We’re Constantly Checking On Students, But What About the Teachers?

Who Is Checking on the Teachers cover image

This morning, I thought about taking a sick day—a mental health day. Yesterday was a rough day in the classroom, a day that ended with a parent-teacher conference after school hours. It was a day that I laid my head on my desk during my planning period and resorted to my hidden candy stash in my bottom desk drawer. This morning, I thought, “I’ll take my first sick day.” I’d been saving them for months, coming to school with a bag full of DayQuil and cough drops on more than one occasion.

“It will be fine,” I thought, at first. Then, I let my mind wander. 

“What if all of the subs are already taken? What if they have to split my classes amongst other teachers and then they’re all mad at me?”

“What if I do get a substitute teacher, but she can’t find my sub folder? What will they do all day?”

“We have a test next week. What if one kid makes a bad grade and their parent is sure it’s because his teacher missed a day last week?”

“Grades are due tomorrow. I’ll have to log in today anyways to do those.”

“I better just go.”

I let my teacher guilt get the best of me. Again. The truth is, it’s almost easier to suffer through a day of teaching even if you’re not mentally or physically okay than deal with the consequences of missing just one day. If I miss today, I’ll be five million papers behind on grading and my classroom may very well look like a trash can upon my return. I will be a day behind on working through this unit. I will be playing catch-up for at least a week. If I lessen my workload today, it doesn’t go away; I instead add to my already-consuming workload tomorrow.

I walked into the school reluctantly, desperately searching for the right mindset to greet the students that would be soon flowing through my classroom doors. As I walked into the classroom, my eyes go to the bulletin board at the front of my classroom. 

“How are you today?”

The words are written on bright paper above a row of numbered sticky notes so that each student may move their sticky note to the appropriate category. 

The categories read: I’m great, I’m okay, I’m not okay, I’m struggling.

Each day, the students have a chance to be seen by me; each day, the students have this moment where their feelings are heard. 

In that moment, I became a little jealous of my middle schoolers. I thought to myself: “We’re constantly checking in on the students but…

...who is checking in on the teachers?”

My students have this outlet available to them, and while it may not be perfect, it’s there. I never want my students to leave my classroom feeling as if they’re struggling mentally…but who cares if I feel that way?

I know I’m not alone. I know this because of what I hear in the hallway from other teachers. I know this from what I read. According to Educator Quality of Work Life Study, 61 percent of educators find work “always” or “often” stressful. I’ve been there. 27 percent of educators said they’ve been threatened, bullied, or harassed. I’ve been there. 86 percent of educators feel disrespected by US Education lawmakers. I’m there.

As a teacher, I never expected every day to be sunshine and rainbows. I completely understand that many adults feel stressed at their jobs. I anticipated the workload to be heavy.

I did not expect the constant worry I would feel over my students’ mental state, while my thoughts and suggestions are ignored. I did not expect to become a part-time counselor because schools don’t always have the budget for one; when they do, that counselor is so stretched thin to accommodate the needs of every single child.

This constant mental load we share with hundreds of kids does not come without consequences to our own health. It is something that a bubble bath or fuzzy socks or a little more sleep won’t exactly fix. It’s something that our lawmakers take very little interest in.

In this state of constant worry, I want you to know that you are seen, even if it’s not in the way you’d like to be. You may not be issued a number on a “check-in” chart, but your feelings are valid.

Each whispered “are you okay?” is documented in your life of good deeds. Just because you’re not important enough to be visited by officials who make the laws doesn’t mean there’s no one to listen.

Take matters into your own hands, teacher friend. You’re worth it. 

Will your school pay for therapy? It’s not likely. Can you find someone to talk to? Definitely. Whether it’s a therapist or a dear friend, we all need someone. Maybe it’s alone time, lost in prayer. Teacher friend, even in a five-second, in-between classes quick prayer at your desk, your words are heard.

I won’t tell you to wait and hope for something to change. I also won’t tell you that it will stay the same. I WILL tell you, you’re not alone.

I can promise that there’s no shame in admitting you need help. I can promise there’s nothing overrated about a mental time-out. You do what YOU need to do and don’t let anyone make you feel as if you’re a snowflake because you can’t handle this job alone, because teacher friend, it is so hard. 

Not only is it hard, but you can’t help that you care so much. That’s what makes you a good teacher in the first place. Give yourself grace today if you walked into your classroom dreading the day.

Take the mental health day. The stack of papers won’t seem as ginormous after a day of rest. The tasks at hand won’t seem so daunting after a much-needed break. I pushed myself too far today, but tomorrow will be different.

The cold, hard truth is that sometimes, there’s no one checking in on the teachers. There’s no sticky note chart in the break room. The special thing about teachers is that no matter how much help we do or do not receive, we will keep pushing for our students’ emotional health.

A student won’t ask if we’re okay because to them, we always are. Lawmakers are so far removed from our classrooms that pigs will fly before we’re asked how we’re holding up under the pressure. 

As for me, I will ask for the help that I need, whether that’s in the school or outside. I’ll learn to let go of the expectation that I’ll get it all done or that I can help everyone. Let’s take care of ourselves first, even if it means we are no longer seen as “the perfect teacher” in the eyes of those working above us. I’ll go first…“I’m a teacher and I’m not okay.”

Who's checking on the teachers? Teachers mental health

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Whitney Ballard is a writer and teacher from small town Alabama. She owns the Trains and Tantrums blog, https://trainsandtantrums.blog/. Whitney went from becoming a mom at sixteen to holding a Master’s degree in Education; she writes about her journey, along with daily life, through a Christian lens on her blog. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her in the backyard with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.

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