It has been a few rough weeks for me, some of the toughest I’ve faced in a while. There’s nothing on paper to explain this. My wife and kids are doing great. My oldest son is ready to move out to be closer to grad school where he is working on his doctorate. My daughter found a solid teaching job and my new high school graduate is heading to college in Boston. Ok…I have to figure out how to pay for his tuition – that’s stressful, but all in all, everything’s fine. It’s also in my nature and upbringing to plow through any discomfort, physical or mental.
Thanks to some reflection, I realized that the difficulty resulted from the winding down of a school year. Inasmuch as schools play an integral part in family life, educators often take on the stress from the community, especially during times of transition. In elementary schools particularly, parents worry about teacher placement for their child (certainly big this time of year) and whether their boy or girl will be ready for the following year. At Harold Martin School, we’re talking about Common Core and the Smarter Balanced assessment. We are debuting Singapore Math next year, closely aligned with the Common Core and more rigorous than our approach in the past. We have a greater focus on data than ever before. I see plenty of children checking out the guided reading levels on their books and I know that some parents ask their kids for these numbers. (Publishers: can we have invisible ink for the level numbers only readable to teachers?) I’ve had solid and balanced relationships with parents who suddenly let stress for their children change their approach with the school system. It’s ok…we understand. My colleague George Couros wrote about similar emotions and admitted that sometimes survival is enough this time of year.
I believe there are many external factors at play here too. A School Psychologist colleague once stated that he saw more overall anxiety in schools after the 9-11 attacks. Sure enough, a study was released recently that the stress of 9-11 caused a million more former American smokers to begin smoking again. A Rand study released in June 2002 showed that the constant media attention of 9-11 caused a significantly elevated level of stress in New York City children.
We all need to relax.
Don’t worry about this Principal…I’ll be fine. I’m more concerned with the stress on our children. Our School Counselor, Jackie Kleiner, says that the most significant change she has seen in her 13 years at our school is the rise in anxiety. Is it family life? Academic stress? The inadvertent role of the media in our lives? The Boston bombings, the Newtown shootings? Certainly all of the above. And the problem is that each factor is part of a synergy that makes the stress mix potentially exponential.
The greatest gift we can give each other is summer. Yes, lots of work for educators occurs in these two months, but there’s also great opportunity for recharging and relaxation. Blood pressures can return to normal levels, sleep deprivation can be abated, and perhaps we can brainstorm ways to be more balanced once the school year begins so that June is not simply about survival but celebration of great learning.