Boundaries and Expectations

It is important to realise, as a new teacher, that when you walk into your school, you’re not walking into a brand new situation. You are stepping into someone else’s shoes, and taking on the tasks that were theirs.

At first, there are just the physical reminders of this. You have someone else’s computer, with their files loaded onto it. There is someone else’s stationery in your desk. Your apartment is full of the stuff that they left behind for you (however much or however little this may be).  It’s only in rare situations that you’ll walk into a new, bare apartment.

Later on, however, you’ll be reminded that you’re expected to do what they do. Whether you like it or not, you’ll be measured against them. In some cases, this will not affect you. It will be a simple case of “Oh! _________ teacher used to do this.” or perhaps “_________ teacher and I did this, maybe we could try that?”  And that might be all it is.

It could easily work out in your favour. A friend of mine, on arriving here, found out that the person she was replacing was not well liked by her school or by the students. As a consequence, the fact that she’s enthusiastic and loves kids means that she was immediately well loved by her school and her co-teachers.

In other cases, it’s less favourable. The person you’re replacing may have had a lot of experience to draw on, and you may not. For example, I know someone who described the person he replaced as ‘super teacher’ (or something similar), who was apparently always overdressed, and knew exactly what to do. As a consequence, he felt that his school viewed him much less favourably, as they were always comparing him to the previous teacher.

Perhaps your predecessor was willing to take on a lot of extra work, and sacrifice their social time for the school. Another fellow expat blogger worked in a situation like this – the person she replaced took on a lot of responsibility that should not be placed on a new, inexperienced teacher (regardless of location).

There is a degree of similarity here to what I found at my school. There are a lot of benefits to working here, but there are drawbacks too, most of which come out of the time that I would otherwise spend doing what I like.

Most notable of these, for me, has been the Saturday programme that my school runs. The reason it was assumed that, as a teacher at my school, I would be taking part was because every other native teacher who had taught at my school had done so. I find it very hard to turn down this kind of extra work, for reasons I’ve written about before. Besides, I don’t think my participation in this was ever put to me as a request. When I was given the rundown of my duties in this programme, I believe I was asked “Is this okay?” I can be forgiven for assuming this meant “Are these duties okay with you?” rather than “Is participating in this okay for you?”

When my new coworker arrived, however, she became the first to do something at my school. She said “No.” We were meant to set a test over a Saturday and Sunday for this Saturday programme – which is, technically, not part of our school – and she said that she couldn’t do it.  Nicely. Politely. But she set boundaries.

And while I know she was somewhat conflicted over this, she explained clearly why she felt she could not participate in this. Her reasons, while personal, did not reflect an unwillingness to work, but an acknowledgement of the fact that she could not work effectively without time away from school to allow her to recharge. The amount of pressure put on us by our school is already greater than any of us would have expected from an EPIK teaching position. This, in addition, was just too much.

So consider this: It is necessary to set boundaries in order to function as a teacher and as a human being. They are tough to set, but it is possible. Be honest. Be polite. Explain yourself. But set your boundaries. Ask for advice, find out what others would consider reasonable, and set your boundaries. We’re told to be flexible and accommodating, but do not do this beyond a point at which you would break.

This will have effects beyond just what happens to you.

This year, for the first time, I was asked directly whether or not I would like to take part in something, and for once, I actually felt that I was able to say no. This is now a precedent that has been set. The teacher who replaces my coworker, and those who replace the rest of us working here, will not realise that she is the reason this precedent has been set. They will not realise that the expectations for all of us will have been adjusted because of her. They will not know to whom they should be grateful, or even that they should be grateful at all.

But that’s just the way it goes.

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