Why You Should Start Saying "No" And How to Do It

Looking for some insight on how to achieve better balance in your life and classroom? Veteran teacher and TeacherVision Advisory Board Member Olivia shares her thoughts on making use of the most powerful word in your vocabulary - "No."

Teaching Strategies:
Updated on: February 18, 2020

Learning how to say no

Teaching is one of the most demanding jobs in the world, and the scope of just how much a teacher does to prepare, plan, and execute is something that is nearly impossible to explain to someone outside of the profession. With all of the roles a teacher takes, and time spent to make his or her classroom the best possible learning environment, it may seem obvious that taking on more responsibilities and tasks is too much. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that as teachers we love to help - we want to make a difference and be as supportive as possible, it’s in our code, and it makes it almost impossible to say no when something more is asked of us.

It feels like you’re doing something wrong by saying no, even knowing the stress it will inevitably bring, because it’s who you are and what you do.

Regardless of these factors, you need to find it within yourself to start saying that simple word more often, and stop feeling guilty when you do. Below are several extremely important reasons why saying no is crucial to your well-being and effectiveness as a teacher.

You Are Worth It

Taking on more tasks, helping with a project, accepting a role on another committee - these are all common instances where you are asked to do just a little bit more. But every time you say yes to something like this, you are taking away time and energy from yourself - time and energy that you deserve! Your job preparation alone could make up a 40 hour workweek, without even seeing any students!

Your brain and body need a break, and you owe it to yourself to allow that break to happen, even if it means turning down a few colleagues. The only person who can truly value what you need to recharge is you; don’t let someone else decide what your efforts are worth.

Skipping a workout, missing a quiet night at home, or spending a few minutes reading a book for leisure are all activities you should not deny yourself just because they seem frivolous - they are just as important as eating your vegetables and drinking water; at some point, if you go long enough without it, you start to get sick.

Your Family Is Worth It

Whether it’s a significant other, children, a pet, or even friends, your family wants to be with you too. Every time you pick up another responsibility, you are losing time with your loved ones. Your job is extremely important, you already know that, but it isn’t more important than your family. Consider the students you have who go to daycare before school and after school and barely see their parents.

You try to fill that void during the day, but ultimately it is up to that child’s family to be present once the school day is over. If your balancing act is keeping you from seeing your children or loved ones, how is that any different than the students you worry about in your class?

You can still be an amazing teacher without it being at the expense of your own family.

You are Creating Bad Habits Now, and Opening the Door for More

This happens often, especially with new teachers - you say yes because you are eager and want to be known as a hard-working employee willing to go the extra mile. While there is merit in wanting to be helpful, the moment you set the stage for being open to more projects, you put the wheels in motion for being the “go-to.”

Eventually it no longer becomes a request or a favor, it becomes the expectation, and now you’re stuck unless you want to appear unwilling or disagreeable. Even now in year six of my teaching, I find myself constantly losing my lunch and planning time (despite union contract), because as a fresh-faced teacher I said “Sure!” when asked to cover recess duty due to lack of aides, or “No problem!” when asked if I could meet during my lunch.

Regardless of how wonderful your coworkers or administration might be, they will always attempt the option that best suits them, no matter how it impacts you. It’s high time you choose yourself over someone else, because no one else will.

Gentle Ways To Say No

In theory, it is easy to get home after a long day, bone-tired, and think, “Tomorrow I am going to put my foot down and say no.” Unfortunately, by the time you get back to work the next morning you have a new perspective without the day's troubles wearing you down and you are sucked back into the same routine because it just seems easier. Below are some excellent examples and/or legitimate reasons to use, or ways to diffuse the awkward tension of politely declining, that have slowly made it a bit easier for me to take control of my valuable time and energy.

When Asked to Meet at a Time That Doesn’t Fit Your Schedule:

“I’d love to meet, here are some times I am available that would enable my full attention on the subject.”

Make sure you are identifying the need to meet, offering other options, and reiterating that the time(s) suggested would not be an ideal time for your productivity.

When Asked To Join a Committee/Take on Another Role:

“I am so flattered that you thought of me, right now I am trying to focus on meeting my students' needs, and that’s where my spare time needs to be spent.”

Make sure you are centering your reasons around your students. I cannot count the number of times I said yes to something, only to have that take away from the time I could have spent making a better learning experience for my own students!

When Asked If a Change Is "Okay with you?":

(This is one of the hardest situations for me, because I so often say yes just to be agreeable and well-liked. But is it the best option for me and my students?)

“Could we take a moment to talk about what that change might look like if implemented? I am concerned that it may negatively impact my students.”

Again, you are student centered. You are not being disrespectful, you are not insubordinate and outright saying no just because you don’t feel like it. You are expressing genuine concern for your students who you are responsible for in terms of academic, social, and emotional growth! If it is not in the best interest of your students, it isn’t worth it.

All of these ideas and options are not a one-size fits all, nor is it a verbatim speech that should be recited. Ultimately, you know what you can or cannot handle. The fact of the matter is, you need to be willing to speak up for yourself in situations such as those described above. Often times the person asking is well aware of how much is being asked, but knows it will make his or her life easier.

Be respectful, be kind, and remember that the only person truly looking out for what is best for your mental health, time, and energy is yourself!

How do you say "No?" Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

TeacherVision Advisory Board Member Olivia Bechtel is a first grade teacher in Westerville, Ohio who loves implementing engaging, innovative lessons to inspire her students. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her husband, son, and two dogs.

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