Y’all, the Kids are Not Okay

I have two presentations in the next ten days as well as a new unit to lay out in reading and writing for my teammates and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. I haven’t blogged in months and a part of me knows I don’t have time for this. I should be prepping for my virtual presentation during my planning time on Thursday (that my 17 year old judged me for because I’m not getting paid and I love my kid for that). I should be working on my even more significant presentation for next week. I should be making sure I am ready to talk with my colleagues tomorrow about our research unit. Those things are all on tonight’s to do list. But I can’t focus my brain on those things unless I give myself time to work through my thoughts on how young people are doing right now because that is weighing heavily on me.

A Valentine’s Day note for an administrator in our building. The students know they need the support of caring adults.

I have 24 fourth graders right now (I teach on an army post so we have a very high mobility rate, close to 40%, so I always add right now). Because we are on an army post we have two MFLCs (military family life counselors) in our school. This is in addition to our 1 1/2 school counselors, our school social worker, and our school psychologist. Of my 24 students, eight of them are on the caseloads for one of our MFLCs. If my class is representative, that means our counselors (whatever their titles) are seeing 1/3 of our students on a regular basis. We have close to 700 students. That’s a lot of kids who are in need of this support at school. I recognize that it’s possible our school, for a number of reasons, might be skewing higher than the norm, but even if only 10% of our students need this support, that’s a lot.

Here are a few things I know for certain are happening in our 3rd-6th grade school:

  • students are cutting
  • students have suicidal ideation
  • students are eloping (running away from class – I watched a student run away from our school and into the nearby neighborhood, trailed by multiple staff members ensuring the child’s safety)
  • students making racist comments to each other
  • students threatening physical harm to each other
  • students bullying others (in ways that aren’t racist or threatening physical harm)
  • students physically harming each other

I believe that this is related to the pandemic (I might be wrong, but I’ve thought a lot about it and this is where I am). My students were very young four years ago when we were hit with COVID-19. They were kindergartners in that spring when the world shut down and no one knew what was happening. There is no way they understood what was happening around them but there is also no way they didn’t feel the anxiety and fear we all felt in spring 2020. They lived in that moment, full of uncertainty, full of questions, full of fear. They lost the chance to socialize with their peers in normal ways. Their school experience, whether it was virtual or in person, was not like it would have been a year earlier.

It is impossible for me to believe that this hasn’t impacted these children. We, as a society, have decided that it is crucially important that we address their lost academic progress that resulted from the pandemic. We have not prioritized their mental and emotional health. And it shows.

I want time to press pause on academics and help my students work through the trauma they’ve endured. I want to help them become more human and become better at being human. I want them to grow their empathy and understanding of others. I am looking for ways to do this without sacrificing the ever important test scores. I am looking for ways to do this that won’t make me a target for my district. (I’m not really that worried, twenty five years into this gig I feel pretty confident to do what I believe is what my students need, but I know that makes me unusual, especially these days. And I do still feel the pressure of the standards and the planning and pacing guide, no matter how much I try to ignore them.)

As is too often true, I’m just venting here. I don’t have an answer. And I think it’s worth noting that the teachers aren’t okay either. It’s hard to imagine the principals are or, really, any educators these days.


6 responses to “Y’all, the Kids are Not Okay”

  1. Sue V Avatar
    Sue V

    It’s not just the missed school time and time with kids their age. It’s that people died, and people are now living with physical struggles and disabilities they didn’t have before covid. It might be that they can see that most adults are lying to themselves about covid. (We should all be wearing masks. Classrooms should have super good ventilation. etc) Covid is still with us, and it’s barely acknowledged.

  2. Gail Avatar

    I often feel like that Lil Abner character, Joe Btfsplk, the guy that perpetually had a cloud over his head. So much not good going on for all of us—US hate politics, continuing efforts to privatize education, Russia’s war on Ukraine, Israel & Gaza, China looming, ongoing wars in Africa, racism, misogyny, billionaires hoarding their wealth like dragons, and on and on. The adults aren’t okay, and the kids are negatively impacted by that.

  3. Juana Avatar

    Dear Jen, thank you for taking time to share this important reflection. I don’t have answers, but will sit with this and process. I’d love to hear more, hoping to think of actionable solutions we (collective WE!) might be able to provide, even if in small increments.

  4. Michelle Jones Avatar
    Michelle Jones

    I hate to read this. Here’s why: I work in the counseling department at a high school and really hoped the little ones had escaped some of this trauma. The high school students don’t know how to have conversations, can’t cope in a class that lasts 90 minutes (though who could blame that?) but their parents still expect 7 AP classes, straight As, and leadership roles. Guess what? The colleges do, too. The teens don’t want jobs because they forgot how to function outside their bubble and 20% absenteeism is the daily average, with hundreds tardy. I don’t know what we do to move forward.

  5. Peggy Smith Avatar
    Peggy Smith

    I don’t remember seeing your blog before. I am so glad to have found it! Your insights are so valuable. I was shocked at the list of “happenings” at your school. I did not experience most of those issues when I was a teacher or elementary counselor although bullying and even threats were widespread, but mostly hidden from staff view. As an Army BRAT I was also struck by the fact that you not only have 1.5 counselors, a school psychologist, a school social worker, but 2 MFLCs. As a child of a career Army officer the only time I ever came in contact with a counselor was as a junior in high school when I did not darken the circles enough on a standardized test. If there were counselors, social workers, or psychologists during my school years I was not aware of them. No teacher ever asked if it was hard changing schools 10 times (twice as a Senior), having a parent away in a war, worrying about making friends, , experiencing the culture shock of returning to the U.S. from a foreign country, or even the death of a parent or sibling, domestic or substance abuse, or divorce of parents. No one that I knew shared those kind of concerns with parents, teachers, or even friends. The one positive response I have to the trauma kids are experiencing now is that there are now mental health supports available for children which means adults are aware that “the kids aren’t okay”! That is the first step and it was not in place for past generations. Please may we figure out how to help them without becoming burned out or overwhelmed as adults as the next step. The kids need us more than ever. Thank goodness for those of you who persevere against such hardships.

  6. Karen Richardson Avatar
    Karen Richardson

    Thank you for taking the time to share this. I hear similar stories from my graduate students. I suppose a general strike is out of the question but I am imagining teachers like you firmly closing their doors and taking mental health days with their students. Subtly, creatively subverting the system whenever possible. Helping novice teachers find their balance so they can become strong advocates for their students and themselves.

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