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What Do You Need and How Can I Help?

Melissa Girmscheid Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Professional Development

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What color are you?

 

If you ask this question of anyone who’s been in education for a while, they’ll immediately know you are asking about the results of a personality test grouping everyone by colors. We’ve been given this test often enough, either as a way to help us better understand ourselves, or to recognize the unique needs of our students.

 

(I’m 70/30 green/yellow, in case you were wondering. I know, shocking for a physics teacher.)

 

See, we recognize, as educators, that our students have unique personalities that come with unique social, emotional, and learning needs. We differentiate for them, ensuring that each student receives the attention needed to affirm their growing and developing selves. We have instituted social and emotional learning initiatives to ensure that they are able to understand themselves and others better, much in the way we have been doing for them for years.

 

Why, then, does it seem that the unique social, emotional, and learning needs of educators are ignored?

 

Teaching and learning during a pandemic has required more work than ever before from educators, from everyone who works in or around the school building. It has required a shift in pedagogy, a shift in public relations, and a shift in communication. This shift takes time to learn and adapt to our, and our students’, unique needs.

 

One of the more interesting personality tests I have taken over the years categorized personalities, not by colors, but by Winnie the Pooh characters. Those who identify as Pooh are nurturers, concerned with others’ emotions. Tiggers are energetic, bouncing from task to task with enthusiasm. Me, I’m a Rabbit. I enjoy creating to-do lists and find comfort in completing these. Work first, play later.

 

During this time of remote learning, my to-do lists are longer than ever. I found myself, just this morning, making a to-do list that included making a to-do list as one of its tasks. Checking off everything on my list has become extremely difficult, and I have yet to reach that “play later” phase of my day. Everything is work. Every moment, including the dreams that interrupt my sleep, is work.

To-do list after to-do list doesn't get done, day after day, just compounding the stress.

To-do list after to-do list doesn’t get done, day after day, just compounding the stress.

As district policymakers construct professional development opportunities, perhaps they should keep the unique needs of educators in mind. I feel very fortunate as my district has afforded me the time to check items off my list, and keep the more anxious aspects of my Rabbit-like personality to a minimum. Colleagues in other districts, however, are struggling to do so. The Poohs don’t have time to check in on colleagues, the Tiggers are losing their enthusiasm, the Eeyores are slipping from acceptance in the status quo to despondence.

 

Now is the time to honor the professional knowledge of educators everywhere by honoring them as people first. Give them the time to meet their professional learning needs in ways that match their unique social and emotional needs.

 

Now is not the time for one-size-fits-all professional development, for grand new initiatives, or for re-examining curriculum. Now is the time for personal reflection, stress reduction techniques, group check-ins, and yes, checking items off that never-ending to-do list. Provide options, not mandates, and let educators choose that which will reduce their stress the most.

It shouldn't be like this, I shouldn't have colleagues reduced to tears on a daily basis.

It shouldn’t be like this, I shouldn’t have colleagues reduced to tears on a daily basis.

As the stress level of educators rises, the impact on our students and community increases. We are seeing colleagues quit, colleagues who end their day crying, and colleagues whose mental and physical health is suffering. This isn’t good for educators or for students. We need to work together to help one another through this stress, from the administration at the district office, to the teachers in classrooms, to the support staff who have been working nonstop since March.

 

This past week, the week that quarter grades were due, my students noticed that I wasn’t quite myself. I am teaching remotely, and they noticed. They sent messages through the chat, asking if I was okay. This shouldn’t happen. Students should be able to come to us when they’re stressed and overwhelmed, we should be the ones noticing a change. I survived last week knowing that this week would be my fall break, my time to rest and recharge and, above all, my time to check those items off my to-do list.

 

It’s time to band together as a community of educators. We can’t help one another, though, if our own social and emotional needs are not being met. Policymakers, ask those affected by your policies, “What do you need and how can I help?” Listen, even if it’s to the actions of educators and not the words.

 

Educators, what do you need and how can I help?

 

Melissa is a passionate advocate for physics education. She is currently in her twelfth year of teaching high school students about the world around them through the study of physics and carries this passion to her secondary job developing and leading Computational Modeling in Physics First with Bootstrap workshops. Melissa is a Master Teacher Policy Fellow with the American Institute of Physics and American Association of Physics Teachers, and in 2019 worked with a team of Arizona physics superstars to successfully lobby for ongoing education funding for STEM and CTE teachers. Her goal is to ensure every student in Arizona has access to a high quality physics education. She continues to advocate for students as an Ambassador with the American Physical Society’s STEP UP program and a coach in the Arizona Educational Foundation’s teachSTEM program. Melissa achieved National Board certification is 2017 and now serves candidates as a Candidate Support Provider. She believes in the power of Modeling Instruction, student-centered learning, and the Five Core Propositions.

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