In March 2020, I was teaching third grade in suburban Chicago. On Friday, March 13th, we were given directions to send home belongings and materials for what we were told would be two weeks of learning from home. We began teaching remotely on Monday, March 16th. That weekend was consumed by school work, calls and texts to my teammates, and very little else. In my ninth year of teaching, I was suddenly starting from scratch.
That Monday, my boundaries were redefined for me. After nine years, I had developed a routine of when I would bring materials home and when I would leave it for the next day. Often, I would leave school with only my purse and lunchbox. I tried to stay off school email in the evenings and weekends. I would clearly communicate these expectations to parents at the start of the year. I found these boundaries to be helpful in setting goals and turning off my teacher brain when I got home. Obviously, this was all quickly undone by the decisions to go remote in March 2020. Suddenly my husband, a high school teacher, and I were working at a folding table dominating our living room. Our small apartment was filled with assorted teaching materials. I was recording Seesaw videos, scheduled around the Red Line train announcements and bells outside our windows. I was sending emails at all hours of the day in order to reach everyone on their new schedules. With everything closed and nowhere to go, my sleep schedule adapted to revolve solely around school.
It was okay for a few weeks. However, by mid-April, the adrenaline wore off. My school’s late spring break stated after four weeks of remote learning. My teammates and I were exhausted. We were anxious anytime we opened our emails, unsure of what we would find. We were communicating in a myriad of ways at all hours of the day and night. Our carefully cultivated boundaries from just six weeks before were crushed. We knew that we had to change, for our mental health and to best support our students.
Coming out of spring break, we made changes for the final few weeks of the year. I released lesson plans for the entire week at a time. Parents could see what was coming and could regain some control. When parents could plan ahead, their own anxiety about what to do was reduced. This plan also cut down on the number of emails I received about work. I set clear boundaries around when I was on my computer for work and tried my best to ignore my laptop when I wasn’t working. I made sure to schedule time for leisure activities - walking around the neighborhood, reading for fun, and baking scones.
Our boundaries have been severely tested during the pandemic. When there are no boundaries, anxiety and resentment breed. Anxiety comes from a lack of expectation or communication. Resentment comes from feeling unappreciated, misunderstood, or unheard. During this month of Mental Health Awareness, take back control of your own boundaries.
God calls on us to give gifts of time, talent, and treasure. We cannot give from what we do not have. How are you giving the gift of time to yourself? What talent are you using to enrich your life? What is your own treasure worth?
You are a worthy child of God. You must take care of yourself before you can go into the world and serve Him. When I reset my boundaries, I felt better. I became a better teacher, daughter, and wife. There are plenty of books that can help guide you in the process. But the most important step is identifying what your boundaries are, setting those boundaries, and holding firm. Boundaries will always be tested, by your friends, family, and the outside world. Always remember that you are in control. God wants us to be happy, and being happy involves setting those boundaries in your life. Then, you can take control of the anxiety and resentment in order to feel joy and peace.