By Future Cain
Humans are inherently social creatures, and for most children, school is their first and most important social experience. Few could argue the mental, physical, and emotional well-being that social connections promote, and for children, the relationships developed with peers and teachers at school help fill their need to belong, feel heard, and be seen, loved, and valued. COVID-19 has abruptly changed the nature of these relationships for students nationwide. My own children, like countless others, long to sit next to and talk with a friend, whether it be on the school bus, eating lunch in the cafeteria, or enjoying recess or study hall with their peers.
Teachers are instrumental in fostering these peer relationships among their students, and during this lockdown, this is sorely missed by many children. These relationships help our children have higher self-esteem, demonstrate empathy for others, and cooperate with and accept others for who they are. Five days a week and into the weekends too, teachers, under normal circumstances, assist all students with making responsible choices, facilitate and model examples of healthy relationships, and negotiate conflict among students. Now, though still working five days and into the weekends, teachers are not able to provide over Zoom or YouTube videos the same social and emotional learning they provide every day in the classroom.
Children everywhere are suffering the loss of the rituals and routines teachers created. My four-year-old grins from ear to ear as he hears his teacher sing “Name on your paper, first thing” on a YouTube video. My seven-year-old daughter is as happy as a clam when meeting with her community circle once a week. The small ritual of using her fingers to hold up the letter “C” with her peers is something I cannot replicate for her while learning at home.
Elementary students yearn for social connection. They miss and are grieving not being able to see their friends five days a week. They long to sit on their carpet square discussing their feelings or doing a mindfulness activity with their teacher. One of my daughter’s friends misses student discourse, the peer-to-peer feedback she received from her writing buddy. Educational leaders foster these moments of human connection, encouraging loving-kindness. Through the stories I have heard from children over the last month, they have made it clear that they long for the radical acceptance their educators offered in the classroom. Teachers know there is no time like the present to ensure every child’s social and emotional well-being—and this is something we, as both educators and parents, are struggling to provide our children with during this extraordinary period.
I want to stress that during this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, we need to consider all of the skills teachers impart upon their students—not only math and writing, but crucial social and emotional skills as well. This particular impact teachers have on millions of lives often goes unnoticed. This week, when you offer words of kindness, gratitude, and compassion to your child’s teacher, consider mentioning how much your child misses the social and emotional aspects of their classroom. It is also important to be mindful of the efforts teachers are making to continue to provide social and emotion learning, even from a distance.
Teachers are human too. They are experiencing the same emotions as their students and their students’ families: grief, fear, worry, and doubt. They too may have spouses, children, or family members who have lost their jobs, or whose health is affected by COVID-19. They, too, may have children at home whom they must educate in addition to working long hours to provide education to their students through remote learning. It is more important than ever to let a teacher know that the fundamental building blocks they developed in our children have not gone unnoticed.
Teachers, I see and appreciate all you have done. Please stay healthy, stay mindful, and stay positive.
Future Cain is the Director of Social and Emotional Learning and Community Outreach for the School District of Brown Deer in Wisconsin. Future has worked in education for 20 years in the behavioral private sector, public education, and administrative capabilities. She holds Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Speech Communications, a Masters in Special Education, and licensures in Administration and Curriculum and Instruction. Future is also a 200 hour certified Wellness and Yoga Trainer and enjoys spending time with her family, practicing yoga, and being mindful.