Fourteen years ago my family and I began a journey that we didn’t expect and didn’t want. My 5-year-old son, second oldest of my four children, had been suffering with allergy issues all summer and into fall. Our doctor and doctors in the local Emergency department all had differing opinions, most of which were short term and unhelpful. Finally, we saw our doctor to get a referral to a specialist. That appointment revealed a lump, then life got crazy. Ultimately we had to take a detour on the way to the allergist — my son had cancer.
Looking back, I can now recognize details I couldn’t before, in particular in relation to teaching. I had a wonderfully supportive principal at the time who bent over backwards looking out for me. Unfortunately, from a systemic perspective not everything was as supportive as it could have been. Quibbling about sick days and requiring extra meetings to explain my absences stick in my mind as something that added a lot of stress on my already stress-maxed brain. Mental health is important. It’s pretty hard to be effective with students if you are suffering, so taking care of the mental wellness of teachers should be paramount, yet that was not the resulting message that was communicated to me through those actions.
The learning curve that I had while my son was in treatment was huge. I teach English, so tracking temperature data and blood counts, knowing what neutrophils do while calculating when my son would most likely be neutropenic and understanding side-effects of chemotherapy drugs were all the learning I could manage. As George Couros said recently in his blog “The stress of new learning can become overwhelming.” My principal understood that and didn’t add to my load, yet the system did.
When we are looking at policies in-depth consideration needs to be taken about the REAL impact they have, not how they will ‘reduce absences’ or encourage ‘accountability’. In the end, policies and everything we do impacts living, breathing PEOPLE. Let’s remember that and we will go a long way in improving mental health and wellness for everyone.