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Thoughts from a teacher: A call for emotionally supportive teachers

September 9, 2018 GMT

You need a degree to be a teacher. You take classes and you do practicums so you can be as prepared as possible for when you walk into a classroom of your own.

But there are some things even teachers can’t learn in school.

In today’s classrooms, so many kids are struggling. Their families might be torn apart because of death, divorce or incarceration, or they might have anxiety or depression and not know how to address it, much less talk to other people about it.

It is during these times, when both kids and parents are going through so many struggles and challenges, that teachers must embrace their role as a child’s trusted adult and a supporter of individuals who are struggling.

As a teacher, my first objective is to make sure that my classroom is safe. But I’m not talking about school shootings and violence. I’m talking about making sure that my classroom is an emotionally safe place where kids can talk and know that no one is going to laugh at them or think they’re weird. Kids need to talk and express themselves and you never quite know when they need it most.

Several months ago, one of my students took advantage of our safe classroom. A little boy stood up and said he had something he wanted to show everyone. The whole class watched as he stood and belted out a country song in front of everybody. The fact that he felt so safe he could sing and not have anyone laugh was heartwarming. At the end of the song, the whole class erupted in applause.

It wasn’t until I spoke with the student’s mother that I learned the real importance of this moment.

The mother shared how that specific song was the student’s grandfather’s favorite song he sang to his grandson before he passed away. I had no clue. You never know just how special these little opportunities to share will be.

Helping a child receive the emotional support they need feels better than having a perfect day or your favorite holiday. It’s better than both the Fourth of July and Christmas! My perfect day is every day I spend in my classroom because I have the opportunity to make that difference in a children’s life.

More often than not, the biggest thing a child needs is simply time to talk to their peers. Usually, it’s easier for kids to open up to their peers rather than an adult. If teachers set up opportunities for students to collaborate and share about themselves with the class, kids will have the opportunities to share what’s going on in their lives and teachers can walk around, listen and become aware of the needs in students’ lives. Sometimes a kid won’t have food at home and sometimes a child feels lonely and sad because they aren’t feeling a real connection with a parent. By providing opportunities to share, as a teacher, I in turn can pull aside those students who need help and we can talk about the situation and make a plan for it.

But even more powerful than the support teachers can provide is the simple caring compassion student peers show one another. Kids are willing to share when they feel safe and know that they have someone there who will listen. But kids are also willing to be the one listening.

Kids are so compassionate toward those who might be less fortunate or who are struggling. They pick up on their peers’ feelings and they’re willing to help.

If our kids can do this, then shouldn’t we be able to follow their example?

When I walk into my classroom, I see my students, and I know their struggles and I know what they’re fighting for. They’re fighting to be happy, to be successful, and to thrive.

As a teacher, every day I get to change a child’s trajectory in life. I get to teach kids the skills that will allow them to get a job. I get to be the supportive trusted adult in these kids’ lives so that they can overcome difficult emotions and situations so that they know they can do anything and that someone understands what they are going through and that they are going to be ok.

As a teacher, my students are my stewardship. After every year, I realize just how mature my students are because they go through and see so much. But I also realize that these little guys are going to do great things. If we create safe emotional environments for kids where they can develop the skills they need to cope with difficult emotions and situations and provide the genuine support and connection they need, our kids will be able to do the great things they are capable of.