Vulnerability in Educators – Why We Need More

by | Jan 13, 2019


Like so many parts of being an educator, the act of being vulnerable can quickly become a double-edged sword.

We know the value of authenticity when building relationships and rapport with our students. We know students can sense artifice and respond poorly to insincerity. We also feel the tenuous balance of power within the classroom and we want to be genuine without tipping the balance. This is a vulnerability we learn to negotiate as teachers.

However, then there is the concept of being vulnerable as a professional within a career that rarely encourages open discourse beyond the concerns of curriculum. The idea of talking about the all-to-real struggles with teacher stress and well-being.

Vulnerability can be a delicate tightrope to walk when you are an educator, but one that is worth the balancing act for your students' and for your own well-being. Click To Tweet

A Quick Story

I recently was invited to speak at an event. This is not an odd occurrence. I have spoken at conferences, professional development, and education events plenty of times before. However, this time was different for a couple of reasons.

This time I would be speaking to a district from which I still was tethered through a leave contract and from which I was actively deciding whether to return to or not.

And, this time I would be speaking about my own experiences and my own struggles with teacher stress and burnout.

Needless to say, I was feeling more nervous than usual… and pretty vulnerable.

You see I have never in all my 19 schools (yes, 19!) that I have taught in ever seen a teacher speak openly and honestly about the emotional and physical impact of their job on their own well-being and not received some sort of negative feedback. 

Whether that feedback be a quick dismissive changing of the subject or joke in an attempt to soften the subject/mood. Or, a sharp rebuttal or defensive refusal to listen. Although I am sure it happens, I personally have never witnessed vulnerability about teacher-stress pay off for an educator. But it should. 

So, I whipped up a speech to share my experiences and the research behind why it’s so important that we shine a light on teacher stress and burnout, as well as what we can do to help build teacher resilience. And, I took the stage.

The Moral of the Story

The speech went fine.
Nerves took hold a bit.
I discovered a little warble in my voice I never had experienced before.
I may have looked at my notes at one part and began to say the wrong thing.
Also, tip: Even if you are trying to recover from a head cold and are afraid of having a coughing fit on stage, don’t chug a whole bottle of water right before the event starts…

But it went fine.
Several people told me how much they appreciated the speech. I even got a business card and potential future contact.

The more important thing that happened though, is that I told my story. I allowed myself a voice, and not my usual voice of content knowledge and authority. This time it was a voice of vulnerability and truth, of bravery.

There is a pervasive belief that educators must always put themselves last, that they somehow agreed to martyrdom upon entering the teaching profession. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Click To Tweet

And, when teachers are feeling overwhelmed it should be part of the discourse, a welcomed piece of professional development within an open and safe school culture. Not in the sense that teachers can complain all the time, but that they can problem-solve together, support one another and know they are not alone in their hurdles.

If we could all try to be more vulnerable we could perhaps begin to change the tide on ideas surrounding teacher well-being.

It doesn’t need to be on a stage, or even in an all-staff meeting, it could happen much smaller, much quieter, in a classroom after school, in a hallway during passing time.

It can start with checking in with one another.
Looking up from our stacks or grading and planning and really listening to each other.

Offering support when a colleague needs it and letting them know you understand them and hear them.

We know the benefits of being open and honest, getting “real” with our students. It’s time we start attempting to do the same with each other. Vulnerability isn’t easy, especially when it’s not the norm within our field but when it can potentially change our well-being and the well-being of those around us, as well as, impact our school culture, then it’s worth the nerves and the voice warbles to try.

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