Today I make this confession: I have been teaching for 18 years and I’m tired. I’m emotionally drained. I am not giving up by any means, but I am overwhelmed with the needs I am surrounded by. I am buried in emotionality and spend most of my days trying to dig my way out just to catch my breath.
For so long, I felt like if I complained about the difficulties of education, I would be considered weak or dramatic. How can people who get their summers off dare complain about the conditions of which they work for nine months of the year? However, it is this dismissal that is causing a mass exodus in education.
So, in brutal honesty this week, I admit that my heart is in constant hurt. I hurt because I have a front row view of what the future can become. I watch as students increasingly feel that the only way to be relevant in their world is to hurt others and get noticed for it. Any credit for embarrassing or demeaning someone gives them a substantial social bump. If students don’t want to go that route, then they place themselves in a pressure cooker of perfection. They set unrealistic expectations for what being “enough” looks like and punish themselves when they don’t mirror that standard (enter in anxiety and depression).
Students have also shown a drastic downward trend in how they respond to authority or being corrected. I always thank students if they comply with a direction or if they make a mistake and attempt to fix it. I believe it is crucial to show respect when correcting in order to get respect in their response. This mindset I carry though is having a diminishing effect. Many students today ignore staff, laugh at staff, curse at staff, run from staff, or give us their parents cell phone numbers to so we can be punished for correcting them.
We want nothing more than to support communities and families by creating a learning environment that teaches the vital social skills of respect, owning mistakes, and growing in character, but we feel alone in a battle too big to fight. We see the hurt and pain our kids are bringing to school. We feel how hard they work just to prove they belong even if it compromises their values. We see the quiet ones who want to disappear, and we see through the anger of those who just want to feel loved.
We show up every day with a tank full of love and patience, but we are tired. We know that we cannot do it alone even though we try. We need the support of families and communities to offer our students a united approach to a path of love and resilience. If I had a wish this is what I would love to see change:
More community service: I am bias because I work with middle school children but given their hormones there can often be little learning occurring. This is a time where the brain is shifting and their need for belonging is the greatest. If most students decide that schoolwork is boring and tormenting one another is exciting then we have a big problem. I would love to take more school time and put it into the community helping those in need. There are so many ways academic standards could be incorporated through reading up on various organizations or doing math to figure out how to budget time and money. The end game, however, would provide something much more lucrative: a sense of something greater than themselves. How great would it be for children to not only realize how lucky they may be, but also to realize how impactful they can be in helping others when they apply their gifts and talents? It is through service that they find the worth they are searching for at such a difficult time in their adolescent development.
Significant social media restrictions: I wish I could scream it from the mountain tops. In fact, I have a piece coming out next month about this very topic. ELIMINATE social media for children under the age of 15. I cannot quantify the amount of time spent at school dealing with social situations that stem from content put on social media. We deal with kids who create accounts with other students’ names to post embarrassing, false information. We have kids who create multiple accounts to harass others or to post compromising pictures of peers without their consent or knowledge. Streaks, likes, and follows are entrancing our children to believe their self-worth is nothing more than their social media prowess.
More time with families: I wish there was a better way to include all families in their children’s educational experience. I also believe that we need to work harder at offering families support in how to handle the trauma and social struggles their kids are enduring. This could include parent university nights, support groups, or free online courses or offerings. Parents or caregivers want what is best for their child, sometimes they just do not know how to go about it. We need to create safe spaces for families to communicate and commiserate on the difficulties behind raising kids during such difficult times. If we know it takes a village to raise a child, we must be a village.
We all know how exhausting it is to love someone so much, that every ounce of energy you possess goes into their wellbeing. Teachers are no different, except the pressure they feel is multiplied by the number of students they are blessed to teach. We take home their struggles. We lose sleep over their needs. They are our lifeblood no matter how many times they swear at us or disrespect us because we know if they knew better, they would do better. We are sending out an S.O.S to anyone who wants to lend a hand or a heart to contributing to the future of our tomorrow. Alone we are tired. Together we are inspired.