Ellen Dahlke: I’m a Teacher, and I Can’t Live Like This
Teacher Ellen Dahlke points out that teachers are being asked to become mental health professionals on the fly–and it’s taking a toll.
I don’t think I’m the only one whose quarantine afforded me some epiphanies. Two of mine:
- Time is an incredibly important resource to all of us as mortal beings, children included, and, ultimately, it’s just a made-up thing. We’re cute with little calendars and schedules and other markers and measurements we use to wrangle time, but ultimately, it’s gonna do its thing and pass — and also it’s not real.
- Physical presence, too. We don’t survive on this planet without getting physically close to one another. We need connection to thrive because that’s the nature of our species.
In the United States, we have mandated that our children are physically present at school for a massive chunk of the time they spend awake. Children spend almost as many hours at school as they do at home. For the first two years of this pandemic, opinion columnists warned that we better get our children back into the school buildings for the sake of their mental health.
The problem is teachers are not mental health professionals, and schools can’t or won’t budget for kids’ mental health needs. Nonetheless, children won’t thrive academically until their physiological and safety needs are met (e.g. food, housing, safety from bullying and other violence, etc.). We let shameful numbers of our children rot away in school all day, while horrified but largely helpless adults attempt to offer them something helpful. It’s maddening shit, soul-crushing shit. It’s low graduation rates, high teacher turnover, increasingly dangerous staffing shortages, but somehow more police in the hallways. Children living in communities that have historically been targeted by state violence bear the brunt of it.