when saying no is saying yes

After 75 minutes of delicious, sweaty hot yoga, our instructor cued us to bring our hands to third-eye center and bow forward. This is the way class is usually closed. However today, this instructor took it to another level:

This is the greatest act of submission–the head bowing to the heart, saying you are greater than me.

Well that’ll get ya thinking. And it did. And those thoughts came full circle to a blog a childhood friend’s husband posted this last week on prioritizing student needs.

I fully support the conviction and paradigm of student-centered teaching. My relationships with my students give me both the perspective and the motivation to be their advocates, to stand up for them, to put them first. Putting them first gives me a much-needed compass in a whirlwind of destructive politics and overwhelming educalculation. I have lived by this motto since I began teaching.

But I will not die by this motto. I guess there is a limit to what I’ll sacrifice to do what’s best for kids. The world of education, unfortunately, is littered with the broken pieces and fragments of marriages, parenting relationships, friendships, health, and hearts of men and women who have laid themselves on the line to do what’s best for the students. Yes-men. Yes-women. Adults who do not establish boundaries, but rather live in martyrdom to the fulfillment of the job. Sadly, so many of them do it because “it’s best for the kids.”

photo (1)But the problem with being a yes-man or yes-woman, is that there is a boomerang lashing to those yeses. Saying yes to school, to students, to grading, to planning, to driving students here and there and everywhere, to attending more games of other people’s children than one’s own, to running this meeting or attending that meeting, to taking on more roles and responsibilities–these are all yeses to the students who need us so desperately, but they are crushing nos to other areas of our lives. No to a peaceful dinner with the family. No to some time to center oneself. No to a connection with someone special to us. No to a quiet walk with the dog. No to the matters of the heart. No to caring for the body as a temple.

Before you misunderstand me and think of me as the heartless teacher (I would hope most of my students would also balk at this), I’d like to emphasize the sacred irony at play here: saying yes to ourselves propels us to be better teachers. The fuller I am, the more I can give. The boundaries I intentionally set and honor allow me to foster a learning-yard of compassionate and giving energy in which students can flourish. Sometimes saying no IS what’s best for students.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4).

From the heart, we teach. And so often our classrooms feel like a battlefield, with attacks both internal and external. Our hearts are wounded. Our hearts need tending. Yes, in the end, that will make us better teachers. But more importantly, it will make us better husbands or wives, moms or dads, friends. It will make us better guardians of our hearts.

This is the greatest act of submission–the head bowing to the heart, saying you are greater than me.

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72 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. writingtoreal
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 21:54:55

    Good teachers are martyrs, slowly. And you are the best kind of teacher. As most teenagers, I was a butt-head in class and never thought of how harshly it could effect my teachers. I hope that knowing you are one of the most memorable people to cross my path and the inspiration for my own teaching career can begin to remedy that.

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. edpeters06
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 20:49:46

    Your post is so full of heart! I don’t think anyone could ever label you as a heartless teacher. What a powerful lesson, especially as teachers..that we should always bow to the heart. Love it.

    Like

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  3. lostinloveandlife
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 13:14:22

    Love this. Great writing!

    Like

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  4. blogsimondude
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 14:37:11

    Nice bible verse

    Like

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  5. bristlehound
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 14:49:12

    I like the thought of being better guardians of our hearts.B

    Like

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  6. Armstrong Mensah
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 15:20:08

    Great piece. As the Cliche goes ” the reward of a teacher is in Heaven”

    Like

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  7. Trackback: when saying no is saying yes | sdbohlen
  8. Sharon Bohlen
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 18:10:51

    So well said! You stated what took me years to learn. God bless you!

    Like

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  9. qrparker
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 18:46:41

    A lot of my writing relates to my frustration with educators and academia. This was extremely refreshing to hear.

    The most difficult teachers I’ve had (even outside of academia) were the ones who thought of themselves as martyrs. They made the students into crucifiers we never wanted to be.

    The best teacher’s I’ve had were people who had complete, interesting lives outside of school, because they treated us like people and engaged on a human level.

    Thank you for the post. I hope you never forget to take time for yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

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  10. Laxman Prajapati
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 21:28:54

    Nice one… 😉

    Like

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  11. vnk12
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 00:38:47

    Very touching piece. The discretion to say no when it needs to be requires true character.

    Like

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  12. truth42
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 01:40:13

    Nicely written. Ian x

    Like

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  13. jacqueline marie
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 01:54:18

    Well said!! Thank you. 🙂

    Like

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  14. Harsha MP
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 02:44:04

    Wonderful post. Nice writing!!

    Like

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  15. elliott001
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 03:52:54

    Brilliant post. Teaching can be such a thankless profession. Looking back on my school days I feel pretty guilty about the ways me and my classmates would make our teachers lives hell. Kids are awful sometimes!

    Visit New Gen Journo for unbiased opinions on everything

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  16. drmattsplan
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 04:53:26

    Very nice

    Like

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  17. danieltrump
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 05:08:39

    A very wise post, thank you. The wise teacher has many of the hardest judgements to make. Regularly this is “do I meet the external requirements, or do I do that I know to be right for the young people in front of me? And how do we get to a place where external & internal requirements are calibrated?” that’s before we even get to life – work balance!

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  18. awax1217
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 06:00:06

    I always had the problem of turning off a student by saying the no word. How do you answer the question from a student that they have done a great job when in reality it is not really very good. I taught for forty years and lied quite often.

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    • Mary
      Feb 21, 2014 @ 07:15:41

      In my not nearly-as-experienced-as-your-opinion (I’ve only been teaching for 7 years), I would say the easiest and most accepted “nos” to students are inside of a solid, mutual, respectful, and caring relationship that has been built with them already.

      Like

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  19. Jane
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 06:47:34

    First time I’ve read a post of yours and it is superb. Thanks for bringing me here by liking one of my posts. You are wise and compassionate. Teaching is a sacred profession and you seem to be one of the true good ones. What you say here btw, is true not only for teachers…but for parents, for healers, for anyone actually who truly loves and respects himself and wants to fully be of service to others.

    Liked by 1 person

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  20. Trackback: I’m not a counsellor. What can I do? | Working in Adult Literacy
  21. Kate Nonesuch
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 07:21:19

    Thank you for writing this. So important to stay off the martyr trail, both for yourself and for your students (and, as you say, family and friends). As an adult literacy instructor, I blogged about this at The Heart Connected to the Ear and I’m not a Counsellor. What Can I Do?

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  22. geralynwichers
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 09:15:20

    Thank you for this reminder. I am a teacher in a volunteer setting through my church. I’ve realized that when I haven’t given proper time to internalize and meditate on my lesson, I cannot teach with the conviction necessary. This isn’t your point exactly, but another example of how you teach out of what is in your heart. Thanks for posting, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

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  23. Heather
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 09:44:12

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. As a yes-person in my own environment (people, clients, family, friends) I have learned the value in saying no. And it’s freed other people to learn to be themselves, by saying no too. You will set these students an excellent example if you can say no to them to work harder for them.

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  24. disappearingwoman
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 09:57:58

    I taught 3rd grade for 16 years and was a yes-woman. In my 16th year of teaching, my daughter became seriously ill, and I had to take a leave of absence. Once I was out of the rat race of pleasing everyone else, I realized how important making time for my family and myself really was. I didn’t go back and have changed my career path to public relations as a freelancer. I’m much happier.

    Like

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    • Mary
      Feb 21, 2014 @ 10:23:42

      Thank you for sharing your personal experience. I hope your daughter has found better health.

      Like

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      • disappearingwoman
        Feb 21, 2014 @ 10:29:10

        She has! She’s doing very well now. ) There are days that I miss the children that I used to teach, but I don’t miss the expectation to be overextended, or look like an uncaring teacher. I taught in a very small, high income community where our administrators and the parents expected us to be involved well beyond the classroom. I thought I was happy, until life had me take a break from it. I’m glad you’re able to find a balance. 🙂

        Like

  25. Charmania
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 12:34:10

    Here is what I have worked out about the head and heart.

    Humans in the wild are cooperative beings and so constantly teaching and learning from those around them. Our heart is the learner and our mind is the knowledge store and teacher. The problem comes because the heart is split. If we are taught correctly from the start we will have a heart that always thinks of others before ourselves, so when the heart makes demands, our mind should always meet them as the good selfless heart has already considered the consequences for others on us having our needs met.

    Unfortunately many of us are taught to please ourselves first and our overprotective teachers (parents) take the blame for any choices we make that are good for us but hurt others, we don’t learn to accept change or the ideas of others, so when our mind bows to our heart we make decisions that may have negative consequences for others – the bonus for these people is that they don’t care, if they did they might change their minds, instead they learn to discriminate against people whose needs contradict their own.

    Good teachers (people who gain reward from effecting a change in those around them) will feel guilty when they put their own needs or their family needs first, this is only natural from a good empathetic heart. There comes a time when the empathetic teacher needs to fill their heart up with empathy and remove unnecessary guilt from not pleasing outside society to gain full access to their logical mind and work out rules and boundaries that work to achieve maximum benefit to others, bearing in mind the importance our actions mean to those people. e.g. when our children are young their need of their parent far outweighs the need of a student who could have a different teacher.

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  26. robertlampros
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 15:58:00

    I can relate. I’ve gone some extra miles in order to teach and serve others, and God always rewards those efforts. I’ve found He makes it pretty clear, if I ask Him, how far I should go. Usually, the answer is “just a little further.”

    Like

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  27. The Flag Style
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 16:49:32

    Great job 🙂 check my blog if you Want 🙂

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  28. silentdugood
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 17:36:00

    Love from the heart we teach.

    Like

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  29. inthethreshold
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 19:12:06

    Great post! So much truth-regardless of your profession!

    Like

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  30. haridasgowra
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 22:28:29

    Yes yes yes yes yes i like this! good writing!
    Great thoughts!
    #wordpress!

    Like

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  31. indiansaffron
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 00:04:09

    Reblogged this on Indian Saffron.. by prenita dutt and commented:
    Great read!

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  32. Mitch Zeissler
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 02:50:49

    My greatest teachers — the ones I remember most vividly and felt I benefited the most from — were the ones that established firm student/teacher boundaries and had a clear separation between work life and home life. As a result, their classes tended to be better behaved and more focused. As word got around, they drew better students and they lifted the overall quality of the schools they were in, both in terms of content and attendees.

    Having attended seven different primary and secondary school systems in five different states (Iowa, California, Idaho, Connecticut, and Maryland), I saw a complete bell curve of instructors and how they were perceived (or not) by their students and peers. The best ones forced us to think independently, take responsibility for our own actions, and become mature young people.

    Those were the teachers I loved and aspired to emulate. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

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    • Mary
      Feb 22, 2014 @ 06:35:21

      What a wonderful and important insight…I want to be a model for my students of a life well-lived. Thank you for reminding me of this.

      Like

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  33. jayne bowers
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 05:01:49

    Wonderful post! This is one of the many issues I’ve struggled with in my decades (ouch) of teaching, and you’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head with your well-written post. Somewhere along the line I learned that saying yes (to assignment extensions, make up tests, extra credit, extra time, and so one) was doing no one a favor and was actually teaching the wrong kinds of lessons. What are we really teaching someone when the answer is always yes? I’m referring to all sorts of situations both in and out of the classroom.

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  34. mrobaposh
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 08:40:58

    Reblogged this on mrobaposh.

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  35. nicoledalessandro
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 10:25:59

    This is a very heartfelt and insightful post – thanks for sharing! I am a new teacher (recently graduated but yet to find work) and one of the biggest lessons that I learned during my placements was how important it is to care of yourself. If teachers (or those in many other professions really) do not take time to care for themselves, then it will eventually become impossible for them to really be there for students in meaningful ways. Perhaps we need to recognize that smaller but more meaningful contributions will go further than overwhelming ourselves with responsibilities that we are unable to give 100% to.

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  36. speedtrapahead2014
    Feb 23, 2014 @ 19:56:35

    Reblogged this on speedtrapahead2014's Blog and commented:
    Nice

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  37. MissFit
    Feb 23, 2014 @ 21:45:32

    Well said. Balance. Hard to strike. Pun intended. can’t live with it; can’t live without it. Well written thank you for the great read. You have a gift. your students are blessed

    Like

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  38. huseinyar
    Feb 23, 2014 @ 22:37:32

    Reblogged this on huseinyar.

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  39. A Regeneration Nation
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 05:04:12

    This is a problem not just in teaching but in pretty much all aspects of life. So many ppl, myself as a single parent included, focus so much outside of ourselves that we can’t find ourselves and then when we snap or make poor decisions we beat ourselves up. It’s a good reminder that many of us need. There’s a reason for the Slow revolutions 😉

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  40. fujowpai11
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 18:21:09

    Everything is a matter of perspective for me and in general I prefer to see life as a boundless journey. However, I loved the way you see “No” and how it actually protects you sometimes and makes you a better teacher! 🙂

    Like

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  41. rizoalex
    Feb 24, 2014 @ 22:26:46

    Reblogged this on rizoalex.

    Like

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  42. michdp
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 21:02:09

    Reblogged this on sunflowers and soul and commented:
    I love the sentiment of this piece & how we should bow to the heart

    Like

    Reply

  43. zebulanhundley
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 06:10:54

    Great post. It is key to remember that when we say yes to one thing, we are automatically saying no to something else. We can be so busy doing a lot of good things that we miss doing the really important things. May we all have the wisdom to find and do those important things! Blessings!

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  44. Rii the Wordsmith
    Feb 27, 2014 @ 15:22:35

    I hope teachers are able to see this and able to remember that life is all about balance and moderation…and that sometimes one does have to say ‘yes’ to oneself.

    Like

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  45. th3bak3rman
    Mar 02, 2014 @ 10:27:01

    Such a great post, with many great responses. I don’t know if I could say any of it better than what has already been said. A lot of self- reflection as a result – Thank you for giving us something to think about.

    Like

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  46. Trackback: Oscar who? I won the Liebster Award! | Harriet in Bloom
  47. lahja
    Mar 04, 2014 @ 03:10:45

    Wow, thank you a lot for this post. Short time ago i started a new job with lots of kids and they need so much attention and talks, because they don’t have anyone to talk at home.
    So how to chose which one’s first? Once there was this little girl without a mum and she has so much to tell, but nobody’s listening and this scares me. If nobody is listening to our kids anymore, how are we able to say: we love our children? We want the best gor them?
    I truly love my job as educationalist but it’s taking a lot of strength and energy and it’s giving so much back, still you have to say “no” so many times, that you are able to recover, to come home, to be just yourself.

    Like

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  48. immavictoria
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 06:57:58

    i love this..mmmh

    Like

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  49. Trackback: oh no you di’ent… what not to say to a teacher in the hood | lifeinthedport
  50. ryanmanuit2014
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 21:30:51

    Reblogged this on ryanmanuitblog and commented:
    when saying no is saying yes by: Mary

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  51. jules
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 03:11:26

    Thought provoking.
    I believe we engage with students by treating them fairly and with respect. If we can meet the social-emotional needs of the children first, then learning and respect for the teacher should also follow. The establishment of boundaries should then evolve naturally.
    But I agree, it can be hard to get that balance.

    Like

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  52. Trackback: answering 10 QUESTIONS… | YES i WONDER
  53. Cinique
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 19:31:37

    Excellent. Thought provoking and moving. Great post! Looking forward to more.

    Like

    Reply

  54. bethechangebutterfly
    Mar 31, 2014 @ 20:24:58

    Great reminder to say no to others so we can say yes to ourself. We can not take care of others if we don’t stop and care for us first. There is a saying that comes to mind (not sure of the author), “Do not live your life to make a living, but live to make a life worth living.” Thanks for the great post!

    Like

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  55. Trackback: how not to finish a school year | lifeinthedport
  56. Trackback: Maybe work isn’t your happy place | EAP Consultants LLP
  57. Trackback: will the real me, and the real you, please stand up?! | lifeinthedport
  58. Trackback: Oscar who? I won the Liebster Award! | Ms. Hayes' English Class

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