Melissa Wilson, LMHC
Education in a Pandemic: Who is Caring for Our Teachers?
The end of 2021 is coming to an end and we continue to live amid a global pandemic - exhaustion is a common theme for everyone to whom I speak: doctors, nurses, therapists, counselors, police officers, paramedics, delivery workers, parents, grandparents, adolescents, children. The list is long.
However, one group that I hear from regularly is beyond exhausted - and they include my beautiful, fellow colleagues (and sisters!): educators. I am hearing, loudly and clearly, that my colleagues, all across America, are exhausted. Educators are feeling physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion because children and adolescents have returned to school full-time; yet, so many of our beloved children have forgotten how to socialize, how to interact appropriately with their peers and teachers, how to be kind, how to maintain safety, how to show respect, how to listen (while in the presence of their peers!), how to wait patiently, how to cooperate, how to be role models (I could keep going with this list...) - and all of this falls onto the shoulders of our teachers and educators, while also expecting them to continue to maintain safe distance in the classrooms, ensure students are wearing masks appropriately, encourage increased handwashing/hand sanitizing, keeping a strict seating chart for continued contact tracing, ALONG WITH teaching these same students a rigorous academic curriculum (and all of the OTHER work that goes into teaching: family communication, grading, lesson planning, open house, parent/family conferences, professional development, and on, and on). Educators are notoriously more than just educators - we have always been more than just teachers, even pre-pandemic. Am I right? We wear a lot of hats as teachers and we are always teaching students life-skills beyond content and subject areas.
However, with all of the added challenges (understatement of the year), who is taking care of our teachers and educators? They are overextending themselves to keep themselves, their students, and their own families safe, while re-teaching students how to be students again, providing students with social-emotional support, and catching them up on academic skills they have lost or never learned - but who is helping the teachers? They need support and help and validation - they need more than emails from district leadership teams telling them "we are stronger together" or encouraging them to "take care of themselves" over the weekend. Could someone take something off of their plates? Please? Who is taking care of them? Who is listening to their needs? And what is being done, that is actually helpful, in caring for our teachers?
Teachers are incredible at supporting students socially and emotionally; however, our students' needs are so tremendous right now that educators do not have the skillset or the time or the energy or the resources to provide the children with what they need. Yet, they are expected to take on this new role, which, like I already said, is often beyond what teachers can realistically manage. I am also hearing that many teachers and educators are struggling with their own trauma related to the pandemic - they continue to be challenged in taking care of themselves and we know that when you are unable to effectively care for yourself, then you will not successfully be able to care for others. I would love to see schools have on-site mental health clinicians or social workers for teachers and educators to speak with regarding their own anxiety and their own challenges this school year. I would also love for leadership teams in the school buildings to really listen to teachers and their needs - rather than making crass statements like I have heard: "well, this is your job now, so just do it...and if you don't like it, then leave." (This statement was not made to me - but reported by a colleague as to how she was treated by a member of leadership). I would love for schools to provide inclusive opportunities for teachers to feel validated for all of their tremendously hard work - maybe recognizing groups of teachers versus individual teachers. I would love to see on-site self-care options for teachers. I heard from one of the loveliest teachers I know that she was able to offer a yoga and meditation class to her fellow teachers at her school (on the roof with a beautiful view!) - what an amazing way to engage in self-care! Wouldn't it be lovely for educators to have the opportunity to engage in self-care on professional development days?
I wish I had a solution to help our incredible educators. Teaching is a profession that can lead to burnout in a typical school year, so I worry about what is happening to our amazing teachers during this emotionally taxing school year. Teacher friends: what are you doing to care for yourselves? How is your school district showing they care about you? How are they validating your tremendous work?
(Please note: I know many other professions are facing atypical challenges; however, I chose to address these concerns on this particular post. Sending love to all of you who are facing challenges - find a way to care for and love yourself!)