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Viewpoints: You need to matter most

April 10, 2018 Jody Carrington, Clinical Psychologist

Why the kids are the least of our worries


In the history of the world, we have always looked after the most sacred of our generation. We have recognized the elderly, respected those most talented by “rolling out the red carpet,” and held in high regard those who led our nations (generally speaking). What about teachers? It occurs to me that some of the holiest work on our planet happens within the walls of our schools. Teachers guide our babes through their most formative years, often for more hours a day than their parents.

Increasingly, school divisions across this country have recognized the need to gain further insight into students’ mental health. Particularly as school shootings and violence/threat risk assessments are on the rise, we are challenged more and more to figure out what is going on with kids these days. We are now beginning to understand that even if we have the most brilliant pedagogical lesson plans, fun white boards or strict classrooms, kids cannot learn unless they are emotionally regulated.    

Over the past two years, we have talked a lot with educators about the need to “collect” a kid before being able to direct or teach them. If, for example, a kid has no stability in their life outside your classroom, is unsure if they can trust anyone, and is sure that no one believes in them, they will not be able to focus on even the most brilliant teaching plan.

As I work with educators in this country to understand students’ mental health needs, what has become most apparent to me is that there has been little understanding of (or support for) those who do this important work: our teachers. Indeed, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the same principles apply? If teachers feel unsupported, misunderstood, unappreciated and empty, they will have little capacity to help those they teach and care for every day.

What I do know for sure is that one of the most significant challenges we all face today is not increased “screen time,” the threats of gluten, or even Grand Theft Auto 5. It is simply one thing: disconnection. At a time when we have the capacity to connect instantaneously to almost anyone on this planet, we have sadly never been more disconnected. We lack enough face-to-face, in-person connection with everyone in our lives — those we raise, live with, love, care for, teach. We are pressured to do “more with less” and rely on our significant advances in technology to ease this burden.

What cannot be replaced, however, is our biological need for personal connection. It is with eye contact and physical proximity that we answer the most significant question of all time: do I matter?  The only way we answer this question of worthiness is based on the quality of the relationships in our lives. 

Our next generation will only be able to give away what we give to them. In this generation, we spend far less face-to-face time with our children than our grandparents did (just think about the difference in the square footage of their house and yours). Only when you have felt things like empathy, kindness and being apologized to can you give those away to someone else. If those of us caring for our babes on a daily basis are not OK, our kids don’t stand a chance. Parents, caregivers and educators need to be the priority.

How do we do that? I am so honoured to be working with educators and administrators in this province to start thinking about this differently. How do we focus more on the people who teach our students? One step at a time.

Today, all I need you to think about is this: why do you do what you do? I want you to remember why you got into this business of nurturing most everyone’s most precious commodity — children. And then I want you to remember that this is a job, a very important one, and one that some days you will rock at. Other days you will wish you’d become a Walmart greeter. Totally and emphatically OK. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Find me at Stay tuned to some of our continued discussions within this province and this country. Your work is holy, teachers. It’s an honour for me to have you read these words. Give the best you’ve got today to my kid (and every one else’s), and it will be enough. We are so lucky to have you. ❚

Jody Carrington, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and chief happiness officer of Carrington & Company.

This opinion column represents the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

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