Yes, I Am a Very Good Teacher, But I Need Help Too

Editors Features April / April 3, 2018


Social-Emotional Support  (SES)

We hear a lot these days about social-emotional learning and how important it is for students. But what about teachers? Teachers need social-emotional support too! FLGI surveys suggest that one of the biggest barriers to teachers migrating from traditional passive instruction to active learning strategies may be tied to the need for social-emotional support. Many teachers are simply not getting their deepest social and emotional needs met and are often teaching on an empty emotional tank.

This section is focused on providing the social-emotional support we all need before we even can consider Flipped Learning. This project was developed to be the missing link in the unsuccessful efforts to move more teachers from passive to active learning.

In this section of the magazine, you can either read the transcripts or listen to the episodes of a podcast called Teachers’ Aid, with Jon Harper and Mandy Frohlich. Every topic takes on one of the biggest social-emotional challenges teachers face in search of real answers. We affectionately call this project the FLGI pyramid scheme: Maslow’s pyramid first, Bloom’s pyramid second. Enjoy the transcript of the first episode below or listen to the entire show at the bottom of the transcript.

Teachers’ Aid

Jon Harper: Have you ever had that one student who could go unnoticed? You know that one student who is softly compliant? Maybe he walks around the playground alone. Or maybe she walks to class gripping the binder on her book just a little too tightly. You know, that student who has challenges getting what’s in his brain out in words.

As educators, we look for these kids. We try to engage them, either through a conversation with us, or an encouraging nudge to collaborate or communicate with someone. We don’t let these kids suffer their idiosyncrasies, their innovations, their social anxieties, or the misfitted-ness. Their “ish” if you will.

But what about our teachers in the building? The teacher who is quietly listening at a staff meeting. The teacher who barely curls a smile on her lips as she walks by you in the hallway. The teacher who leaves right when the end of the day arrives. The teacher who never eats in the staff lounge. The teacher who seems to have it all together, all the time. Maybe it’s a veteran teacher. Maybe it’s a new teacher. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s you.

My monologue was written by Valerie King, who is here to talk about teacher isolation.

Valerie, I can’t tell you how excited I was, how happy I was, to see your piece, Who Do You Notice. And you talked about how you just completed a dissertation on teacher isolation. There’s always people out there that doubt that this an issue. What did you find to support the fact that teacher isolation is really an issue?

Valerie King: Well interestingly enough, that’s kind of the cool thing that, that brought me to this topic. My research was really based around teachers using twitter as a professional learning network. And what came out of that was that many of the reasons teachers are using social networking was because of this feeling of isolation. And while I’ve read about teacher isolation, I’ve experienced teacher isolation, I was really shocked to sit down in lengthy interviews and have teachers share with me things like, “If it weren’t for Twitter, I probably wouldn’t be teaching today.”

“Having these people through twitter actually saved my teaching life.” And those comments were pretty powerful, so I know there’s something to teacher isolation, and it is one of those silent things that’s the elephant in the room.  The piece was hard for me to write because I had to look back at moments in my career where I felt isolated.

I’m innovative, and I will do anything for kids from one day to the next, and I started to look at the types of things that caused me to feel isolated. And then I was reading all this information about new teachers feeling isolated. And I thought, “Wait a minute. It’s not just new teachers. It’s not just innovative teachers. It’s not just veteran teachers.” It really is all of us at some point or another feel this, feel this loneliness.

Jon Harper: So you blogged about all this? What can you tell us about that? What, were some of the things that people said?

Valerie King: Things like, “I don’t feel like I’m getting enough support.” And that’s not just from an administrative standpoint. It might be a team standpoint. It might be a preparatory standpoint. The kids that we’re churning out of college that want to be teachers, are we really preparing them to walk into a classroom and teach a group of kids?

I had one teacher say to me, “I don’t feel like the crazy teacher anymore when I’m with my “colleagues on Twitter.”  The sad thing is that twitter sort of masks that isolation for these teachers. They come onto Twitter. They engage with people. And they feel positive and encouraged. But then they’re going back into their buildings, and that sense is lost.

Jon Harper: It’s true. I understand that completely.  I was watching a video yesterday by a guy named Jason Silva, who does shots of all. And he was quoting a friend of his who does Nerd Writer, and he said that a personal crisis is what occurs when the story you tell yourself about yourself is no longer convincing. And I had to write it down, and I said, “okay, let me think about what that means.” And it really hit home, because in education, we might go on twitter. We might read this book. We might see this seminar, go to this conference. And we think, “Yeah, I’m going to try that tomorrow.” And as educators, we go in, we try it, and it sucks. Or we bomb. It doesn’t go how we thought, and then we tear ourselves up. And we don’t want to share that with anybody, because we think, “Okay, what’s wrong with us?”

It’s heartbreaking.

Valerie King: It is, and I think it’s an interesting dichotomy. We’re educators, so we are in a very autonomous profession. We’re making decisions every day on our own. We are trying things out on our own. Yet we’re also a part of a very humanistic profession. We’re with little people. We’re with medium people. We’re with big people. All day long.

So there must be some rationale for why we as educators feel the need to be perfect and not make mistakes. And I started to think about teaching as a profession. You have people who practice law, and we know what practice entails, what we think practice suggests.

You practice medicine. We don’t practice teaching. We are teachers. We are educators. And, you know, I haven’t been blogging for very long, but this blog… I felt like it was a collective sigh of relief from the people that have read it and have reached out to me and have basically said, “Thank you.”

Jon Harper: The question I have for you is why are we so scared to show our brokenness? Because what worries me is that if we never show our cracks and our flaws, first of all our colleagues are going to think, “Well then everybody should be perfect.”

But more importantly, our kids, the kids that you work with, the little five, six, and seven-year-olds are going to say, “Well,  my teacher never makes a mistake. She never cries. She never gets angry. She never loses it. I guess if I feel that way, then something’s wrong with me.”

Valerie King: I’m not sure I have the answer to that. The paradigm needs to shift because we’re teaching children … It’s not that you fail, it’s how you pick yourself back up. And I think the most powerful moments in education are when children, young or old, see the people that are in front of them have those real moments. Those authentic moments.

Jon Harper: I definitely agree with you. And here’s my question. As educators, we’re having to work harder to take care of our students, and their needs are increasing more and more. Who is taking care of us?

Valerie King: That’s a great question. I think teachers are expected to be resilient. You might hear it in my voice. I have a cold, and we’re the first ones to send kids home that are sick, but yet we work through everything.

Jon Harper: I think we’re guilty of this and I’m sure I am. Sometimes I think we set ourselves up to fail. We have expectations of ourselves that are outlandish. I wrote a piece one time, years ago, called You’re Not As Good As You Think You Are. And I meant it because we compare ourselves to these perfect images.

How realistic are the expectations that we have of ourselves?

Valerie King: I think it depends on the teacher. But I think those of us who are innovative, and who really want to be change-makers in education, the expectations are so high.

There’s a great image I think about all the time. There’s this lizard, I don’t know the species, but he lives in the Sahara desert. And he can never have all four feet on the ground at one time because it’s too hot. So you see this video of him, he lifts one of his limbs for a brief three seconds, and then that one goes down, and then another one comes up.

And I think, that is me. And it’s a lot of my colleagues all the time; because it’s not even keeping the balls up in the air, it’s keeping your body firmly on the ground. And you know, we take on, we take on, we take on until we absolutely break. All of these perpetuate that big feeling of, “Oh my gosh, I cannot do this anymore. I’m doing it by myself.” You know, we’re hesitant to ask for help.

Jon Harper: We’re just trying to stay alive. We’re just trying to survive and get by day to day. More and more people are quitting within the first five years because they’re like, “You know what? Forget it. This is too much.”

Valerie King: Sure.

Jon Harper: So here’s my next question. And I’m going to finish with this. It’s one thing for us to talk about it. but what can teachers who might not have the courage to talk to a colleague do? What can they do tomorrow that’s going to help them feel less isolated, help them feel better about themselves?

Valerie King: Gosh. I think you have to talk to somebody. You’ve got to reflect on what’s going on and journal it. I journal a lot. So you’ve got to write it down. But I think you have to break down that “I don’t want to talk to somebody” mindset. I think those of us that have experienced it, have to be intuitive and go seek these people out. And it doesn’t mean you sit across from their desk and say, “The doctor is in. Tell me all of your problems.” But I think there are people that are in tune with the people in their building. And it might just be a simple, “Hey. You doing OK today?”

That might be all that it takes for that person to breathe for a second, but you’ve got to find somebody that you can say, “Help. Don’t do it for me, but hold my hand and walk me through this.” Because I don’t know any other way.

Jon Harper: How do we involve our students? Even as young, as young as five, six, and seven-year-olds? How can our students help us deal with this? Because I truly believe they can. I truly believe that when you’re in that room and you close the door, you’re like a family.

Valerie King: We have to be relational with kids, I mean kids are interested. They want to know about our lives.  There are days when the only thing that saves me at my school are my children. Because I can close that door to whatever is going on in the bigger picture of education, and know that things are OK.

If you don’t form those relationships, that’s isolation right there. If you don’t have relationships with your kids, you’re walking into that building already isolated. Nothing to do with administration. Nothing to do with the bureaucracy of education. You’re isolating yourself because you’re not connecting with those kids.

Jon Harper: That’s a mic drop, right there. I think that was perfect, and Valerie, I want to thank you so much for coming on Teachers’ Aid and talking about a topic that is oh so important.

Valerie King; My pleasure. It’s a tough one. It cuts very close to me and to many teachers that I work with. And I think as soon as you say, “I’ve been there. It will get better. I can help you.” It’s magic.


Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.

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