Going a different route with today’s blog post. A new school year is getting ready to start which means I’m revisiting some favorite educational TED talks as a motivation for the new year. This is a long one but it’s worth the watch! So click the link, save it as a favorite or bookmark it so you don’t have to watch it all in one sitting!
Someone once told me that it was okay to pout a bit as long as you admitted you were doing it, ended it, and moved forward. Indulge me a bit as I do just that right here.
This past April I hit the 40th anniversary of my first piano lesson. Somewhere soon here will be the 40th anniversary of my first piano recital. I taught my first private piano student almost 30 years ago and it’s been nearly 2 decades since I taught my first private voice student.
I don’t tell you this to brag. I tell you this to lay the groundwork.
Three times in the past three weeks, I have heard colleagues make statements like the following –
“I’m glad that the kids will still have music, art and p.e. during the standardized testing. The real teachers need a break from the stress.”
“Standardized testing gets the kids wound up. Good thing that they get to go to specials so the actual teachers get a breather.”
I get it. I’m a music teacher and according to those statements I am neither “real” nor “actual”. Apparently I am more accurately described as “fake” or “virtual”.
*sigh* Three times in three weeks I’ve been told by my colleagues that I am not a real teacher. My degrees are real. Both the Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts (major in Music Education) and my Master’s Degree in Education.
I get it. Being a classroom teacher has unique challenges that I do not face in the music room and I have nothing but respect for those in the classroom. But four out of five days each week, I go from teaching elementary general music in the morning to college freshmen and sophomores in the afternoon. That large an age jump brings some unique challenges as well.
The final insult came today when one student said to another “I don’t know why she (meaning me) is so picky about the rules. It’s not like music is a real class.” Interestingly enough, that child’s classroom teacher is one of the one’s who has made a derogatory statement recently. She was number 2.
So what do I do?
I get up tomorrow morning, grit my teeth, and head back into a work place where a handful of my colleagues are willing to belittle what I do and where I get virtually no positive feedback (with the exception some of the parents who spoke to me after the holiday program back in December!) and I do it all again. I signed a contract and will honor the requirements of that contract because it’s the right thing to do.
More importantly, I will NEVER refer to the work that other teachers do as not being real. I know from first hand experience just how lousy that feels and would never do that to another human being.
As I look at the current stated of education – specifically the meddling of government in education – I’m more than a little distraught. Education is the only field I personally know of where we use untested, unproven strategies and have no idea if they will actually work or not! From the way the day is structured to the way students are divided by age even to the time of day that school starts, none of it is based on any reliable research. And yet amazing educators are called to persist in a system that is very broken. If only there was some way to allow educators to do what was truly best for the students instead of what was most convenient for the money people.
I’ve started this post a dozen times – either in my head or on the actual computer – and I’ve rejected every attempt. I don’t want to sound like I’m offering a simple solution to a complex problem and I know that there are those who I would consider brothers and sisters in the faith that may disagree with the stance I am about to take. But the Holy Spirit will not let me give up on this so I’m back for yet another attempt and hopefully I get it posted this time!
The tragedy in Connecticut is still fresh in my mind. I have been a teacher, I have children, I have a niece and a nephew in Kindergarten . . . you name it, I can find a connection that moves me to tears! And I’ve watched so much anger and venom filling social media sites as people scream for answers. Strong positions have been taken up on both sides of the gun control issue and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the whole issue of 2nd Amendment rights could become a very polarizing issue in our nation.
But I think there is another issue that needs just as much attention. Maybe more. It’s time to start talking honestly and openly about mental health issues without shame or fear of harassment.
Churches offer support groups for those recovering from all types of addiction, and some even offer counseling for couples who have been hit by the pain of infidelity on the part of husband or wife. But for some reason, we still want to sweep mental illness under the rug. In my research, I came across a research project that looked at school shootings from all over the world – both K-12 schools and colleges – from 1997 through 2012. The number of shooters who were suffering from mental illness – AND being treated with drugs that are KNOWN to have dangerous side effects for teenagers – is shocking. Nearly all of the shooters fall into that category. For me, it leaves no doubt in my mind that a discussion on gun control is incomplete if we don’t address the mental illness that leads them to a place where they take such violent action.
I’ve had a handful of church friends over my 40 + years who have confided in me that they have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness. They were afraid to do so because, in every single case, they were afraid I would see them as being “spiritually weak” or not having enough faith. I was (and am) flattered that they trusted me with something so personal. And it broke my heart to know that their fears were based on actual responses they had gotten from people in the church.
Our church buildings need to become safe places for those with mental illnesses. We need to love on their families as well. In the case of children with mental illness issues, the parents can struggle knowing how to ask for help, feeling that they did something wrong to “cause” their child’s illness and fearing that they will be shunned by their church family.
Mental illness is not a sign of spiritual deficiency or a lack of faith. It is a chemical misfire in the brain. Nothing more, nothing less.
So what can we do? Encourage honest, open dialogue about the issue in our Bible Study groups, Sunday School classes, women’s groups, etc. We need to come along side the families of those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness and offer whatever help we can. Maybe it’s sitting through a doctor’s appointment with mom or learning the special needs of caring for a dependent child so mom and dad can go out. Maybe it’s simply sitting with someone and letting them talk. We need to understand what treatment entails and encourage those undergoing treatment because, from what little I know, it can take time to get the “meds” adjusted and treatment is a lifelong reality.
It’s time to remove the stigma from mental illness and I’m hoping that my brothers and sisters in the faith will rise up and lead the way, making our congregations places of refuge, support, and help for those who face the daily reality of mental illness.