Live-Work balance, Student experience

Chronic Stress

Every so often, I hear from faculty saying that there seem to be more students with disabilities each year- that we seem to be accommodating more and more students.  From a numbers standpoint, that is not quite true.  We have actually been trending downwards (with an attrition rate of something like 1-2% each year).

However, I will concede that I have seen more students impacted by anxiety and depression that result in the need for accommodations, or different accommodations.

Now, I have not run any study of sorts, but I have a gut theory that I want to share.  I think our students are stressed… chronically stressed.  Stressed to the point where their brains can only think in a fight or flight situation or where they are completely paralyzed by fear.

I don’t blame them.  I am no stranger to stress myself. I have three kids, I work full time, make dinner, do the dishes, I drive kids to music, taekwando, cathechism and swimming, I yell at my kids, soothe their fears… , somedays I just want to stab my eyes out when I read emails. But all in all, I have the resources to balance this out.

Not all our students have those resources though and for them the stakes are high.  One student I know works a graveyard shift, goes home to sleep then wakes up in time for a 10am class, then picks his kid up from school.  Another one I know goes to school from 10-2pm every day, then takes the bus for an eight hour shift at Bloomingdales so she can make rent.  And another student I know of is going through a divorce, fighting for full custody of her three children, taking a full load of classes, hoping to graduate with a degree.  I don’t know how they make it to class every day, let alone do homework.

The student who is going through a divorce needed more time for her exams.  “I cannot think straight like I used to,” she says.  She needed the extra time to calm down, focus and keep her anxiety in check.  Who can blame her?

The student who works a graveyard shift has trouble focusing.  “You don’t sleep enough… how can you possibly focus?” I say to him. He says he has no choice.

I found this great video on TedEd the other day that explains how stress affects our brains.  In short, chronic stress affects the structure of our brains, impacting in particular, executive functioning- the part of our brains that help us filter, prioritize and make informed decisions and memory.  From our students’ standpoint, they can’t remember what they study, even though they spend hours studying; they can’t calm down enough to make good decisions on multiple choice test, and they are constantly overwhelmed.

Beyond the accommodations, what can we do as a school to help our students with their stressful lives?  That I think is the million dollar question which I do not yet have an answer.  Do you?

 

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All are Welcome in this place

When I was younger and hit the house party scene, I was never quite comfortable.  I remember envying some of my friends who were much more socially adept that I was, being able to walk into a stranger’s house, find the beer bucket and cheese platter and start conversing with whoever they stood next to as if they had known them for forever.  I, on the other hand, would be scanning the room for a corner where I could slink into and hope someone would not notice me.

There were however, a few house parties where the host(s) made it a point to make everyone feel comfortable, especially the wallflowers like me.  One I remember was a party with a whole bunch of urban planners and architects in San Francisco.  I went because my best friend at that time was in urban planning school.

“Nice to meet you, I’m K’s friend from high school”.

The hostess grabbed my hand.

“Come on in! Let me show you around! Love that you’re not an architect.  Too many of them here”

The hostess meandered me through the place, showing me the cheese platter, beer bucket and along the way, introducing me to a million faces who smiled back. Mind you, this was a 2 bedroom, 800 square foot apartment, teeming with guests and standing room only. Possibly even breathing room only.  She really didn’t need to show me around, but she did.   Lest you think I was a special guest, I noticed she did this to almost everyone who arrived, but had not ever met her.

This recording on NPR most recently, reminded me of her.  It led me to think about the students who arrive at our college, unsure, uncomfortable, about their place- who really need a good hostess to show them around, or just make them comfortable.

I thought it was a wonderful welcome message.  Since I can’t quite meet and greet everyone who stops at our Student Resource Center, I thought I’d adapt it, and pen a similar message so I too can welcome students, and hopefully make them feel as welcome as I did years ago in that tiny apartment in San Francisco.

Here it goes:

We extend a special welcome to those who are Dreamers, Aliens, F1s, Citizens, Residents, and anyone here for the first time.  We especially welcome our veterans, Iraq, Afghanistan, combat, non-combat, even the coast guard.You are welcome here if you are just browsing, just woken up or just got out of prison. 

 We welcome you whether you took the SATs and aced it, or tore your hair out during that Test.  Remember, they don’t say anything about you as a person.  We don’t care if you got a 4.0 GPA or if you haven’t gone to school since your sophomore year.  We totally get it.  We extend a special welcome to anyone who wants to change the world and be the change they want to see. 

We welcome early birds, late risers. We don’t care if your handwriting is neat or scrawny. We’re not that keen on it either.  We welcome the dyslexic, dysgraphic, autistic, the neurodiverse- the earth depends on all our quirks to survive. We welcome moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, wailing babies and excited toddlers.  We would love to meet you all. 

We offer a special welcome, to those traumatized by school, got lost on our Loop Road and wound up here by mistake.  You have a special place here.  We welcome You. 

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In the beginning…

This is my blog as a public school educator and a public school mom.

I’ve worked in public education for a long time.  I was a teacher before I became an administrator.

I have three kids.  My two oldest started their formal education this past year.  We initially attended a private school.

When we were in private school, I had an identity crisis.  I felt pampered. It was luxurious.  The PTO was a well organized fundraising machine.  The academic council was made up of professionals whose names went on buildings and companies.  The kids had field trips, parties, iPads, PE, Music, Art, Robotics all packaged in school.  The alumnus all went to fancy four year schools. But, I also felt guilty.  It seemed so wrong to indulge in private education while my public persona espoused the value of a good public education.

I spent the last year wondering to myself if I was a parent first, or an educator first. The dichotomy between my actions and my beliefs did not sit well with me. In the end, I decided that I could be both. I still want the best for my children, and I still entertain the thought of my kids graduating from places like Harvard or MIT. I figured, as a family, we could have some impact on improving public education if we went to public schools rather than sit on the sidelines bashing the public system.

10 days before the new school year began,  we made the switch to public school. So here I am as a public school educator and public school mom.