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Educators are hurting

“Emergency response team room 201” comes across the walkie talkie.

Educators race down from all over the building and rush into the classroom. They find a lot of blood and it is everywhere. A student, while acting out, has punched out two windows in the classroom. Staff go into action, covering and putting pressure on the laceration until the paramedics can get there.

Soon after the incident is contained, the team helps clean up the mess, clean up themselves and return to their assigned classrooms. They continue educating their students, trying to pretend this extremely disturbing incident has not had an impact on anyone. This was but a single incident. Though extreme, this was just one of many upsetting incidents educators have been asked to deal with.

After being moved to a new classroom, students who were there for the incident are asked to refocus in their new environment and forget about the traumatic scene they just witnessed.

Educators in schools, including paraprofessionals, secretaries, custodians and bus drivers, could tell countless stories similar to the one I just shared. I could go on and on sharing all kinds of examples of verbal and physical abuse some educators deal with almost daily.

Educators are hurting, both mentally and physically, and many are simply choosing to leave the profession for this reason. Educators feel powerless and are sometimes blamed for students acting out, whether they’re truly at fault or not.

This isn’t about finding ways to suspend students, deny students from attending school or limiting their access to receiving an education. These situations are very complicated, but we need to stop ignoring the reality of their impact on everyone involved. We need to face these issues and begin to come up with some viable solutions. Educators, just like students, need resources and help to deal with traumatic incidents at schools. Just recently, both NBC and ABC have done stories on teachers struggling and resigning. One resigned because of severe behavioral issues and numerous incidents like the one I described above — and they’re not alone. Go to any educator chat site and it won’t take long before you see the posts about struggling with student behaviors. Also, read about the cries for help. It won’t take long before you read, “I don’t know how much longer I can deal with this? I am done.”

Educator shortages are already a big issue in schools, and the lack of appropriate support to manage classrooms and inadequate salaries prevent amazing people from choosing education as a career choice.

When educators are so overworked, grossly underpaid and blamed for factors out of their control along with actually dealing with the complex issues of each students, many of them leave — and for good reason.

More and more educators speak of suffering from PTSD due to what they deal with on a daily basis. Yet, they are right back in the classroom the next day, trying to put yesterday behind them, and do a great job today.

According to a December 2017 State of Michigan report, the only two states that have a lower student to counselor ratio are California and Arizona. Also, according to a National Education Association report, Michigan ranks 48th in nurse to student ratio with just one nurse for every 4,200 students. Improving these areas and having more school social workers and psychologists would be a big help.

Until the issues of proper school funding, smaller class sizes and managing behaviors with the proper amount of support are thoroughly and honestly looked at from all sides, the trend of educators resigning, retiring early or avoiding the profession altogether will not improve.

Funding for education in Michigan, both general and special education, has been slashed repeatedly, and it’s easy to lose sight of just how much has been cut. Giving a little back after gutting it is not an increase.

Thank an educator, properly fund schools, pass local and county millages and hold your legislators to the fire on public education issues. It shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This is after all, our children and their futures we are talking about. Jeff Whittle serves as President of the Macomb Intermediate School District Federation of Paraprofessionals, as a vice president of AFT Michigan, and on the national AFT Paraprofessional & School-Related Personnel Program & Policy Council.

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