I’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety recently, tightness in the chest and inability to focus at times when there’s the least to feel anxious about. I think it’s a combination of personal stuff and an awareness of how much work we have to do with our kids this year. I’ve made a sort of “triage” list of kids who seem to have already started to plunge off the cliff… there are many others teetering on the edge. One by one, we’re calling in their parents to meet with all of the teachers to develop a plan for the student. We discussed my list last week at our team meeting, and our social worker added some details about a few of the students… think of every bad thing that could happen to a child – abuse, neglect, death or serious injury or mental health problems of a parent, drug/alcohol abuse by a parent, loss of a sibling, serious health problems for the child, homelessness, witnessing the abuse of a parent, an unclean home, the list goes on and on – each of the children on my short list had experienced several of these. Several.
A representative from our school health clinic attended the meeting to tell us about the mental health services they provide. But the social workers and counselors are overwhelmed. The clinic serves hundreds of children – our school and the elementary school below us – dozens and dozens of whom are good candidates for short term counseling, dozens and dozens desperately in need of long term counseling. And when their schedules are full, they have to refer children to outside providers, for whom there is a 3 to 6 month waiting list. A THREE TO SIX MONTH WAITING LIST. For children who really, really need mental health care. Suicidal children. Depressed children. Children recovering from sexual abuse. I’ve seen people in crisis – you don’t get 3 to 6 months.
And so we do our best to coordinate services for these kids, to help them in the classroom, to keep them functioning so that they don’t fall behind in school on top of all the other problems. We compartmentalize, knowing that we are, in the end, teachers, not superheroes, not single-handedly responsible for solving poverty and injustice. We do what we can in the areas where we have influence. And at the end of the day, we hold the kids to a high standard and try to show them that success can come in spite of it all.
But yes, sometimes it’s hard to catch my breath.