Earlier this month I had a conversation with a friend who has worked in public education for almost 20 years. She loves her students. She truly enjoys her colleagues (okay, well most of them, she says.) She is doing what she's always dreamt of doing. And every day she worries about how much longer she can stay in a system that continually asks to give her more and more of herself while providing her less and less support. She is at-risk of becoming yet another incredible educator who is leaving the profession that needs her more than ever.
Though this friend is from out of state, I hear too many similar stories from my friends who work in schools here in MN and around the country. Perhaps even you have felt this way. Your class sizes are too big. You are paying more and more every year out of your own pocket to subsidize the materials that should be provided in order for you to do what you need to do for your students. More and more students are coming to you with such profound needs that in addition to being an educator, you are also feeling that your role has morphed into one akin to a social worker, counselor, nurse, or surrogate parent*. That is NOT to minimize the professionals and individuals who hold those credentials, rather to say that our youth are coming to our schools with such an abundance of needs that those on the front lines are asked to be all things to all kids. *(And yes, of course parents and guardians play a CRUCIAL role in all of this, but that is another post for another time as I believe there is so much to unpack about that particular issue as well.)
In talking to my friends who are in administration, they are feeling the same frustration. There are simply too few resources to fully support their staff. Unfunded mandates from both the state and federal level compounded with funding that doesn't even keep up with inflation puts everyone in a position no one wants to be in. Most of you in #834 know that every year we are spending approximately *$8MM annually* from the general fund to bridge the cross-subsidy gap. That's eight million dollars from our operating budget every. single. year. Do you know how many additional teachers, counselors, social workers, nurses, paraprofessionals and other critical staff our students need that we could add to our buildings at every level with $8MM?
We cannot pretend that the erosion of other systems within our society don't have a direct impact on our kids and our educators. The ongoing stressors and increased trauma that I see in our schools around the state is on the rise and at times it seems that both our students and those who are serving our students are doing all they can to keep their heads above water.
So that's the "What", from my perspective. And here is my version of the "Now what?"
First of all, my friends: Please take care of yourself. Please. Our students need you more than ever and they need you to be healthy. We all know the airplane analogy of putting your own mask on first - and it could not be MORE true when it comes to working in public education. Please take care of yourself and please take care of each other. There is so little we can truly control in the full sphere of our school system, but we can control how we treat ourselves. Please take care of yourself. You pour so much into other people - make sure you allow others - including yourself - to do the same for you. We need you to be in this for the long game. (For my MN friends, I hope MEA gives a little respite and that you will find ways to fill you own cup over the break.)
Second of all, let's stay united. I recently attended the MASA (Minnesota Association of School Administrators) conference in Duluth and met with Superintendents from around the state. Just two weeks ago, at AMSD (Association of Metropolitan School Districts), I sat in a full room with Superintendents and their leadership teams at a ReImagine MN meeting. I promise you that every leader I spoke to and heard from wants to give his or her district the resources they need to succeed and yet, with dwindling, finite and unpredictable funding from both the state and in local levies, they cannot fulfill every need that they know their students - and you - need. From my experience, their "why" is very similar to yours. We all want to do what is best for our kids. We are on the same team.
Lastly, please know there ARE people fighting for public education - they are fighting for our kids and they are fighting for you. Our communities, our country and our world need people like you who have chosen what I believe to be among the most noble of callings. We all know that our students are worth fighting for - and I hope you know that YOU are worth fighting for, too.
Let's stay strong together.
With love and gratitude for all that you do,