Thursday, September 29, 2011

Personal Boundaries as a Teacher

Over the past month, I feel like I've been turning students away like crazy. Each time I get a phone call, email, or personal inquiry about lessons and have to say no I find myself feeling a bit guilty. Couldn't I have squeezed just 2 more in? That's when I have to remind myself of the personal boundaries I have set for myself as a teacher and hold myself accountable to what I know are my personal limitations.

Boundaries are important in every area of life. What does that currently mean for me as a teacher? Between my private studio, my church position, playing for private events, my other part-time housesitting job, and making sure I allow personal recharge time, that works itself out to between 20-25 students. At that volume I'm able to juggle all my responsibilities without feeling too burned out at the end of the week.

Before I start giving the impression that I have always perfectly maintained this balance, let me set the record straight. I haven't always been so good about maintaining my boundaries! ;) There have been terms where I've totally overbooked myself and arrive at the end of the week completely exhausted. There have been terms where I've overscheduled myself on certain days, meaning that I'll find myself at the end of a teaching day with a terrible headache and unable to give my final students the focus, attention, and patience they deserve. That's what it's really all about: making sure that we're the best we can be for our students. Numbers aren't important. Being able to engage and having the energy to communicate well is what's important. And if you find yourself with too many students to effectively communicate and teach, then you've gone too far.

So how do you find that 'magic number'? It's going to look different for every person, and will most likely change from year to year depending on other responsibilities, age, health, etc. It also takes time to get to know your limitations and give them the respect they deserve.

Taking time to recognize personal boundaries isn't always easy. When the calls come in, it can be so tempting to keep saying yes! But when that temptation comes, I remind myself of my boundaries and think of current students and what would truly be best for them.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you set boundaries for yourself as a teacher. Have you been successful? Ever had any major disasters?!


  1. This is a hard thing to learn, and my boundaries change with the changes in my life. When I was single, I could teach until 8:30 or 9 at night. When I got married, I quit around 8. When I had little ones, I taught only 2 hours/day. Now I have teenagers and I'm done at 6! The evening time changes have come partly as a result of being able to teach more during the day since my children are in school.

    Some of the balance is managing your energy. I have learned to schedule in breaks and to vary the levels within my studio. I can't teach 4 high school students back to back, just like I can't teach 4 beginner's back to back. I have to have the variety of pace and level. I still haven't found my magic number, though!

  2. Thanks for your feedback Arlene. I agree with you in that I find teaching the beginners MUCH more of a drain on my energy than the older students. I honestly enjoy more working with the beginners, but I have to limit how many of those lessons I teach back-to-back because they take so much more out of me.

  3. Every year I sit down and look at which hours in the week I'm available to teach. I think of it as "office hours." I print out a blank weekly schedule with 15-minute increments, and block off everything that's reserved for my non-teaching life. Once those available hours are full, that's it. I look at this schedule then tell parents who call that there are no available openings at this point. This keeps me from over-scheduling. Of course, I learned this the hard way. :)

    Like Arlene, my available hours has fluctuated wildly as my kids have been born, gone through elementary school, and now are teenagers (one almost isn't even that anymore) and are never home anyway.

    I also find beginners draining - I'm so happy once they can actually read notes. It's the reading process that is so hard to teach.

  4. LaDona,

    You sound so organized! I think I will try your scheduling idea before I start signing students up in the spring. By blocking off the times I need for my personal life beforehand, that will make sure I don't overbook (or at least make it less likely ;) ).

  5. I struggle with this, too. I would love to teach more students, and I end up turning away several each year. I have an elementary school-aged daughter and a husband who works 12-hour shifts, sometimes night and sometimes day. This means that I function as a single parent, and I also have a church job. I blocked off the time I need to attend to parenting, family responsibilities, cooking/housekeeping, and practicing/planning for my church job, and then opened the rest to students. I can only teach about 15 without going crazy. I won't be effective at any of these things if I'm overwhelmed. I have also learned to schedule some days off from the beginning of the year. We all need some sanity days!

  6. Laura-

    Sanity days are a lifesaver- I agree with you 100%. When I first started out teaching I didn't schedule those in, and my studio was small enough that I didn't really need them. But as my studio has grown and other responsibilities have cropped up, I find myself in a serious burnout condition if I don't schedule small breaks periodically. It allows me to come back with a fresh perspective and renewed energy.