There were no classes at DMPS on Friday, one of the days on the district calendar set aside for teacher professional development.
Teaching, always a noble but undervalued profession, has never been more stressful and challenging. Awareness of that reality is on the rise. External recognition of it is as tardy as an oversleeping student, and may lead to reforms in public policy that are also overdue.
Meanwhile, schools combat the issue(s) from within.
PD stood as much for personal development as professional development at East High on Friday where the school has adopted an emphasis on self-care as a critical component of teacher job performance.
A variety of self-care opportunities for teachers (yoga, weightlifting, financial planning, basketball, walking/running club, cupping therapy, journaling and more) were available after the whole staff gathered first in the cafeteria for some introductory reflections and group exercises.
“Their jobs have never been more difficult and challenging,” said Principal Leslie Morris. “I want them to know I know that and have their backs.”
It sounded to us like they do.
Ashley Moore has taught for seven years and is in her second year at East.
“Coming here from another district was like a breath of fresh air,” she said. “Leslie makes it very clear to us how important it is for us to take care of ourselves so we can take better care of our students.”
Moore’s colleagues in the art department all agreed.
Ryan Koning graduated from Urbandale High and Luther College where she landed a student teaching assignment in Chicago. She’s a rookie teacher who sought out the opportunity to teach in a diverse urban district like DMPS at a high school like East.
“I’m loving it,” she said. “We so appreciate this kind of encouragement and opportunities for personal wellness. It just reinforces my decision to come here.”
Judy Lee is a six-year teacher, all of them at East. She’s either quite happy to be there or quite the faker. She smiled and nodded at everything her colleagues said. “Me too,” said her body language.
The dean of the art staff is Joleen Weller who graduated from East in 1994 and has taught there for a decade. She was on her way to facilitate a PD workshop on journaling, about gratitude specifically, if that tells you anything about how she feels about teaching in general, at East High in particular. What does she like best?
“The building, the history, our motto (For the service of humanity),” she said.
Spoken like a true teacher, one who’s still in good shape ten years in and counting.
“We love to show off how we are helping teachers take care of themselves,” said East Associate Principal Jill Versteeg.
“Put your own oxygen mask on first,” read a message on the whiteboard in the cafeteria, quoting from airline passenger protocols that enable the helping of others.
Then take a deep breath of the fresh air of self-care that Moore mentioned.