Boundaries. The big “B” word in education that is there to protect a teacher’s mental and emotional health. As elementary teachers, we know that we think of our students as our own “kids”. With this in mind, we often become caregivers in our classroom. Now, there are needs of students in grades K-2 that require you to be more of a caregiver. Because of this, we need to make sure we are setting boundaries in the classroom especially when it comes to parents.
1: Set Boundaries by Stopping Parents at the Door
Setting boundaries in the classroom starts with stopping parents at the door. When you teach younger students (especially first grade and up), parents no longer need to come into the classroom. Students are able to hang up coats, take off boots, or really do anything else with practice. This rule can be bent for the first week of kindergarten, but after that, students should be independent. I’m not saying you need to ban parents from your classroom because that’s not healthy either. However, setting boundaries in your classroom by only allowing parents in when they are invited or when they request it is a simple way to keep control of your classroom.
2: Create “Office Hours” that You Don’t Break
In the world of technology, we are all available 24 hours a day. Setting boundaries in your classroom in relation to your availability is vital for your mental health. I will not answer emails from parents after 5:00 PM Monday-Friday, and I never answer emails on the weekends. The only time I will pay attention to my email during my time off is if I need to check for an announcement. If you have access to your email on your phone, I encourage you to at least turn off notifications. Answering parents when it is beyond school hours can escalate a situation as well as the frequency in which you get emails.
3: Skip Friending Parents
Social media, like technology, is all the rage these days. While you are perfectly allowed to have friends on social media, you won’t set boundaries in your classroom with those you friend. If you friend parents on social media, you are opening up a part of your life that really isn’t any of their business. You can protect yourself more by not friending parents. However, if you live in a small community and already have parents as friends, make sure you keep your social media appropriate to protect yourself.
4: Encourage Teaching Basic Needs at Home
As teachers, we are already responsible for teaching students plenty of things. However, basic care is not one of them. If students do not know how to tie their shoes, wipe after using the restroom, or put their coat on, I have sent home a list of things that need to be taught by the parents. This might seem harsh and there are exceptions to the rule, but students who enter school should be able to take care of hygiene-related things. Setting boundaries in your classroom should include what you will and will not do for your students. For example, I had a student call from the bathroom that they needed me to wipe their bum. This is not part of my job. If I know the teaching will not happen at home, I set aside private time to help them learn the necessary skill.
5: Setting Boundaries in the Classroom Means Drawing a Line
This one is huge! When you are setting boundaries in the classroom, you want to make sure you are not giving special treatment. I have had parents demand I do so many things. Some things I have been asked include: making sure their child eats all of his/her lunch, removing decorations from the windows so they can peek in, sending my lesson plans home so they can pre-teach the material, or sending a weekly newsletter.
You might think some of this is reasonable. However, it’s not doable with the amount of time we are given in a day. In addition, we are not here to parent. We are here to teach. A monthly newsletter is sufficient and can be simplified by getting students involved. If a student doesn’t eat his/her lunch, the student will have natural consequences. Setting boundaries in the classroom by drawing the line on what you will and won’t do is a huge part of making sure you are always keeping your role as the teacher in view.
6: Bite Your Tongue
Has anyone else been yelled at by a parent? A principal? Someone who shouldn’t be yelling at you? I have been yelled at several times for several different reasons, so I made a boundary. I will not yell back at a parent. When someone is upset, I let them say what they need to. Then, I take the appropriate amount of time to respond. Sometimes, I don’t respond at all. When I had a parent yell at me for asking her son to line up outside, I didn’t say a word. I let her yell. I told her what the expectation was. In other words, I was setting boundaries in my classroom that I did not waiver from. I never had another issue with the student or the parent. Sometimes, setting boundaries in your classroom means setting boundaries for yourself.
There are so many obstacles we will face when it comes to teaching. One thing we can do to help is setting boundaries in our classroom and sticking to them. Whenever you have a boundary, it is a hard line in the sand that will not be shifted. By doing this, you are protecting your personal time and your mental health. Remember, you’re the teacher, you make the rules.
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