New York City teacher aims to support her students’ emotional well-being
As I write this, I am struggling.
I have graded work, given individualized feedback, facilitated classroom chats, scheduled posts for tomorrow’s task, and have participated in virtual meetings almost daily. I’ve made adjustments as directed by local officials and have committed to being “New York Tough.”
Yet now I find myself struggling both mentally and emotionally.
Since the announcement of New York City’s public school closings, New York has been named the epicenter of the nation’s virus outbreak. Each day we hear of the rising rates of infection and fatality. In solidarity with my colleagues and students, I have been working remotely while simultaneously navigating my fear of familial illness and loss, economic instability, and the anxiety for my fiancé who is a first responder. I am an empath and have always felt deeply connected to the emotional pain and trauma of others, especially my students. In recent days, many have reported feeling depressed and overwhelmed, and I find myself feeling incredibly unequipped to support them.
As a native New Yorker, I can vividly recall the terror and distress felt throughout the city after the September 11th terrorist attacks. With no end or tangible resolution in sight, this feels different. I was a student then, but now I am an educator of resilient and dynamic youth attempting to teach through a global pandemic. When I think of my students in temporary housing, those from families with limited resources, and those who battle mental and emotional disorders, I’m overwhelmed with worry and helplessness.
Not only has this pandemic magnified the existing economic inequities in both the healthcare and education systems, it has also amplified our need for practicing more empathy, care, and compassion towards one another. More than ever, it is clear to me that social-emotional practices must be as much a part of our students’ school experience as academic continuity.
Earlier this month, we received notice that remote learning would continue through Spring Break, which further exacerbate the usual emotional and cognitive dissonance I experience involving my professional and personal values. Though narrowing the opportunity gap has always been a priority of mine, I fear that our focus on the continuity of academic content has the potential to overshadow the emotional needs of our students, their families, our colleagues, and most of all, ourselves. Work-life balance has always been a challenge for me. I am privileged to be a New York City public school educator and I take pride in giving my best to my students, sometimes at the expense of my own wellness. At this time, it is imperative we invest in both academic development and overall health.
This experience has put life into perspective for me but it is becoming more and more difficult to be brave as I feel like we are living in a never ending state of fear and anxiety.
In this climate of uncertainty, I am committed to enduring- on my own terms. I’ll attempt to mitigate my fear for my students by offering more grace. I’ll extend deadlines, and won’t penalize late assignments. I will offer more project-based assignments reflective of their interests and choice and virtually check-in with them when I’ve noticed they’ve fallen behind before resorting to calling home.
I will prioritize their self-advocacy, and hold them accountable for taking care of themselves emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Though it may involve more intentional strategizing and an extra ounce of tenacity on my part, I am holding space to remain a resource for my students in tandem with supporting those I love and meeting my own needs. I will work on extending more care and empathy towards myself. I will give myself the freedom to not be strong, protect my time designated for self-care, establish new professional and personal boundaries, cherish the health and stability of my loved ones, and prioritize not losing sight of how fortunate I truly am.
It is my hope everyone reading this finds their own ways to take care because we are no good to one another if we, ourselves, are not well.
Jahira Chambers is a teacher in New York City.