“What do you think about adding more
personal wellness for professional development
specifically designed for teachers
by teachers at your school?”
School has begun and I am no longer a part of it, although I feel like I am still involved to a large degree because I spend almost all my time thinking and writing about education. (It’s nice to do it outdoors in the sunshine or riding my bike and according to my own schedule) Other teachers can relate. It’s like reading a book or seeing some great content online or even personal conversations and constantly wondering how you can use this with your students. Not being in school has freed me up to think more deeply about school using a wider lense, so here’s something I’ve been thinking about today.
Who provides wellness and wellbeing support for teachers? Where can teachers truly find individual, specific support for their unique needs (as a person and a teacher) in a confidential, unbiased form and location? Who can teachers “go to” that they can TRULY trust if they need to vent, cry, celebrate, experiment, or play with new ideas that may be contrary to the school’s culture or values? They need someone who “understands” what it’s like to be a teacher (today, not 10 or 20 years ago and also to chat about what it may be like soon). What if they want to talk about quitting and changing careers? What if they are new and think they may have made a grave mistake and chose the wrong career path? What if they are uncomfortable talking to colleagues who may provide only confirmation bias? Teachers have VERY little time to bond with colleagues because of the school day schedule. Close trusting friendships are rare. And maybe friends don’t have the abilities or resources to help? Obviously, you cannot share everything with a supervisor or an administrator. Do teachers trust their union reps? Who can they talk with and find appropriate and informed support for their personal struggles as these affect and influence their mental and physical wellbeing and (secondarily) their professional roles?
Teaching is a human endeavor. It requires a ton of relationship management, understanding individual personalities- your own and hundreds more including your co-workers and parents, and all sorts of knowledge about schooling processes, learning, and teaching which is super complicated (teaching the people, Dummy, not the content knowledge– that’s the easy part). All of this is taxing mentally, physically, and emotionally. I used to take a nap everyday after school; and I posted pro-nap articles in my shared House Office above the couch we smuggled in (it was removed by the administration as a fire hazard….seriously). No joke, teachers often hide to rest or attend to personal issues. There’s very little time to process something that may have occurred during class or to reflect on it or celebrate with other adults. I recall being told in the lunch room that one of my students had died by another department chairperson besides my own. What the hell? I had about 4 minutes to process that before I had to return to my classroom for my next class.
As an ex-teacher and now full-time yoga teacher, I wonder how do individual teachers manage such stress? I mean, I am sure many do just fine using their own powers and personal resources available to them outside of school. That’s what I did, but shouldn’t there be someone, at school, to whom we can trust and rely on for support and resources as teachers? There are specific issues unique to the teaching life, the “who” of teaching for which generic help might not apply. How can we better help teachers not just manage or survive, but thrive? Where are the testimonials from teachers about their wellness and wellbeing?
Who is looking out for teachers? Who is loving them and supporting them not just for their ability to do their jobs, but for struggling and succeeding in being present for people? Do you know how difficult it is to show up and be truly present, open, vulnerable to all of the stress and energy that students carry with them into the shared space of the classroom each day for 180 days? I never recall my union “caring” for me on an interpersonal, periodic, individual basis or even being educated about “self-care” for teachers. I would not have trusted talking to a rep if that was my option. Was I supposed to talk to the nurse? Call my own therapist and pay my co-pays for that? Would a therapist understand the unique complexity and human dynamics and intimacy of teaching young people?
And now schools are floundering about with all sorts of technological and cultural change, and about to radically change their structures even more rapidly– who will teachers rely on for support for any and all of this transformation? How will they manage their ever-changing roles? Who can they talk with, personally, face to face about how they are feeling about all of this and how well they are managing or not?
We have all sorts of resources for students; what about the teachers? Why is there no Human Resources Department for teachers where objectivity and confidentiality can be accessed and trusted?
Perhaps our attrition rates wouldn’t be so high if we provided some trustworthy, quality wellness support for our educators– not just more professional development; not just an appreciation basket or holiday lunch. Not just a free massage booth on the first day of school or a motivational speaker who isn’t a teacher and doesn’t really know what it’s like to be me or you? Most of the dialogue about supporting teachers is about increased pay and benefits and I am not dismissing that. Unions surely have their place in terms of that sort of financial wellness, but it’s not the only resource teachers need.
What do you think about adding more “personal wellness for professional development specifically designed for teachers” by teachers at your school?