Who’s Caring for the Teachers?

Another Teacher Appreciation Week has come and gone — cards and gifts were sent to schools, preschools, and child care centers — but teachers have been in overdrive since the pandemic’s beginning over two years ago. They’ve had to learn how to teach online, navigate shifting public health mandates, and worry about their loved ones’ safety.

Are the gift cards I just sent really enough? The obvious answer is no.

As a parent who’s seen what my kids’ teachers have been doing for them, a fellow educator who wonders what I would’ve done in their shoes, and an early childhood researcher who has studied how teachers have been faring during the pandemic, I’m left wondering: Who’s caring for them?

If we’re serious about appreciating teachers, then it’s time to take their well-being seriously. There’s ample research evidence linking teachers who are supported and doing well with their ability to respond to children’s needs. This, in turn, contributes to kids doing better emotionally, socially, and academically.

Furthermore, implementing well-being measures for our educators can have the added benefit of improving working conditions, enhancing job satisfaction, and reducing turnover, which can cost school districts $20,000 — or more — for every teacher who leaves.

The key, however, is that this focus on well-being cannot be superficial and must transcend trite “self-care.” This means a long term commitment to supporting teachers by developing trauma-informed schools that care for them so that they can care for their students.

As one administrator told me as a part of my research, “The impact of trauma has been heavy. Not only for our children and families, but also for our teachers and ourselves.”

She added, “Our profession does not do enough to support teachers with trauma informed care, nor does it educate leaders in trauma informed supervision.” While addressing her concerns might seem daunting, it’s actually within our reach.

A place to start is by recognizing that being trauma-informed rests upon relational trust: relationships centered on respect, integrity, and a commitment to collective competence. This must not be mistaken as simple common-sense. No, this is a research-based approach to pre-pandemic school improvement that recognizes trust as a necessary precondition for deeply analyzing school culture and climate, leadership, instruction, and relationships with families — all with an eye on effectiveness.

On top of this foundation, meaningful support includes training leaders and teachers about various forms of trauma and how it can affect people; screening both students and staff for potential trauma exposure; and linking students, parents, and staff to supports. This doesn’t necessarily mean counseling. These could include training about classroom mindfulness practices, peer-to-peer supports like tap-in/tap-outs, leadership coaching, support groups, or organizing PTA activities focused on building connection and belonging.

While we are all tired of the pandemic and longing for a sense of normalcy, defaulting to the “business as usual” model is no longer an option. If we want our schools to meaningfully address “learning losses,” we must also acknowledge our society’s profound losses. We can no longer afford to brush these concerns under the rug or tell our nation’s teachers to “bear down,” “step up,” or simply show some “grit.” The time is now for us to show them deep, and tangible, appreciation by advocating for more humane schools.

By Mark Nagasawa, Director, Straus Center for Young Children & Families, Bank Street Graduate School of Education

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Bank Street’s systems and policy work disrupts educational inequity, collaborating deeply with stakeholders at all levels. Join our discussion. Lead the change.

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Bank Street College of Education

Bank Street College of Education

Bank Street’s systems and policy work disrupts educational inequity, collaborating deeply with stakeholders at all levels. Join our discussion. Lead the change.

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