I love my students. LOVE. THEM. Every single day they make me smile, they make my heart dance, they make me frustrated, they make me laugh hysterically and make me roll my eyes so hard I can see the back of my head.
I love my school. I love hearing children read. I love watching them run and sing and dance and play. I love feeling like I have a family away from home and I love emails from students 5 years later that ask me the title of a book I read to them when they were 9. I love knowing that my words and encouragement could change a whole kid’s day around.
The career of an educator has changed so much, though, even in the 15 years I’ve been in the profession. The expectations put on us are insurmountable, yet I don’t go a week without hearing about how easy our job is because we have summers off.
It is alarming how many educators that I know suffer from mental health issues (anxiety/depression). We are faced with feeling that we are NEVER adequate enough. That we are NEVER caught up. That we can do the right thing 1,000 times and it’s not noticed, but we mess up once, and we’re called out immediately.
We are facing classrooms full of kids with myriad issues: not just divorced parents, but parents with restraining orders against them, victims of abuse and neglect, kids whose parents are incarcerated, kids who are homeless and hungry. And this is all in my small town-we have a population of less than 10,000.
I am not naive to think that these issues didn’t exist always, but I insist that we are now responsible more than ever. Social and emotional issues are affecting all of us, and in a world where test scores are more important than anything, I get quite literally stuck on the fact that kids whose minds are wandering to the worries of their life aren’t exactly trying their very best on the multiple choice tests in front of them.
My 4th graders will embark on another round of state testing next week. We spend TWO weeks of class time taking these standardized tests. I’ve been stocking up on granola bars to feed hungry kids, and gum and hard candy as a teeny tiny gift. We’ll plan extra recess and a movie day at the end, but, you guys—it is SO.MUCH.TESTING.
It makes me physically ill to think about going to school during testing week. Because I know that in the middle of it all, someone might be pulled to talk to Child Protective Services, or miss school because they were at the parent’s house who drinks too much and forgets to bring them to school. They might rush through the test just to get done because they think they’re dumb anyway.
I used to spend quite a bit of time judging parents. I couldn’t even imagine what was wrong with them that they would treat their children like they did.
I know better, now, and so now I do better. I know that the support systems I have in my life are most definitely NOT in a lot of other people’s. I know that parents, with few exceptions, love their children and want them to do well. I know that they are human and they make mistakes and sometimes there are substance abuse issues and sometimes there are a lot of things we don’t know about.
And this is a biiiiiigggggggg but. Teachers are being expected more then ever to step in and support and comfort the children in their class. To help teach social and emotional skills that are not being taught at home. To make sure that kids are fed and have clean clothes and personal hygiene products. To answer phone calls and emails from parents immediately, and with a “customer is always right” attitude, although sometimes they are so far from right.
Perhaps you can see the cycle now. Parents are not healthy, which affects the child’s life. Teachers want to help but really cannot, and the issues seep in, causing the teacher to feel extra stress and worry.
I’ve been told I need to keep in mind the child’s home life. I’ve been told I’ve gotten “too close” to students who come to me for advice or for that extra connection (in other words, I need to be there for them, but not too often, because then they maybe won’t connect enough with other adults).
I’ve been treated SO horribly by parents – here’s a lesson plan for you since you don’t know how to teach writing (that one is extra ironic now), how dare you tell me my child needs this or that, complete harassment from a parent when I declined to be a part of their custody fight (as I only ever heard from one parent, I didn’t feel qualified), and on and on.
I’m telling you this because before if I were not a teacher I would have no idea. I’m telling you this because teachers need your support. I’m telling you this because we need you to stick up for us, whether it be with your drunk Uncle Bob, or in the online comments on the newspaper article about teacher salary.
I’m telling you this because it is referendum time. Schools need your support now, more than ever. I’m telling you this because we need YOU. Email your child’s principal and tell him/her how much you appreciate your child’s teacher. Email your school board and ask them what their plan is for rising student numbers in classrooms. Please stop complaining about school supply lists. Shift your mind to the knowledge that there is NOTHING more important than our children and those that take care of them. Vote yes in your referendums.
If you are able, send in some Ticonderogas and some goldfish crackers to have on hand in a classroom. Trust me, we always need them.
Write a sweet note to a teacher you’ve always loved. Encourage them to keep fighting. Some us are ready to give up and give in.
We need you now more than ever!