I’m going to revisit a topic that I have discussed before, but from a different angle. And that topic is…being a people pleaser.
I haven’t directly written on this, but some post that will be referenced and are worth reading if you haven’t yet done so are on setting boundaries, boundaries but from the perspective of making goals for the new year (you could also think of it as setting goals for the new school year), and saying "no."
Want to listen to this message instead of read? You can hear the audio version in my podcast or click the Mp3 below.
So…people pleasing. Please disease. Do you feel like you need to go with the flow and agree to everything everyone asks or wants of you? Now, I realize many things that are asked of you as a teacher, you may not have much of a choice because it’s required of your job as a teacher. I’m referring to the things that are not so much requirements, but more in the favor category. Fulfilling someone else’s needs and wants (not a student, this is more adult-to-adult).
Are you afraid to not give someone what they want or expect of you, because you don’t want to make them mad or come across as difficult?
Do you go above and beyond, straining yourself and your resources, feeling the need to prove yourself, because you want to be in someone’s good graces (or are worried about not being in them)?
When you can't say yes or are able to help, do you feel you have to go into great detail as to why to justify your stance?
That’s all people pleasing, and we’ve all been there at some point during our time in the classroom, and just in our lives in general. You know that feeling when you’re put on the spot, and you know this isn’t what you need right now…but you don’t want to disappoint someone - or make them angry?
It’s the fear, isn’t it? We fear what will happen if we say how we really feel and express if that doesn’t work for us, isn’t what we need right now. That ask feels more like a command that you have to comply with, when you really do have a choice in the matter…you just fear the outcome of it.
…and that fear is heightened as a teacher, because it’s also covered in guilt. Wouldn’t a “good teacher” take on an extra duty, stay late, let someone use their classroom or supplies, be on another committee, fill in at the last minute, go above and WAY beyond…it makes my head feel on the verge of exploding just saying all that! And it’s all the more reason why you need to stop being a people pleaser.
I went through a people pleasing season as a teacher. Then, I ran out of steam. Then, I burnt out. When the spark got reignited, I not only had to set some boundaries, I had to learn to say “no” and commit to the things that lit me up - and turn down the things that created more work than I needed - or just sucked all the joy out of me.
So why do we do it - this people pleasing nonsense? I mean, we aren’t kids - we teach the kids! Shouldn’t we be on the other side of this already?!?!
We teachers tend to be nice people who want to do good things for kids and for others.
Teaching tends to attract these kind of people, thankfully! Along with that comes wanting to do the best we can for kids. Being a people pleaser seems like it should be a part of the job. We want to be “good” - and going against someone’s wants when it will help them or someone else out just feels “bad!”
Maybe you were made to feel shame when you were a kid about not agreeing with others or saying “no” - so people pleasing just feels like the right thing to do because you fear the same response as an adult.
Or, perhaps that one time you expressed your needs and weren’t in alignment with someone else’s requests it all blew up in your face - and you don’t want to feel that distress again. That’s a normal, natural response. But you can recognize the feeling without letting yourself remain in people pleaser-ville for life. This is why people pleasing is bad:
Resentment. You can agree to all the things, do all the things, be the ultimate yes man/woman…but it’s going to eat away at you. It's the number one reason for a teacher to stop being a people pleaser ASAP.
Even if you don’t vocalize it, the resentment of feeling dumped on leads to resentment and being even more displeased with your job as a teacher (or if you aren’t displeased…it will make you displeased). Resentment affects your relationships with everyone, whether it’s students, parents, your colleagues. It will catch up with you.
Everyone is happy when you’re a people pleaser…but you.
Usually, the person who is a people pleasure isn’t someone who asks others for a lot. Chances are you’re a little more on the ultra independent side (goes along with being shamed for having needs or saying “no” in the past…not that I would know or anything). So not only are you not getting your own cup filled, you’re attempting to fill everyone else’s with the few drops in your cup that you have.
And that is a guaranteed recipe for teacher burnout. You can give and give and yes and yes, but the truth is that it won’t make you a good teacher. It will honestly make you less effective because you have fewer resources.
It won’t make you better liked or respected, because the people who tend to drain your cup - not always, but often - are often those who don’t respect boundaries or really care about you to begin with. It may seem harsh, but not everyone has the same emotional quotient or level of empathy as you. When you have nothing left to give, feeling bad about not meeting the needs of others will be the least of your worries - because you won’t have anything left to function effectively and joyfully in your classroom.
I used to be a people pleaser. Now, I am not. The pandemic and my new role as an art teacher was a reawakening for me. I had to start doing and approaching things differently if I wanted to hold to my newfound joy and pursue the things in education that were my strengths and interests. That doesn’t mean I don’t help others out and care about others. I do, deeply. But I can now be objective and sort out in my brain the gives and the give-nots. The heck yes’s and the heck no’s.
If you are a people pleaser, this isn’t going to be easy. It won’t feel nice, right, or good. But it may save you from feeling unhappy and put upon all the time - and maybe even from quitting your teaching job.
Here’s what to do instead:
If you are a teacher who needs to stop being a people pleaser, you need boundaries STAT. This requires deep work on yourself.
What are your times, quotas, and priorities? You’ve got to check episode #2 on boundaries. You are a person, too - what pleases you? What do you need from people. People pleasers tend to be very caught up in what others need while ignoring the things that light them up. But this is your chance to rewrite the script. You have to define where your own stop signs are so you can devote your energy fairly between the classroom and your personal life.
Start using “don’t” instead of “can’t” once you’ve set those boundaries to make the stop of your people pleasing ways stick.
When you say “can’t” it can seem wishy washy, like you could be persuaded otherwise if you could be psyched up a bit. Don’t is a brick wall that can’t be scaled.
Be upfront about your “don’ts,” especially if this end of people pleasing is going to be a huge about-face for you.
If you are the go-to person for certain things, sometimes it’s better to have a conversation about changes you are making to your life. You don’t have to over explain to justify why you feel the way you feel! There is no need to defend yourself as you stop people pleasing. To be blunt, it weakens your position and makes you look like you feel guilty or ashamed for not pleasing them (and even if you do…sometimes you’ve got to assume the character of a non-people pleaser until it becomes you).
You have to start saying “no” and stop saying "yes" to a lot of things to realign your compass and get out of the people pleaser forest.
Once you have your boundaries and goals (see episode 5), this is where you have to look your fear of not being liked or making people upset in the face. You’ve got to tell the truth. If you don’t want to do it, if it’s going to create more work for you that you can’t take on, if it disrupts your family life or your goals, if you don’t feel comfortable with the person who’s requesting this of you - it’s a big, juicy NO.
If you aren’t sure about how you feel about something, you can think about it. Just because you are on a mission to stop your people pleaser ways doesn’t mean you can’t give things you aren’t sure about your consideration.
Some things don’t require a right away answer and deserve your thought. There are times when I’m not having a good day and am sensory overloaded that I say “can I get back with you?” That’s because I can recognize in myself when my emotions are starting to strangle my actions and I can feel myself…loosing my footing. Needing a break from decision making. Maybe the ask really isn’t that big, but everything in that moment feels big. I stop back. But also, thinking about it can also allow you to stick to your guns and not feel so bad about turning down a people pleasing request. Give yourself time to revisit what you need and want.
It’s only fair to point out that some people will not be happy when you quit your people pleasing ways.
It’s not pretty. Your greatest fears about upsetting and disappointing people will be realized. You will probably have an argument or a not-so-pleasant exchange of words. Those that respect you and truly care about your wellbeing might be surprised at first, but they won’t think less of you. They may even respect you more. I’ve experienced all of this. You often see people’s true colors when you start having more self respect. The people that expect people pleasers to please are either not people pleasers themselves, or feel that that yes mindset makes you a good teacher or person. It’s a tough chain to break, but once you free yourself, it’s truly like lifting a weight off yourself.
We want our students to lead productive, happy lives where they don’t feel they have to be less or give every last drop in order to be who they are meant to be. We have to as teachers be models of that mindset. Being a teacher doesn’t mean you have to live with please disease. You can have a servant heart without letting yourself be treated as a servant. It’s a lot of self work, but stopping your people pleasing ways will allow you to be a more present teacher and a happier human being.
You know what else will give you peace? Classroom management that covers ALL the bases. Where's your copy of The Great 88: Rules, Routines, and Expectations to Go Over and Over? It's a free checklist of ALL the classroom management things you need for back to school season! Get your copy below!