“You cannot afford to live in potential for the rest of your life; at some point, you have to unleash the potential and make your move.”Eric Thomas
Education saved my LIFE! I grew up in the Bronx, one of the most if not the most impoverished places in our country. My turning point came in my sixth-grade year. The school year was ending, and I saved up enough money to buy a pair of shell-top Adidas. I was in, “middle school heaven.” The compliments from my peers and the attention were new and welcomed. However, that afternoon I was chased all the way home by a crew trying to steal my sneakers. I ran for dear life and miraculously arrived home with my sneakers still on my feet.
It was at that moment that my grandparents committed to splitting my tuition three ways so that I could attend private school. They came to this country from Puerto Rico and knew the importance of a good education. Their wounds of having to leave school to work were still fresh for them. They would live vicariously through me and make the sacrifices to change our family’s narrative.
I have dedicated the last 20 years of my life to education and began to make observations that I was not made aware of in my teacher preparation program. No one prepared me for the physical, emotional, and often spiritual toll my career would have on me. I was not prepared to manage my own life challenges and those of my students. It was as if we all compartmentalized our lives. Divorce, family deaths, financial challenges, etc. in this box and got to it after school business was taken care of. I remember months after the death of my father asking myself, “Did you grieve?”
The teacher’s workroom, breakroom, or grade level meetings breeding grounds for venting. The inability to take care of basic needs like drinking plenty of water for fear of having to go to the bathroom and no one to cover your class. I’ve always wondered what the bladder infection rate among teachers is. You just chalk it up to the nature of the work. Until you start to see teachers having strokes, high blood pressure, depression, diabetes (as in my case), and mental health-related illnesses.
One in twenty teachers has mental health problems lasting more that one year, according to The Guardian. During, my graduate work for professional counseling I began to really learn how detrimental this was to my own wellbeing and that of my colleagues. In my work as a district recruiter, I get to see a global view of how this is impacting the profession. Teacher Preparation programs are experiencing low enrollment and completion rates. Research by the Center for American Progress found that enrollment in those programs has dropped by 35 percent between 2010 and 2018, even as enrollment in all bachelor degree programs has increased. I am convinced that not having a comprehensive and focused culture around wellness in our districts is hurting the teaching profession.
Now, I am not so naïve to think that this is the sole reason for high teacher turnover or lack of interest in entering the profession. Most of us know that the state of Education and the profession is very complex with many variables contributing to our current state. However, the advocate and teacher in me needs to bring a solution. The advocate and teacher in me need to IGNITE a movement. A movement in which teachers are given the tools and permission to make their wellness and self-care a priority. As teachers, we know that change comes slow and politics muddy the water. As a therapist, I learned that you can’t change anyone’s behavior but your own. Teachers can control their wellness and prioritize their self-care. This won’t be easy because becoming a Wellness Warrior will mean often standing alone, saying no, and navigating toxic thinking and behavior.
It is understanding this truth that reignitED is being launched to create a safe and nurturing community. I am committed to creating a support system for like-minded teachers unwavering in making their wellbeing a priority and making self-care and self-love a way of life. I unapologetically declare we will rebrand the teaching profession, one healthy teacher at a time.
Let’s get reignitED…Wellness Warriors!