We know our students rely on us to navigate their emotional needs. We give as much as we can and we are often depleted by the end of the year, month, week or even day. We fill the cups of all of those around us but who in turn fills ours? As teachers, we see into the lives of so many students; some whose stories are those of love and support and those of need and trauma. So while we are aware of the mental health needs of our students and do our best to provide it, who provides for the teachers? Mental health is important at every level. Everyone in an educational setting has a stake in the overall mental well-being of all stakeholders. This Ted Talk from Sydney Jensen brings that need to light.
We have just emerged from a traumatic three months. Yes, it was traumatic. That is not an overstatement. That is not cry for attention. As teachers, we were thrust into new learning formats, we were removed from the safety of our classrooms in one day. One day. One day our students were working away in their class and the next they were home for the next three months. We had to navigate a new way to teach, to connect, to be present. We knew home for some may not be the safety net it is for others. That weighs heavily on our hearts and minds.
Teachers did what they always do. They persevered. They got it done. It may not have been pretty but they got it done. They learned how to use new technologies, they showed up to Zoom or Google Meets when no one else did. They were a present and calming voice in this chaotic and scary time. Teachers prevail.
But now what? Now we enter our summer hiatus. I don’t say summer break because we all know it is not a break. Our minds, more than ever, are whirling. We are already looking toward the fall and what that might look like. What we need to do is stop. Stop. We need to allow ourselves to breathe. We need to sit with these last few months and allow our minds and bodies to process what occurred.
These last months were a constant fight or flight response to our circumstances. Our well-being cannot survive in that mode for extended periods. The experts are saying 20% of teachers are not planning to return to teaching after this experience. That is a huge red flag for everyone. We know this was hard. But, as with so many other societal issues, the pandemic has brought what we know, and have long known, to the surface. Teachers do not receive the support they need. It is not that we do not “feel” supported. We can feel support in many ways however, it is the tangible support that we need. We need to be able to sort through our feelings, our worries, our anxieties with professionals. We need to have our well-being, both physical and mental, at the forefront of administrators’ agendas. We need to feel connected. We need to know we are appreciated and that our work deserves respect. We need to stop filling in the gaps of what we are not provided. A colleague went out and spent $240 on Lysol this past week. She found individual Lysol and purchased them for her classroom. She bought them because she knows her school does not provide enough of the bare essentials that we need. She bought them to keep her and her students safe. We cannot go into this school year and provide these necessities. We cannot supply the masks for every student, hand sanitizer and disinfectants to make it through the school year. No teacher should have to spend hundreds of dollars on essentials. Essential that are now a matter of public health. Our needs go well beyond that of monetary considerations. We can not carry all of the weight.
We can not dismiss the knowledge we gained from this experience and not put it into place. We need to have supports in place so that we can not only navigate our students' feelings but our own as well. We need to know there is a net that will catch us. Now is the time we need to take a seat at the table and be the voices of the change we need to see. Now is the time to reach out to your unions, your principals, your administrators and voice these concerns.
What is it that we specifically need? What is your school doing to support teachers? What is missing? How can we support one another? If we do not realize the problems and seize this moment to rebuild our system, when will have the chance to do it? When will it be the right time? Now is the right time.