A Message from JabuMind Founder Jill Manly: Teachers’ Tears
The health of teachers and students reflects the health of a society. I stumbled upon this realization in 1985, a wide-eyed, newly college graduate, ready to take on the world. I set off on an adventure to teach in Japan, ready to broaden my horizons and make a difference. Soon, I faced a reality I hadn’t anticipated. The burdensome pressure Japanese high school students faced to achieve perfect test scores and gain acceptance from top colleges led to high suicide rates. Unfortunately, this trend I saw almost forty years ago in Japan did not change and has only worsened. Even more, the epidemic of crushing academic pressure has spread to our country to a staggering degree. We see this pressure fall not only on the shoulders of high schoolers but on those of elementary students as well. The negative impact this has had on students’ mental health is undeniable. As a mom, a woman, a teacher, a coach, and a member of my community, I reach out to spread the message that this conversation is of critical importance. We cannot turn a blind eye to it any longer. We must act.
There is nothing more valuable to a child than a dedicated teacher. No doubt, parents play a crucial role in the development of their children. Yet, when a parent falls short, a teacher is there to pick up the pieces. During the school year, children typically spend more time with their teachers than with their parents. The positive influence of a teacher is paramount to the success, growth, and wellbeing of the child. If we rely so heavily on our teachers, then why don’t we treat them as people to be honored and valued? On the contrary, the America we have today leaves teachers out of the conversation. Too often, we don’t respect a teacher’s advice when asked how best to support the wellbeing of our children. We underpay our teachers. We under appreciate our teachers. We pile papers to grade, lessons to plan, expectations to meet the unique needs of each student, the demands of classroom behavior management, meetings to attend, report cards to write, parent emails to respond to, and field trips to plan onto the shoulders of our teachers. Teachers often work nights and weekends to keep up, which is time they are not paid for. The weight of it feels crushing. Teachers who started their careers full of optimism and hope, ready to change the lives of their students and create engaging learning opportunities, now feel defeated and hopeless, unable to manage it all. It is no wonder nearly 50% of new teachers leave the teaching profession after 5 years. The social emotional health of our teachers must be addressed. Certainly, there are many excellent administrators who feel and see the importance of supporting teachers. However, the system itself still remains unchanged. In order to solve this issue, the system must change dramatically.
Since 1985, I have worked in schools across the world. From Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Eswatini to Virginia and Italy, I have lived in places that have given me a global perspective on education. My children’s SEL books are part of a global curriculum with Think Equal, a global education initiative to introduce social and emotional intelligence learning to children in early years education. In addition, I wrote my own SEL curriculum. I will never forget the time I was teaching SEL to children and a principal asked me to teach mindfulness to his teachers. What I saw when I met with these teachers forever changed me, and that’s when I knew teachers needed our immediate attention.
This happened about four years ago. I was leading a first day of school mindfulness meditation for teachers. I asked the teachers to close their eyes and reflect upon their day. I had created a safe space for teachers to carve out a moment of silence after a chaotic day and deeply connect with their feelings. As I gazed out on these teachers, my focus landed on one of the most respected, valued, and wise teachers of the school who began to weep. To me, this was not something to be ashamed of. This was a brilliant way for this teacher to release stress. We know that one tear releases more stress hormones than any other way of removing stress from our bodies. I was proud of this teacher and moved by the impact meditation had on this group. I was proud of the principal who cared for his staff and teachers enough to provide them with this self-care. Lastly, I was proud of the community for supporting the principal in adopting this program. We need more like it.
When teachers feel appreciated and cared for, they can show up as their best selves for our children. With mindfulness practices, we can refill our teachers’ depleted cups and restore them to their passionate, optimistic selves. They will once again become the hopeful, inspired, and motivated teachers they set out to be. A community has no more valuable resource than its children. Teachers are the people who tend to this precious resource, enabling it to grow and thrive. The science is out: mindfulness creates healthier, happier people. No one needs mindfulness more than our teachers. Teachers are highly educated, talented, and skilled. They are nurturing, selfless, and giving by nature. We have exploited that as a society. Shame on us. Large publishing houses spend billions of dollars developing curriculum. Do these companies value the teacher? No, they see teachers merely as tools to track and record data. This data serves as feedback to get them more funding. This greedy and corrupt system diminishes a teacher’s worth. You could liken this to big pharma pulling the strings of our healthcare system. Let’s put the power back in the hands of the teachers, equipping them with the tools to thrive.
If we don’t act now and take care of our teachers, we will continue to see higher absenteeism, attrition, and burnout. It may seem like I’m painting a dismal picture, but there is hope. There are countless ways we can make a change. Unions can step in and care for the mental wellbeing of their teachers. Administrators, nonprofits, teacher training programs, and healthcare industries can step in. Even more, yoga studios and fitness centers can offer special programs, workshops, and events for our teachers.
I want to work hand in hand with these players. We know that mindfulness apps are powerful social emotional tools. We know that certain proven methods of mindfulness are especially effective, such as the iRest method. We created a smartphone app that utilizes a proven method of mindfulness to deliver self-care to teachers in an engaging, easy-to-use way. Our app is specifically designed to meet the needs of teachers. Don’t worry, this is not a sales pitch. In fact, I downright hate sales. I share this with you solely to spread the news of one way we can actively change the teacher burnout crisis in our country. As like-minded people who care about education in a way that puts the teacher first, we unite to change the education system for the better. By prioritizing the wellness of our teachers, we keep talented teachers in the profession for the long run. The teacher sets the tone for the whole classroom. Happy, successful teachers lead to happy, successful students.
Teachers’ tears? Yeah, you’re damn right! Those are the tears of our society. Thank you, teachers, for shedding them. We see your pain, and we are here to show you that we support, love, and appreciate you.