I have a habit of saying, “fine” whenever asked how things are going. Whether it is symptomatic of a half century plus of social conditioning or simply learned ambivalence is still to be determined. It could be a combo of the two as well. I am a big fan of “fine”.
It has the insouciant distance and indifference that propels me past and through the issues of the day. After all, who wants to be a burden to others when so many are already maxed out with their own lives. Isn’t it the North American expectation to steadfastly power through the day with stoic determination. In many ways that’s what happens to people who stay in the safety of their silos.
It is not beyond a single educator to utter this answer all the while knowing that behind the scenes, in our heads, or in full view of all to see that there is a lot of meaning to “fine”. It is a societal expectation that we respond “fine” because our polite programming provides the same answer each time even when it is not true.
It’s not a lie if you believe it. – George Costanza
I love the quote above and it rings a little too true with this topic. Although it was intended for a different context in the show Seinfeld, it definitely applies when considering the mental health and well being of all who work in education. When will we have time to unpack the emotional baggage covered by “fine”? How do we get to a place of trust to provide the support that is necessary for us to listen as well as be heard?
Breathe in, breathe out. I’m fine. You are fine. Everything is fine. Thank you very much for asking and not burdening either of us with a truth that we verily have little time to acknowledge or attend to if it turned out to be false. Now, let’s get about our days. Sound familiar?
As a profession, there are few others to rival the frenetic paces that educators face over the entirety of a school year. Imagine each classroom along the lines of a corporate model where each grade occupies an important floor of a tall tower. On each of these floors there are numerous cubicles filled with team leaders and workers all charged with annually accumulating, accruing, and retaining the knowledge and the skills to find, climb, and remain on the next floor above them.
With each September ‘new year’ comes the mysteries, highs, lows, and unexpected life events of a newly gathered group. Buckle up because it could be a bumpy ride. What surprises me, over most of my 14 years in education, is that the ride is nearly 3/4s finished before I realize where the heck I am. This explains the timing of this post in March with the realization that there is much work to be done.
As if that collaboration and hard work to move on up wasn’t enough, the teams are dismantled, mixed, and reassembled to include other workers from their former floor, but now forming under different leaders just to keep it fresh. Despite the best efforts to make everything seem fine, I can’t help but wonder how students are doing too. The past 3 years have been anything but fine. Yet, as we move them from floor to floor, like the adults who lead them, they are already accepting that the only answer to give is “fine”.
With all of the talk surrounding mental health and community wellness in schools, I am not fine with “fine” being the answer and am working hard to redefine the work I am doing around it.
I’ll leave you with this.
I was fortunate enough to be a part of a meeting with student leaders from our school mental health collaborative.
This session revealed some extremely important truths that can light a path to somewhere good for students and teachers.
Here are my takeaways and echoed thoughts in ( ).
- Students are feeling the stress
(Teachers are feeling the stress)
- Students want to do something about it
(Teachers want to do something about it)
- Students are looking to work with educators to create and implement solutions
(Teachers are looking to work with students to create and implement solutions)
- Students need teachers who can listen without feeling that they need to have any or all of the answers
(Teachers need others who can listen without feeling that they need to have any or all of the answers)
- Students need teachers who will help lead programs that are relevant to their needs rather than those that have been prescribed from outside of the building.
(Teachers need others who will help lead programs that are relevant to their needs rather than those that have been prescribed from outside of the building.)
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comment box to keep the conversation going.