Our building’s administrators solve problems all day long. They talk with students who run away from them, they calmly ask angry kids to use their words, and they watch in empathy as kids scream their despair and pain for all to hear. They have given me many minutes while I pull myself together in order to continue facing 23 other little loves who need me. They have reassured me that I am doing great work, time and time again. They have worked tirelessly to unite our staff and motivate us to keep doing this work– this hard, hard work. I recently spoke with a colleague at the district office who, when I mentioned the difficulty I was having teaching actual lessons this year, reminded me that it is very easy to become detached from the classroom when the daily struggles of “life in the trenches” are removed.
Getting rid of suspensions has been a practice adopted by many schools at a national level in order to address systematic disciplinary inequities. While there is training available for educators and administrators, one PD session over the summer is hardly sufficient to prepare anyone for the needs students bring with them today. Restorative practices are well researched, data-driven, and more importantly, complement the whole child through social-emotional learning, growth mindset, and community oriented support systems. It’s tough for a do-gooder teacher not to fall in love with the inspirational, healing messages restorative justice has to offer.
Back in October 2016, #WATeachLead blogger Aaron Brecek wrote about how his building was implementing these practices positively. What followed were a stream of comments of other teachers in Washington experiencing similar successes, and similar challenges. I admit, I was excited to read such a lively discussion surrounding restorative practices when my district was just at the beginning of implementation.
It’s 2018. The lack of sufficient training, coaching, and funding is starting to strain everyone in my community fighting for the well-being and success of all students. Where once we felt like it was time to change the world, now exhaustion and burnout threatens to overtake our community. Most of the related articles and trainings on restorative practices will remind you that there is no quick fix for students coming to you with high ACES and significant life trauma. They will remind you that what works for some communities does not work for others. And they will remind you that one of the key principals for these practices is to restore relationships.
Those who are not in the classroom for 7 hours every day with chairs being thrown at them, with pencils being stabbed in their faces, and with broken, hurt, violated children screaming for the world to hear, tell us to stay positive. My emotions are 100% invested in the experiences of young learners, yet I have had to adapt to a detached and, at times, aloof manner, in order to best serve the needs of my students (and, to be honest, in order to not breakdown on the daily).
Real talk: I am burning out. In my building (and in the educational sphere in general), I’ve found that we want to stay positive—positive to the point of shutting down reality and the emotion that it brings. In this business, we refuse to hear the teachers who say I’M TIRED. I’M GOING CRAZY. I NEED HELP. They’re just complainers. Maybe they’re becoming the newest “nay-sayers.” Guess what—we’re all tired.
I know we’re in this for the kids, but the premise of restorative justice is that relationships within a community are reciprocal. ALL the stakeholders in that community are valuable and need a space to be accepted and supported. If I’m being honest, I feel that we may be on the cusp of a teacher mental health crisis. As a teacher leader, it’s usually best to focus on the positives and stay solutions-oriented, but there is a balance. If we don’t talk frankly and with candor, how are we going to get what we need?
1. If we truly want to meet the needs of our students suffering from mental illness (and please, don’t forget that depression and anxiety are mental illnesses plaguing even the littlest of kindergarten babies), we need mental health professionals in our buildings.
- When we find behavior specialists who know and understand students of trauma, pay them well and keep them happy. We don’t have enough of these highly specialized folks among us. Restorative practices beg for consistency and people who are devoted to the community. Keep our behavior specialists in one building so that they can truly bring teachers the coaching we deserve.
- Take regular walks through your district’s school buildings. Know what is happening in every building like you know your heartbeat. Some of these communities are on fire. Every day.
- Stop pushing literacy curriculum on me. Stop giving me new strategies to use technology. Stop reminding me to attend the math data carousels. I just told you, I’M ON FIRE. Believe teachers when they say HELP!! This is an emergency!
- Explicitly teach adults how to restore relationships with kids and with one another. Districts could focus on this from the top down, as it is the MOST critical aspect of building and maintaining community.
- Teachers are human. We are servant leaders, certainly, but that does not mean we can’t crack under enough pressure. Let’s talk about counseling services available for us. This is far more serious than your typical “teacher burnout.” The challenges and heartbreak these students are bringing us can become black holes. If we truly want to avoid teachers leaving the profession, we need to treat this as the emergency that it is.
What else would you add to the list? What is happening around districts that is working, and what is happening that we aren’t talking about? Please leave comments below!
My dog also has an Instagram, and it's better than anyone's. @mrdarcy_theiggy