This week we had a day and a half of professional development in our district. For some of that time we broke into teams and groups to work on curriculum and to share ideas on pedagogy, resources for implementation, and time for collaboration. We want to make sure our instruction is meeting the academic needs of all students and take that work seriously.
Then we focused on a side of education we rarely discussed at the start of my teaching career: the social-emotional needs of our students, in particular those who have experienced trauma and at risk for harming themselves or others. This was painful for us as teachers to explore, because we know how painful it is for our children who are experiencing this in their young lives.
We first had a training on “Understanding and Responding to Child Sexual Abuse”. When you hear 1 in 5 people are involved in sexual violence in your state, and you look out at your classroom to the faces of those 20 or more children, you know the odds and it breaks your heart. I’m certainly going to spend some time on the Children’s Safety Partnership website this weekend to become more familiar with their resources.
I kept wondering how many of our children struggling to follow rules, engage in our lessons, treat others kindly, or control their behaviors are dealing with trauma we could never imagine? How do we teach them when their little hearts and minds are so wounded?
Then we had a training session on Suicide Prevention. We learned that our state has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds!
We (teachers) might be one of the most protective factors for our students in preventing suicidality. Our relationships and connections with our students may be a lifeline we don’t even know we are throwing out.
The last session of the day was exploring the “Traits and Characteristics of Violent Offenders”- in other words, those who have carried out mass shootings .
Our local police department prepared a presentation that helped us recognize these traits but were careful to say there is NO “model profile” of a school shooter.
The term that stuck with us was “leakage“-signs that are red flags or indicators of threat that offenders put out ahead of their violent acts, but are often only recognized in hindsight.
Sandy Hook Promise has put out some great videos to raise awareness with this issue.
So being a teacher these days is not only about ‘Readin’, Ritin’, and ‘Rithmetic. Those 3Rs are competing with Social Emotional Learning and truly life or death issues for our students. Later this month our state test results will be released and there will be cries from the communities for us to raise those scores and work on school improvement plans. Luckily our state has done away with school “Report Cards” that shamed us on these high stakes tests and would have tied them to our teacher evaluations. But the pressure is on teachers to transform lives both academically and social-emotionally with less and less resources.
Am I saying we should lower our expectations? NO WAY! I am saying we should increase our society’s expectations for raising and supporting our children. It needs to be an “All Hands on Deck”, “It Takes a Village”, “No Child Left Behind” mentality from our entire society. It takes money and resources and a real understanding of what schools are being asked to do. We will never be able to attract the best and brightest to become teachers in the future if we blame schools and teachers for every failure, if we don’t have competitive salaries that will draw and keep educators in this difficult profession, if we underfund resources by diverting them to private schools, and we throw around flip and ill-informed comments like, “We can’t throw money at all our problems.” Education is a piece of the puzzle, but so is health care, nutrition, mental health resources, and child care. Accountability is often laid solely on the shoulders of schools. This must change.
I go to work each week grateful for the teachers who return each day to their classrooms with a passion for what they do. They are making a positive difference in the lives of children, no matter what their MECAS score tells us. This weekend many of them will be contemplating the depressingly serious professional development we just had, I’m glad we have a long weekend.
One More Off My TBR Stack
THEY CALL US ENEMY by George Takei, (with Eisinger, Scott & Becker)
This graphic novel memoir by actor/activist George Takei (Sulu on Star Trek) takes us back to WWII when every person of Japanese descent in the west coast was rounded up, taken from their homes, and forced into “relocation centers”. They lost everything (homes, businesses, jobs…) and were held for years in camps with armed guards. This was America and these people were Americans. How could this happen? Could it happen again? As Mark Twain once remarked, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” Timely, powerful, and important memoir told in an engaging and accessible format for readers