You’re an elementary school teacher. You’ve just received an email inviting you to join a series of mindfulness workshops and your first impulse is to grab the pillow closest to you and to scream into it.
You scream about that time you tried to get help for a student you learned was cutting themselves, who talks about about committing suicide. There are no counsellors in your school. The child was told that you’d help them.
You scream about the student who has a combination of severe mental health and learning difficulties. They didn’t make the cut for one of the four spots your school of 500 students has assigned for the attention of a school psychologist.
You scream about not being able to help the student who is terrified of taking COVID home to their parent who has cancer when there is no mask mandate after spring break.
Your classroom has no windows.
The school’s ventilation system is 50 years old and cannot be fitted with MERV 13 filters.
Parents have been thwarted when they try to donate HEPA filters to classrooms.
Screaming into the pillow releases all the pent up anger and frustration you’ve been holding for two pandemic years that feel like forever.
You can’t take the gaslighting anymore. The flowery speeches about how important schools are for the mental health of students. The burden imposed on teachers to ensure students’ social and emotional well-being in a chronically underfunded system.
How does one take care of students’ well-being in schools without counsellors?
How does one teach a student who clearly has difficulty learning but who has been on a waiting list to be seen by a school psychologist for 4 years?
What are you supposed to do about the parent who cries every time you talk about their child’s learning difficulty? They can’t afford to pay for private psychometric testing. They’re already working 2 jobs just to keep their family fed and housed.
How does learning to do four square breathing fix that?
You can’t downward dog your way out of the feeling of being utterly helpless in addressing your students’ needs.
You know because you tried.
When these workshop invitations first came out at the start of the pandemic, you attended some sessions. That’s where you learned about the importance of breathing and being mindful. You’re keeping a journal. You practice yoga when you still have energy left after teaching, after hours of lesson prepping, and after even more hours of marking. And, to be honest, all this does help. Sometimes.
But more and more lately you feel like you’re trying to bail water out of a sinking boat. No matter how hard you work, there’s a hole in the boat that is not being fixed.
And what’s worse is that there doesn’t seem to be any plans to fix anything. The government’s latest budget shows an effective decrease in funding. When inflation is averaging 5% per month and the education budget has been increased by 3%, you know that cuts are coming.
Your district had a $40,000,000 deficit last year. To ‘balance’ the budget, they drastically decreased the availability of supports for students. Too many students were left without an education assistant. It breaks your heart to see students struggling every day.
You can’t imagine what the budget this year will look like. You know you can’t bear to see more suffering.
And so you scream into your pillow. Because that at least gives you temporary relief from the sorrow, from the grief.