Education is in crisis – and so are our students

I wrote this in response to the CBC story about violence in classrooms that went live this past weekend. I was – and am – fired up about it.

If you’re wondering what you can do to help us, to help these children in crisis, to repair our broken system: make education, social services, and mental health support your priorities when you elect public officials. At all levels. This is not only a provincial issue. This is not only a municipal issue. This is not only a federal issue. It is an issue that must be addressed by all levels of government, by all Canadians, by all elected officials.

Kids aren’t “worse” now. It isn’t because of a “lack of discipline”. It isn’t because teachers are “soft”. This comes down to a total failure of social services and mental health support, because these children are IN. CRISIS. They aren’t choosing this. We can’t “fix” them with the right consequences.

They need homes. Food. Caregivers they can rely on. Stability. Therapy. Treatment for anxiety, depression, PTSD. Academic support. Removal of systemic barriers. They need compassion – to know that the adults in their life see them, see what they’re going through, and are finding ways to help them. Their caregivers need a living wage. Access to housing. Adequate transit. Functional health care. Affordable utilities.

And now, because they aren’t getting these things, all of their peers need these things too. Every child in public school right now could use therapy to help them process what they see on a regular basis. Some of them, like my daughter, are growing up thinking that it’s just a regular part of school to have a child in your class who throws chairs and tries to attack other kids or teachers with scissors.

This is a crisis. This is a disaster. These children – all of them, aggressors and bystanders – are going to suffer lifelong consequences from our government’s abject refusal and failure to address these issues.

Help. HELP. It’s hard for us to tell our stories because we have to be careful not to stigmatize children in crisis, not to give identifying information, not to break confidentiality. Please, trust us when we say there are horrific things happening in schools. Please, trust us when we say we’re doing everything we can but we can’t do any more.

Please, just… trust us. It’s not us. It’s not the kids. It’s not school.

It’s the entire system that’s broken.

As my friends shared this post on Facebook and it made its way out to a few strangers, some people commented that they “didn’t buy the perspective” and that it’s somehow our failing as teachers if there is violence in our classrooms. That if we can’t manage our students’ behaviour, we should reevaluate our capability as teachers.

What a painful, frustrating thing to hear.

“I shouldn’t have set them off by asking him to sit down.”

“If I hadn’t taken a sick day, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I should have gone out at recess to supervise that student (even though it’s not my day to supervise recess and this is my only break today).”

“I shouldn’t have called for help. It only escalated the student more.”

There seems to be no end to the ways teachers blame themselves for violence in schools. Colleagues, let me say this nice and loud:

VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.

You didn’t cause this. You didn’t make it happen through your action or inaction. You are doing the best you can within a catastrophically broken system. Our students need us, but they also need everyone else too, because educators alone can’t get the right people into office, the right changes made.

Keep doing what you’re doing. You are superheroes. You are helping. You are making change. Now we just need the rest of our country to back us up.

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Updated: February 21, 2019 — 7:54 pm

The Author

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird

Grade 6 Middle French Immersion teacher from Ottawa. Passionate about teaching (naturally!), board games, video games, music, and roller derby. Instilling a sense of wonder, curiosity, and critical thought in students since 2011 (or 2008 if we want to include Teacher's College).

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