Today, I want to offer a reflection on a matter that I think is very important and this is the topic of health, self-care, and wellness in urban classrooms. Now, let me first say, that this post will be part of a series in this blog because it is one that deserves serious attention. The matter of health and wellness in education is a topic that is not receiving enough attention in public education discourses, however, it is a conversation that seriously needs to happen.
In this post, I will describe several reasons why we need to discuss health, self-care, and wellness in urban schools:
- Teacher stress. Many teachers in urban schools are VERY stressed and this is not by coincidence. Teachers are faced with incredible demands that range from increased pressures with standardized testing; teaching in overcrowded classrooms; managing the behavior of students; reduced administrative support and increased administrative demands; violence in schools; and, not to mention teachers’ personal lives. I also want to acknowledge the gender aspect of teachers too–meaning that a large percentage K-12 teachers (over 80%) are women. The fact that they are women also means that many female teachers are also mothers, raising families of their own. If a teacher is a single-parent, for example, her job is non-stop, 24/7. This also adds to personal stress for her, because not only is she concerned about the welfare of her students, but also of her own child/ren.
- Trauma with students. MANY students who attend urban schools in low-income neighborhoods are experiencing an unfortunately high rate of trauma-based experiences in their personal lives. These traumas include: ALL types of abuse and violence (physical abuse; sexual violence; mental & emotional abuse; and, homicidal gun violence); hunger and lack of access to healthy foods (this deserves another post too); psychological grief from loss of loved ones due to death or incarceration; verbal abuse and constant put-downs from family or immediate environment; depression and suicidal thoughts and tendencies; the effects of drug use, abuse, and distribution; and the after-effects of gang life and gang participation. I also want to want add too that many students who experience trauma often experience it in silence. Many times, students who are raped, or bullied, for example, may suffer in silence. They may feel like they don’t have a close confidant to talk too, which increases their emotional and mental stress even more. This needs to be addressed immediately.
- Leadership Stress. I also want to acknowledge the tireless efforts that many principals and school leaders experience as well. I’m not going to pretend like their jobs are easy because they are not. From the outside, it may seem like a principal is just in his office, making big money, with his feet up chillaxing, but that’s not the case. Many principals in urban schools are working TIRELESSLY to improve the academic achievement levels of their students. They face incredible demands as well from the parents, community members, school superintendents, the mayor, and other policymakers and stakeholders. Because of this, many school leaders are in need of self-care and wellness too. Many of them put in 10-12 hour workdays consistently to improve the environment of the school and many times, without acknowledgment either.
These are just some of the concerns that I’ve experienced as a teacher, from my peers’ teaching experiences and from the scholarly findings of academic research. I also want to add that many schools in urban settings don’t have full-time psychologists, therapists, counselors, school nurses OR social workers, which only exacerbates these social & emotional problems even more. And, the topic of self-care and wellness in a school should not just be left up to the school nurse. There are many more certified professionals who can offer their support services to teachers, students, and school leaders.
In the next upcoming post, I’ll discuss share some of my findings from my dissertation research where I’ll provide some instructional-based strategies for incorporating self-care and wellness in the classroom.
Thank you for reading and PLEASE remember to take care of yourself.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”–Ms. Audre Lorde