Making It Work: Setting Boundaries
Setting Boundaries When There is No Balance, No Control, and No Right Answer
“Back to School 2020” looks nothing like any of us expected it to. Two weeks before school begins, I would generally be organizing the Orff instruments returning home to my classroom after levels courses, adhering fresh sit spots to the carpet, tuning strings, and shopping for school supplies for my two elementary aged children. Instead, I’m homeschooling my own kids and waiting with anticipation to hear anything – anything – official from my district about what teaching will look like in a few weeks. We don’t know much, but we know enough to be nervous. Spring 2020 tested us and left us tired. I’d like to offer some perspective that I hope might be helpful as I attempt to frame my mindset for the coming school year, whatever it may bring.
I’ve been playing with a paradox this week:
I am not in control.
Everything will be ok.
I, as a parent and as a teacher, am not in control right now. There’s some freedom in that along with a little sadness because it means it’s not up to me to make the “right” decision that will guarantee success for my children and my students or one “wrong” enough to ruin their futures. It’s also hard because we are bombarded by voices from the news and through the only means we have access to social interaction right now: social media. These voices come from those that do not live in our homes, sit in our classrooms, or even will be there at the end to cheer with us when this is all over. So the voices feel really important. They’re confusing. It’s hard to drown them out. I keep trying to listen to the quiet one inside myself that is telling me, “This will end. It’s not forever. It’s ok. This will be behind us before we know it. All you have to do is figure out how to get through today as best you can.”
In the past, I have tried to do the impossible. Like many of the brilliant people reading this, I have built music programs with few instruments and no budget. I have created a beautiful, joyful classroom for my students to feel safe to explore their creativity. I have poured thousands of dollars and hours of my time into these endeavors, often at the expense of my own life balance. Now that I’m faced with doing all of this online with no paid professional development AND simultaneously homeschooling my own children while I teach music class synchronously, I’m drawing some hard boundaries in my life.
Here’s another paradox:
I am a good teacher.
I will not sacrifice my physical, mental, and emotional health, my finances, or my life balance for my job.
There are hundreds of incredible teachers sharing their homemade instrument kits online right now. I look at their posts and think, “Wow… they are incredibly brilliant. Also, I will not be doing that.” For what remains of the summer, I don’t need to lose sleep and spend hours attending unpaid PD or trying to zip tie jingle bells onto bracelets or tape ribbons to dowel rods or cut out 400 laminated manipulative sets to sharpie with student names and class numbers to send home that will just get lost in the first week of school to be a good teacher. I don’t even need to know what I’m going to say when I first see their sweet faces on the screen. I just have to show up and love them. That’s always worked before, even when I was a first-year teacher with zero tools in my teacher toolbox. I have to believe it’s going to work now.
It’s important to recognize our individual boundaries right now. As I’m examining my current energy levels and weighing what behaviors feel authentic and appropriate for myself, I am also thinking ahead to the boundaries I will hold in the coming school year. For now, that looks like:
OFFICE HOURS – I will answer student and parent inquiries during regular, contracted hours. My computer will be shut down after the school day ends.
RUBRICS – I will use rubrics to make grading clear for teacher, student, and parents.
CURRICULUM – I will use my curriculum. So much great content has been generated, there is no need for me to spend hundreds of hours re-creating the same or similar lessons just so I can take credit for making the video or Google Slides myself.
GRACE – I will give myself grace when I make mistakes.
CLASSROOM – My home will have dedicated work space so I can give my work physical boundaries.
FINAL BELL – When my workday ends, I will change into workout clothes and go for a walk to signal to my body that the workday is finished.
FINDING FUN – I will calendar hikes, movie nights, and special dinners with my family so we can remember to have fun.
SELF CARE – My nightstand will be stocked with books that nourish my soul. My refrigerator will be stocked with healthy nutrition to keep my body going, even when my mind and spirit are tired.
This school year may begin differently than we ever could have imagined, but I take great comfort in the fact that it will also come to an end. How we handle the in-between has the potential to impact our physical, mental, and emotional health greatly. I’m choosing to set strong boundaries in the coming year, and I’m sending my fellow music teachers so much love as we step into the unknown together. We will get through this.