An Open Letter to Teachers

I know this pandemic has totally changed your job. For our kids, this means that they left for March Break and “returned” to a whole new world.  With the new school year under way, whether they’re doing in person or online school, many parts of their day have changed and the class setting is not the same collaborative, communal space that it once was.  What has not changed is how much their teachers care about them.  

Just based on what I see in my own kid’s Google Classroom accounts, and speaking to friends who are teachers - teachers are literally working around the clock.  You’re posting new materials to your Google classrooms at 7am, responding to parent communications in the evening, and marking student work at 11:30 pm.  You’re doing this after teaching a full day online, where you’ve been “performing” with so much energy to keep your students engaged through a screen.  I see you, and I appreciate you.

If you’re working in a school, you’ve been collecting 20-30 sets of materials like crayons and books, because materials have to be quarantined or cleaned after being used. You’re paying for tons of materials out of your own pocket. You’re reminding kids to maintain distance, remain in seats, put their masks back on, sanitize/wash their hands hundreds of times a day.  You’re trying to speak loudly and clearly enough so that the whole class can hear, through your mask even though it can feel suffocating.  You’re covering other classes during your prep/lunch because a supply teacher isn’t available.  You’re filling the role of nurse, while also being the in-class janitor, referee of classroom disputes, on top of teaching addition and subtraction. Above all else, you care for your students above and beyond simply teaching them the curriculum requirements.  I see you, and I appreciate you.

If you work in certain school boards you are even teaching both online and in person, managing the delivery of learning in two completely different models with vastly different needs, simultaneously. With all due respect to you, the old saying of being a jack of all trades, master of none seems to be applicable here and its no fault of yours. I see you, and I appreciate you.

I probably don’t have to tell the teachers this, but for the parents that are reading this - did you know that according to statistics from Ontario and across Canada, one in 5 under the age of 19 has at least one mental health concern?  This means that in an “average” classroom of 26 students, five (20%) students will be dealing with some type of mental health issue that is making it challenging for them to concentrate, learn properly or behave appropriately.  Attentive teachers - you are often the first ones to notice signs of these concerns, because we as parents may not have the experience, knowledge or context of what is “developmentally typical”.  But in order to notice these things, you need to have the capacity to do so, and being pulled in so many different directions makes noticing anything much more difficult.  

I truly feel that teaching takes a very special kind of person, who has a heart of gold, can see the amazing potential of students, and believes in the power of education. However, when the system as a whole isn’t set up to support the success of students, it can be hard to feel any success at all. All of this to say that when we talk about mental health in schools, we’re often referring to the students. However, as we think about how we navigate this year, and the future of our education system, let’s not forget about the teachers and school staff.

Parents - during your parent teacher meetings that are coming up, ask how you can support your children AND how you can support their teachers. Continue to advocate for your children with provincial policy-makers because your kids deserve the best, safest school environment.  

Teachers - please take care of yourselves.  Your mental health matters.  You matter.

A wise principal once told me,

“My philosophy is if I take care of the adults in the building, care for them and support their wellbeing, they will take care of your kids.” 

I couldn’t agree more.