I still remember my first day of work as a fourth grade teacher. My classroom had a green chalkboard, an overhead projector, one large wooden teacher desk and rows of student seats. I entered ready to present my lesson and engage with students. But within the first few minutes I recognized I was prepared to give a lesson but outside of that really had no idea what I was doing. It would be an understatement to say I struggled my first day as a new teacher.
Teaching is more stressful and challenging than ever. It is arguably one of the most stressful jobs in the country. With the ever-increasing workload, accountability policies, restrictions on how teachers are allowed to educate students, not to mention the overwhelm of navigating school during a pandemic, it's no wonder that currently, teacher stress is reported to be just as high as doctors and nurses. High-stress levels can lead to many negative consequences for health and well-being. Quality of life and teaching performance suffer as chronic stress leads to teacher burnout, job dissatisfaction, poor performance, and high turnover rates. At the end of the 2020–2021 school year, nearly 25% of teachers reported that they were likely to quit their jobs, increasing by almost 10% of teachers who said they were likely to leave before the pandemic. African American teachers were especially likely to quit teaching.
To the new teachers out there, are you: Excited about what this year will bring and courageously making an entrance into the education arena for the purpose of serving today’s youth? Vowing personally to provide the utmost professionalism possible whether your initial, or second profession from a previous career?
The more time we invest in ourselves, as educators, the more we can give to students. The richer our interactions and relationships can become when we get better acquainted with ourselves. At the risk of sounding cliché about self-improvement, it is powerful to spend our time taking care of ourselves. The world of education can be chaotic on a good day and now the chaos has turned up a few thousand notches as we navigate COVID, student mental health, missing assignments, student absences, and ever- changing rules/guidelines.
These days, I am constantly reminded by the elementary-aged kiddos whom I counsel (now via Zoom), each week that they want to show me their world (including their real and imaginary pets), they want me to meet them with curiosity, to connect, and they want my full presence. In the words of one of my 3rd graders, “Ms. Pam, I feel like you’re the only one who really listens to me, like, you get me”.
Often the focus of the concept “Social-Emotional Learning” is geared towards our students. Most educators have acknowledged the fact that students have a challenging time learning to the best of their capacity when their social-emotional needs are not being met. What about the educators themselves? When do the educators get to process the secondary trauma that is often occurring throughout the day?
When educators make over 1,500 decisions on a daily basis, how do we ensure that these choices are consistently oriented toward the holistic development of each of our students? This is the question that our team at Detroit Prep and Detroit Achievement Academy sets out to answer each school year as we develop our annual goals.
In the era of initiative fatigue, the last thing most teachers need is another program that promises to improve teacher wellbeing, reduce stress, and benefit classroom management. So let’s not have that conversation. Instead, let’s talk about real, sustainable, systemic change for the better.