How can we support the emotional well-being of teachers? | Sydney Jensen
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How can we support the emotional well-being of teachers? | Sydney Jensen

Like many teachers, every year on the first day of school, I lead a sort of icebreaker activity
with my students. I teach at Lincoln High School
in Lincoln, Nebraska, and we are one of the oldest
and most diverse high schools in our state. Also, to our knowledge, we’re the only high school in the world
whose mascot is the Links. Like, a chain. (Laughter) And with that being our mascot, we have a statue out front of our building of four links connected like a chain. And each link means something. Our links stand for tradition, excellence, unity and diversity. So on the first day of school, I teach my new ninth-graders
about the meaning behind those links, and I give them each a slip of paper. On that paper, I ask them
to write something about themselves. It can be something that they love, something that they hope for — anything that describes their identity. And then I go around
the room with a stapler, and I staple each of those slips together to make a chain. And we hang that chain up in our classroom
as a decoration, sure, but also as a reminder
that we are all connected. We are all links. So what happens when one
of those links feels weak? And what happens when that weakness is in the person holding the stapler? The person who’s supposed
to make those connections. The teacher. As teachers, we work every day to provide support socially,
emotionally and academically to our students who come to us
with diverse and tough circumstances. Like most teachers, I have students who go home every day, and they sit around the kitchen table while one or both parents makes a healthy,
well-rounded meal for them. They spend suppertime summarizing
the story they read in ninth-grade English that day, or explaining how Newton’s
laws of motion work. But I also have students
who go to the homeless shelter or to the group home. They go to the car that their family
is sleeping in right now. They come to school with trauma, and when I go home every day,
that goes home with me. And see, that’s the hard part
about teaching. It’s not the grading,
the lesson-planning, the meetings, though sure, those things do occupy
a great deal of teachers’ time and energy. The tough part about teaching is all the things
you can’t control for your kids, all the things you can’t change for them
once they walk out your door. And so I wonder
if it’s always been this way. I think back to my undergraduate training
at the University of Georgia, where we were taught
in our methods classes that the concept
of good teaching has changed. We’re not developing learners who are going to go out into a workforce where they’ll stand
on a line in a factory. Rather, we’re sending our kids
out into a workforce where they need to be able to communicate, collaborate and problem-solve. And that has caused
teacher-student relationships to morph into something stronger than the giver of content
and the receiver of knowledge. Lectures and sitting in silent rows
just doesn’t cut it anymore. We have to be able to build relationships
with and among our students to help them feel connected in a world that depends on it. I think back to my second year teaching. I had a student who I’ll call “David.” And I remember feeling like
I’d done a pretty good job at teaching that year: “Hey, I ain’t no first-year teacher. I know what I’m doing.” And it was on the last day of school, I told David to have a great summer. And I watched him walk down the hall, and I thought to myself, I don’t even know
what his voice sounds like. And that’s when I realized
I wasn’t doing it right. So I changed almost everything
about my teaching. I built in plenty of opportunities
for my students to talk to me and to talk to each other, to share their writing
and to verbalize their learning. And it was through those conversations
I began not only to know their voice but to know their pain. I had David in class again that next year, and I learned that his father
was undocumented and had been deported. He started acting out in school because all he wanted
was for his family to be together again. In so many ways, I felt his pain. And I needed someone to listen, somebody to provide support for me so that I could support him in this thing
that I could not even comprehend. And we recognize that need for police officers who’ve witnessed
a gruesome crime scene and nurses who have lost a patient. But when it comes
to teaching professionals, that urgency is lagging. I believe it’s paramount that students and teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals
and all other support staff have convenient and affordable access
to mental wellness supports. When we are constantly serving others, often between 25
and 125 students each day, our emotional piggy banks
are constantly being drawn upon. After a while, it can become so depleted, that we just can’t bear it anymore. They call it “secondary trauma”
and “compassion fatigue,” the concept that we absorb the traumas
our students share with us each day. And after a while, our souls become weighed down
by the heaviness of it all. The Buffett Institute
at the University of Nebraska recently found that most teachers — 86 percent across
early childhood settings — experienced some depressive symptoms
during the prior week. They found that approximately one in 10 reported clinically significant
depressive symptoms. My interactions with colleagues
and my own experiences make me feel like
this is a universal struggle across all grade levels. So what are we missing? What are we allowing to break the chain
and how do we repair it? In my career, I’ve experienced the death
by suicide of two students and one amazing teacher who loved his kids; countless students
experiencing homelessness; and kids entering and exiting
the justice system. When these events happen, protocol is to say, “If you need
someone to talk to, then …” And I say that’s not enough. I am so lucky. I work in an amazing school
with great leadership. I serve a large district with so many healthy partnerships
with community agencies. They have provided steadily
increasing numbers of school counselors and therapists and support staff to help our students. They even provide staff members
with access to free counseling as part of our employment plan. But many small districts
and even some large ones simply cannot foot the bill without aid. (Exhales) Not only does every school need
social and emotional support staff, trained professionals who can navigate
the needs of the building — not just the students,
not just the teachers, but both — we also need these trained professionals to intentionally seek out
those closest to the trauma and check in with them. Many schools are doing what they can to fill in the gaps, starting with acknowledging
that the work that we do is downright hard. Another school in Lincoln,
Schoo Middle School, has what they call “Wellness Wednesdays.” They invite in community yoga teachers, they sponsor walks around
the neighborhood during lunch and organize social events that are all meant
to bring people together. Zachary Elementary School
in Zachary, Louisiana, has something they call
a “Midweek Meetup,” where they invite teachers to share lunch and to talk about the things
that are going well and the things that are weighing
heavy on their hearts. These schools are making space
for conversations that matter. Finally, my friend
and colleague Jen Highstreet takes five minutes out of each day to write an encouraging
note to a colleague, letting them know
that she sees their hard work and the heart that they share with others. She knows that those five minutes can have an invaluable
and powerful ripple effect across our school. The chain that hangs in my classroom
is more than just a decoration. Those links hang over our heads for the entire four years
that our students walk our halls. And every year, I have seniors come back
to my classroom, room 340, and they can still point out
where their link hangs. They remember what they wrote on it. They feel connected and supported. And they have hope. Isn’t that what we all need? Somebody to reach out
and make sure that we’re OK. To check in with us and remind us that we are a link. Every now and then,
we all just need a little help holding the stapler. Thank you. (Applause)

About James Carlton

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42 thoughts on “How can we support the emotional well-being of teachers? | Sydney Jensen

  1. I think too many Americans hold currently practicing teachers accountable for problems that they faced as students, and which left lifetime resentments against schools and the people who work and volunteer for them.

  2. I'm from Detroit. A favorite teacher of mine was beaten by a mother during parent teacher conferences with brass knuckles. She mentally never recovered and never returned to teaching. She had to crawl to the office on her elbows for help. All because the student was failing on their own. This is what I had to deal with as a student daily. It's hard to learn if your afraid of dying every day in class. Sorry but my issues were far worse. Metal detectors at the door and chains on them during class. Daily fights in just my class alone. There was a week that we played games because so many classmates where sent home for fighting. The teacher could not legally proceed with the number of students. Fix this first. Reply and like if you were that kid.

  3. 😱台中市市長『盧秀燕』,及中國國民黨,他們極可能就是中國共產黨的黨員;致在台灣故意的搞破壞!所以讓台中市政府整個市府團隊徹底癱瘓!仍舊不執行台灣合情合理的法規!……👉另外請見以下2019年12月2日第1段、第2段兩段留言以及下文:現在是2019年12月14日星期六06時47分,💔目前這些違反分區使用!仍舊在住宅區內,違法從事工業生產!沖床等加工的地下工廠!仍是現在進行式的,持續的在違法加工!尤其是台中市西屯區福順路255巷10號4樓這1戶!機器設備最多!生產量最大!幾乎是24小時都不停的作業!已經做了22年4個多月!最早的1家違法沖床加工廠!外有豪宅!4、5輛轎車!月入近100多萬元的收入!……💔台中市政府經受害人一再的報案卻仍舊不處理!最近一次的報案是於2019年12月5日的6時43分由台中市1999編號1279號陳小姐受理,受害人要求市府要台中市環境保護局派員會同處理的案號是108-B138542,另受害人也要求盧秀燕市長解決:🛑1.經過台中市環境保護局在受害人屋內量測噪音,已確認超過噪音管制標準,讓受害人天天仍要塞著耳塞!還仍舊是非常痛苦過日子的強烈低頻噪音問題!🛑2.因機器強烈震動,致使受害人屋內的樑、柱、屋頂、牆面以及地板等嚴重龜裂漏水之公共危險的問題!🛑3.於住宅區內從事工業生產較易發生的消防安全的問題!🛑4.加工物端子必須電鍍處理而排放有毒廢水至灌溉系統!會讓社會大眾吃到有毒農作物的水污染問題!🛑5.地下工廠賺錢不繳稅逃漏稅的問題!🙄以證明盧秀燕市長她自己沒有貪污!也沒有加入中國共產黨!故絕對不執行台灣合情合理的法規!也不是個超級大無能混世魔王市長!❤️並也要求盧秀燕市長要求台中市環境保護局在受害人屋內,架設噪音計連續量測1年;因為噪音計絕對不會說謊,公文回覆的案號是108-B138539。
    😰牛郎店怕被找麻煩 月交1萬5000元行賄員警


  4. Teachers should be allowed special benefits while wearing a newly created stole or cord in public. To let us all know how important they really are to our futures. Tax free lives up to 10k per year to offset spending on supplies for our kids, teacher discounts on menus at restaurants, special close parking spots > like for disabled and vets – to help them with time crunch schedules. And probably a lot more things that im not qualified to chime in on. Idk. All i know is that i had 2 teachers that changed the course of my life were my parents failed and i love them to this day for it.

  5. As a student I totally agree. Thanks for raising this point. We all need support and teachers are being put under intense pressure when all many want to do is help x

  6. People in power don't care. Soon a teaching job will be as easy to get as what a taxi, carer or retail job is nowadays. Basic training ticked off to meet the basic criteria. They don't want passionate people that may create problems, they want nameless hands to fill the numbers they've promised..

  7. Stop indoctrinating teachers into Marxist ideology and allowing violent kids in the classroom. They should be separated from the education system just like violent criminals are separated from society.

  8. Here's a far less emotional dialogue on mental health from people working in a healthcare settings:

  9. How can you support the emotional well-being of teachers? The same way you can support the emotional well-being of doctors, like me

    Quit assuming and quit mandating
    I don’t know how it is with teachers, but every doctor I know supports our president and is a Republican with RARE exception m, even those that used to be liberals or Democrats because the left has gone off the deep end
    The indoctrination, the false binary’s, the push towards ridiculousness and away from the building blocks upon which this country was founded, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is absolutely out of control
    ~Dr Tammy

  10. Did anyone have a favorite teacher ?, yes we all did, I guarantee you that teacher had the support of the system, his/her peers, and family, causing that teacher to pragmatically be better than some others.
    When we invest into the mental health of our teachers we predominately invest into our children.

    Just a thought.

  11. Thanks. Some students are tired, overburdened with knowledge and random quizzes and ready to quit from stress, and rather need votech and to use their hands as their art. So that happy students make happy teachers. gbu

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