It was October turning to November and according the the New Teacher Adjustment graph my district sent me, this time of year should feel a bit like a pit of despair...
About this time, on a beautiful Fall weekend, I visited Chicago. While there I attended a one-day version of the Teacher Self Care Conference. I learned about TSCC through instagram mainly, as some of my favorite teacher follows mention it often--@teachlikeagirl, @mrsrussellsroom--and one of them was giving the keynote:
@valencia_valencia. (If you’ve never seen her teaching videos go follow her--her work is exciting and empowering.) The conference was held in a huge old Chicago school and teachers from all over attended, though mainly from the midwest. The conferences happen around the country, so keep an eye out for one happening near you.
The idea of self care is similar to the oxygen mask speech you hear on an airplane. You can’t help others long term if you aren’t caring for yourself well--you’ll have less to give and you might run out of air. You can’t be calm and reasonable for your students if you are totally exhausted. You can’t feel powerful as a teacher if you feel like you can’t trust your instincts and create work that you care about and that your students care about, or if you’re living in fear of the people who are “evaluating” you. You can’t be in proximity to serious traumas year and after year (those students show up with and those created by the educational system itself) and maintain your mental health without some support for yourself, too.
Overall the mission of the conference is wonderful, being in the presence of so many people who believe in teachers was great, and I loved the variety of the sessions. Some of it was on marketing yourself online and that was less interesting to me, but most of the day was filled with ideas I think about often and rarely hear anyone talk about. It was also really sad to hear how unsupported so many teachers feel, how they are carrying so many things alone, how administrators throw them under the bus and how ,often, since this is a predominantly female profession, teachers are carrying most of the emotional and organizational needs of their families alone, too. I heard many times how taking a short one-day conference as an afternoon for themselves was rare.
Teaching is an overworked, underpaid and under-respected profession in large part because over time it evolved to be women’s work. Teaching is a feminist issue and human rights issue. The care of teachers impacts future generations and it impacts the way children are being indoctrinated into the world. Teaching is relational and teaching is an art, and when you don’t ask and make space for teachers to be relational, don’t ask and make space for them to be full human beings, to be artists, but instead ask them to follow a script from a box of books and do it the same way across a city or across the years you are hollowing work that should be full of heart and soul and responsiveness. When you place every burden that comes through the veins and arteries of schools from the hearts and lungs of our troubled society, you are asking more than teachers can carry. When teachers gather together to talk about these things, maybe we can identify patterns and shift conversations.