This past weekend, I went out of town with my family. I had a 5 second encounter with a police officer that really got me to thinking about teachers. Wait, what?? Let me explain. We were in KC for my boys’ soccer tournament. At our hotel, an officer in uniform was getting breakfast and in my usual way, I greeted him with a friendly “Good morning” and a smile. He stopped and gave me a hearty “Good Morning” back with a huge smile and I could tell he was surprised and so pleased to have just been acknowledged. Sometimes those short, chance encounters make me think and this was no exception. It struck me that he seemed so suprised and pleased about a little smile and acknowledgement and it made me think about all the people that our society takes for granted and often treat poorly……police officers, nurses, ER staff, veterans, first responders and, well, teachers.
I have 4 children, who have either dealt with mental health issues, learning disabilities, ADHD, behavioral difficulties or sensory issues. As with all families, our kids have gone through a lot of changes including divorce and remarriages and even the loss of a parent to cancer and all while they were attending school. The reason this is relevant is that besides my years of working with educators for my career, I have also walked along-side the many, many educators who have worked with my children from infancy through high school and who have supported them (and me) as they navigated these challenges. I know for a fact that most teachers go out of their way each and every day to do the best they can for our kids. They miss their own children’s school parties so they can be with ours, spend their own money and time outside of school to figure out ways to reach and support our children, advocate passionately for our kids and yet they are rarely thanked for their time and love they give to the kids they educate. They have cried with me and my children, came to their events outside of school, checked on them long after school has ended for the day and truly took on much more emotional baggage than most realize. They put themselves out there and become a silent, unsung hero of the tribe that supports our children.
I have also been on the other side of the fence. As an early education administrator, if I was getting a call from a parent, it was rarely to tell me how fabulous my teachers were doing and lets just leave it at that. It’s a HARD job folks and the stress levels are through the roof. I have been to my son’s school more times than I can count these past few years to address meltdowns (we joke that I should have my own parking space and office, its been THAT many times). Every time I encounter a new teacher who doesn’t really know me yet, that needs to talk about my kiddo’s behavior, I have been met with an almost fearful, resigned look. That look breaks my heart, because I know WHY that look is there. Some parent (or several) has blamed them, yelled at them, cussed at them, threatened them and sometimes over seemingly small insignificant things. Wanna know what helps make that look go away? Read on!
Here is what I know. As a parent, I know how much of my energy is spent worrying and taking care of my kids, all while hoping and praying I am getting it right in some small way. It hard and exhausting. So what about the teachers who are also worrying and taking care of our kids and hoping and praying they are doing it right? What about principals who are doing this for sometimes 100’s of children? We HAVE to do better. There is a big spotlight on mental health right now, and I can guarantee that light needs to shine on those in the education field. Amid active shooter drills, campus lockdowns, rising behavioral issues, decreases in funding and big increases in children with mental health issues, the stress is high. Educators are living with this daily and taking it home with them each night. They need to be supported and it can really start with us as parents. I don’t have the answer, but I truly believe every small act of kindness can yield tremendous results. It doesn’t take much ….for example, did you know that there are actual scientific studies that show that simply smiling at someone has amazing mood boosting benefits for both the person who smiles AND the person who receives that smile? According to Ron Gutman, the author of Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act, “British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.” That’s some powerful feel good stuff right there that is SO easy to pass on! So, smile and thank someone today who works in education. Meet them with kindness and an open mind and heart when something goes wrong. Send them a note and let them know how much they mean to you and your child. If you disagree, do so with respect and compassion and for goodness sake, SMILE!! It’s easy, free and MUCH easier on the hips than 2000 chocolate bars!!!