In Support of Teachers

One of the most challenging parts of being a teacher is the responsibility of educating and caring for young children. In this essay, a seasoned teacher and administrator shares her perspective on the key to a successful school: prioritizing the health and wellness of teachers.

Undeniably, teachers have one of the most challenging jobs as they carry the enormous responsibility of raising and educating children. Several hours a day and throughout most of the year, teachers listen to, respond to, plan for, lose sleep over, and love their students. Some say it’s a thankless job, but when one peers into the smiling, curious face of a young person, the glow of gratitude can be more than enough. As a former classroom teacher for close to fifteen years, I know firsthand the demands of this vocation. I also recall how an administrator’s influence and power can either raise or break a teacher’s spirit. Now, as a current administrator, I tread carefully and compassionately between supporting the needs of teachers with the needs of an institution. Guided by principles that focus on teachers feeling valued, trusted, supported, empowered, and inspired, I hope to impart some wisdom that shows how expressing a deep appreciation for teachers can be the tide that raises all boats during these tumultuous times.


The past spring and fall have been more difficult than any I can recall in all my years in education. With the pandemic, this era of racial reckoning, and the conflict surrounding the upcoming presidential election, more responsibilities and stress have been placed on teachers than ever before. Rather than enjoy the summer to reflect and reenergize, teachers immediately went from long zoom days with kids (for which no one was fully prepared) to epic zoom meetings to plan for an unpredictable and unprecedented school year, often without extra compensation, or in some cases, appreciation. Without time for rejuvenation or self-care, teachers jumped back into the work of being present for kids; kids who have experienced their share of trauma and loss. In the hybrid models that many schools currently offer, teachers are expected to provide the same engaging learning experiences for both their remote students and in-person students, two jobs in one. It’s imperative that we publicly acknowledge how stretched teachers are and in doing so, we demonstrate gratitude for their unabashed commitment to raising and educating our children. Teachers are our real heroes.

Meanwhile, many independent schools are at risk of increased attrition and possible closure as families have had to make tough decisions due to a myriad of circumstances; whether it’s a loss of income, illness, the death of a loved one, or the possibility of exposure to Covid. The fear that our schools may close is a real one and consequently has administrators and board members ever more worried about the sustainability of independent schools that rely on tuition to operate. With this worry, the institutional priority becomes “save the school” which requires more innovation, communication, creativity, and flexibility from our already overtaxed and underpaid teachers. The build-your-plane-as-it-flies analogy without allocating space for careful design, reflection, refinement, and celebration could result in a crash, in other words, teacher burnout.


So how does one navigate this terrain of complexity? How do we support our teachers, engage children in learning whether virtual or in-person, and save our schools?  I believe that the answer is: By prioritizing the needs of our teachers, whose effort and time are the most valuable assets to our schools.

I believe in the importance of gathering for a clear, shared purpose, and that now, more than ever, teachers need connection. Typically, teachers are drawn to independent schools because of the intellectual camaraderie and the autonomy they are afforded. As with our students, we all know that autonomy and trust result in deeper engagement and that humans thrive when they can oscillate between connection and autonomy, and back again. Our meetings at The Miquon School, whether virtual or socially and responsibly distanced, before getting into school business, we prioritize time to share our vulnerabilities, to laugh together, to learn from one another, and to celebrate our successes. Even while in separate cohorts or online, we must make space for human connection. Connection is a necessity; much like food and water, we cannot exist without it.



Clear boundaries and respect for our individual lives outside of school must be established, agreed upon, and honored. We all need time to breathe and to have uninterrupted downtime as an opportunity to recharge, allowing us to be fully present at school. As much as possible, reserving phone calls, emails, and meetings for school hours, demonstrate how we appreciate our teachers. As an administrator, I can model this practice with our staff while also clearly communicating with our families how necessary it is to give teachers the space and grace to recharge.

In our communication with one another and with families, patience and a gentle tone are required, remembering that we all care about one another and that we’re all doing our best. Because most communication is happening virtually, the increased amount of emails can feel oppressive while keeping track of emails seems impossible. A simple tip I learned and hope that our school will adopt is to make sure subject lines include: What to expect, what type of response is needed, and by when (e.g. “Survey included, reply by October 14”). It’s the little things that help a lot.

I recently heard from another school leader how this year their school had to let some things go. For example, in response to teachers’ overwhelming need for self-care, he decided to forego staff meetings for two weeks and instead encouraged folks to use that time in whatever ways they deemed most useful. What may appear to be a small gesture, has long-lasting positive consequences. In feeling heard and cared for, the teachers trust that the administration has their best interest at heart, and when allotted the time to fill their wells, they have more to give, the kids’ needs are better attended to, and the parents and caretakers are happier, a domino effect we all want.

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