limits that will support long-term engagement with your students and with teaching. This is about protecting your energy and attention in order to maximize their effects. It’s about what you can and cannot control. It’s about when to hold on and when to let go.
Poverty and social conditions play a role in the inequities of schools, but they cannot be an excuse for a lack of effort. They cannot be an excuse to throw up our hands and retreat. Yet it’s also true that teachers who work in high-needs schools interact in greater measure with absenteeism, depression, homelessness, poverty, anger, and trauma. Because of this, it becomes imperative to be able to ask for help, to recognize professional limits, and to know when to say “enough.” Resisting overextending ourselves is a form of engagement. And it’s a form that, used judiciously, can support long-term engagement with teaching and with students.
The truth is, there are limits to our time and energy. Burning teachers out with calls to do more, try more—especially when a teacher shortage looms, especially when student needs overwhelm—does not best serve our neediest students. And sometimes requiring more of teachers masks a systemic or policy failing, which the individual teacher can’t fix.
In setting mindful limits, we address equity for all. We’re not giving up: We are, with compassion for ourselves and our students, attending to practices that will best serve the learning of the largest number of students. No long-distance runner can sustain the pace with too many sprints or too much weight. Balance, kindness, and setting boundaries can act as forces that allow our best work, and our best, most compassionate teaching selves to arrive.