Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Dear Readers: This story came to my attention from one of my favorite readers. He asked me to reprint it and I did so because everything the author says here is the truth. Our teachers struggle everyday. They struggle because our expectations of them are unbelievably high. We don’t just expect them to teach. We expect them to cure society’s ills – and become a student’s mom, father, uncle, aunt. We expect them to do this for next-to-nothing in pay and we expect them to run many other programs beyond the classroom – such as harvest festivals, after school clubs and scores of other projects.

The other thing we forget – and the reason I don’t ever want to be a teacher – is the sea of sadness they walk through in their classrooms every day. It’s almost better not to know that this student is dying, this one’s brother has been fatally shot and this kid – well, this child is raising his siblings because his parents are drug addicts. Some teachers harden themselves to this and try not to know. Other teachers go home and cry. How can we expect any teacher to possibly fix society’s overall trouble?s

As Mindy Sloan, Ph.D, says – who is author of Say It Now Thank You to A Teacher – we all need to understand that they can’t.

By Mindy Sloan

The personal cost of teaching may be becoming too high. In my 10 years as a teacher of teachers, more and more of my students are reporting headaches, sleepless nights, irritated stomachs, chronic illness and even cancer. As someone who cares about children, and sees the necessity of having healthy teachers to support them, I can’t help but feel compelled to understand why teachers are getting sick.

Here are the reasons I have identified thus far:

Unrealistic expectations.
One reason may be that we place unrealistic expectations on teachers. Classrooms are a place in which every societal challenge presents itself. If a community is impoverished, violent or drug infested, it is expressed through the children in the classroom. It is society’s expectation that the teacher in the classroom must be prepared to remediate any societal problem we present, and teach each child to read at the same time.

Changing requirements.

The requirements to keep a teaching credential keep changing. As the needs of California’s children change, the training required to teach changes as well. For example, you may be a special-education teacher who has been effectively teaching children with autism for 20 years, but unless you go back to school
and earn the new Added Authorization, Autism Spectrum Disorders, mortgage foreclosures, violence in our streets, child abuse articles
last summer, “Grading the Teachers: Valued-Added Analysis.” New
York City Schools has followed suit, releasing ratings of 12,000 teachers. In both cases, each individual teacher was ranked based on the performance of the students in his/her classroom. While some ineffective teachers may be identified using this approach, there is no distinction between ineffectiveness and those competent teachers who are willing to take on the most challenging learners. Indeed, the message of the approach is clear. If you care about all learners, even those who have the most challenges, you will be identified as a bad teacher. For those who choose the profession because they love children and teaching, such a label is devastating.

Lack of support systems.

There is no argument that the focus of our educational system should be on children, first and foremost. Caring for our children, however, means we must do what we can to give them the kind of adults they need to succeed. Some of these adults must be teachers, teachers who are not only academically prepared, but teachers who are emotionally and physically healthy as well. Thus far, teacher preparation programs focus on academic knowledge and skills. There is little to no mention of self-care or preparing for the emotional realities of working in today’s schools.

Likewise, district funding does not include teacher support groupsor
systems to facilitate emotional health in current teachers. It should stand to reason that teachers who struggle with their own emotional and physical health cannot provide the kinds of environments students need to succeed. Indeed, one may consider that it is the emotionally unhealthy teacher who can be the most damaging to children.

In my experience, teachers internalize. They do not tend to complain and are not particularly good at advocating for themselves. They tend to put their own needs on the back burner, considering others first. The importance of healthy and effective teachers cannot be overly stated. As a group, they see every child. They impact every child. If we want to
support our children, we must support their teachers.

Sloan is director of accreditation and associate professor of special education at Brandman Univeristy, part of the Chapman University System. She is the author of “Say It Now: Thank You to a Teacher.” Her e-mail address is