Schools: A Labor of Love (For Teacher Appreciation Week)
Editor’s Note: Here at SSWN we’re excited to welcome a new voice to our site, Ms. Ellen Williams LSW, a SSW from Ohio. She wrote this piece for her blog in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week and graciously allowed us to reprint it here. Ellen writes: “I was inspired to write this piece after seeing many educators creatively serving their students during these uncertain times, especially the most vulnerable ones. I have always believed strongly in the power of education and its potential to transform lives. I hope that our society now sees this too in the midst of the pandemic.”
Schools: A Labor of Love
Have you ever witnessed something so beautiful, so delicate that it stops you, and demands your attention? And you get this tingly feeling come over you, you cannot help but smile while you breathe it in? This is what it feels like, every day, in a school. Schools are truly a sacred space- a space where students can feel safe, heard, cared for, and valued. Schools are so much more than an education, state tests, and homework- they are a labor of love, they are a village of adults, students, and families coming together from all walks of life.
Miracles happen every day in schools: Students accomplish hard things. A family gets linked with resources they desperately need. A student makes a life-long connection with a trusted adult. Students gain protective factors, becoming more resilient by the days, weeks, months, years. A student hears the words, “I’m proud of you” perhaps for the first time. Teachers smile, hug, high-five, and praise their students. Teachers advocate and fight for their student falling through the cracks to receive an IEP or a 504-plan. These special education supports are essential to students with learning disabilities, complex medical needs, and/or students with emotional or behavioral issues that impact their ability to learn. A student helps a friend in need. An LGBTQ+ student feels safe to come out to a trusted adult or friend, confident to show their true self. A behavior plan helps a student become more successful.
Difficult and complex situations also happen often in schools: Students and teachers are met with many challenges, and it is the school’s duty to handle these situations in a timely manner. Teachers are stressed and pressured to fulfill state and federal standards. Policies, many of which are not in the best interest of students and families, are burdensome and can create obstacles to learning. Fights happen, bullying takes place, and a rumor breaks the hearts of a student or teacher. A report is made to children’s services for alleged abuse, neglect, truancy, and/or domestic violence. A child does not show up to school for a week, maybe two, and no one knows why. A teacher is exposed to second-hand trauma by a student’s experiences. An overwhelmed parent takes out their frustrations on the school, or an overwhelmed staff member takes out their frustrations on a student, parent, or colleague. A student brings drugs or a weapon to school. The police have to be called to school. A child runs away. A student becomes ill unexpectedly. A teacher quits. A student is shot and killed over the weekend. A child tells you they do not feel safe going home. These are merely a few of the many examples that can sometimes happen at school.
Schools are not always a safe place for all, an encouraging place for all, or an inclusive place for all. Schools are challenged with meeting the unique and individualized needs of every student and family they serve. Parents and guardians are challenged with educating, supporting, and mirroring school at home. Both schools and families are often harshly and unfairly judged if they cannot meet this standard. I wholeheartedly believe that people generally do the best they can with the cards they have been dealt. I also wholeheartedly believe that when people know better, and have the resources they need, they do better. I think this is true for kids, adults, schools, and communities.
I have always known this to be true: schools are a sacred space where milestones are reached, students are encouraged to be the best version of themselves, and life lessons are learned. I hope that our world has now seen this too, and that the future of schools can be better than ever before.
So many kids and families within our schools are fighting an uphill battle. They have experienced or are experiencing generational trauma, mental illness, substance abuse, community violence, systemic racism, sexism, discrimination and oppression, poverty- the list goes on. Many adults who work in schools have experienced these as well. They chose their career with high hopes of breaking this vicious cycle for themselves, for the students and families they serve. Many of our schools, especially our public schools, are severely underfunded and under resourced to adequately meet the ever-growing needs of their students and families. Many schools do not have full-time school social workers, counselors, nurses, and psychologists to provide invaluable services to the most vulnerable.
Over the past few years, I have seen the best and the worst of schools, systems, policies, and of humans. The brokenness of many of our country’s systems weighs heavy on my heart; I see this all the time in my day-to-day work as a social worker. This has become even more apparent in the midst of a global pandemic. The world watched as teachers quickly and without warning adjusted to distance learning. We saw schools and communities rally to continue providing meals for families in need and continue supporting their families in the best way that they can during a pandemic. Schools, students, and families grieved the loss of the remainder of the school year and all the associated events.
I have always known this to be true: schools are a sacred space where milestones are reached, students are encouraged to be the best version of themselves, and life lessons are learned. I hope that our world has now seen this too, and that the future of schools can be better than ever before. Because many knew before, and I desperately hope now that we all know, that a school is so much more than a building where students receive an education.
I envision a future where all our students, families, and communities get what they deserve out of an education, out of a school. A future where teachers, school social workers, counselors, aides, and intervention specialists are highly respected, valued, and paid justly. A future where state and federal standards change for the best interest of students and teachers, a future with less pressure and excessive testing. A future where schools are adequately funded and resourced. A future with more patience and understanding for struggling students, families, and schools.
I am constantly in awe of the magic that happens inside of my school, inside of the school where my brother teaches. I admire educators more than I could ever put into words. Somehow, I got lucky enough to wake up every day and be part of this magic, this complicated, beautiful labor of love called education. I would give anything to be right back in the middle of it all with my kids.
This is my love letter to schools. To every teacher, aide, intervention specialist, bus driver, custodian, cafeteria worker, special education coordinator, receptionist, school social worker, counselor, nurse, psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, principal, assistant principal, superintendent, after-school program worker, community partner, interpreter, school support staff, resource officer, and everyone else who contributes to the magic- thank you for your unwavering commitment to children, families, and communities. To every student- we miss you, care for you, and cannot wait to see you again. To every parent, guardian, and family member with school-aged kids- we are here for you, you are not alone, and we know you are trying your absolute best right now. We are too, we are in this together.