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State Support Team, Region 16

First, Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask

Rachel Wakefield - 10/9/2018 9:25:00 AM

Rachel's Blog Picture #1

If you have flown on a plane, you are sure to have heard the phrase, “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” As a mother, this notion has always seemed so counterintuitive as I thought it was my job to put others’ needs (especially my kids' needs!) ahead of my own. However, through the years I’ve reflected on this concept, and have slowly come to understand the necessity of first putting on my own oxygen mask.

In my previous role as a school psychologist, there were times I felt overwhelmed knowing the tremendous difficulties my students were facing on a daily basis, trying to figure out the best ways to help them both emotionally and academically, while also attempting to juggle the endless paperwork. Sometimes I’d go home feeling inadequate in my position, and wonder, “Am I the only person in education feeling this way??” Given my weird love of data and statistics, I did some research to figure out if I was alone and here’s what I found:

  • 16 to 30 percent of teachers leave the profession each year.

  • Of all the teachers leaving the profession each year, less than ? leave because of retirement. The rest of leaving mostly due to dissatisfaction with teaching.

  • Special education teachers leave the profession at nearly double the rate of their general education colleagues.

  • A survey of speech therapists who work in public schools found that less than half of SLPs are generally satisfied with their jobs.

  • It is estimated that the attrition rate for school psychologists is between 5 to 35 percent, and a recent study found that the majority of school psychologists report feeling emotionally exhausted, a core component of job burnout.

  • In the 2015–16 school year, 48 states and the District of Columbia reported shortages in special education.

Although at first glance these numbers look a bit dismal, it made me wonder, who are the teachers and service providers who are staying in the profession? What about the teachers and service providers who love their job and don’t get burned out?  What skills do these teachers have who wake up every morning with excitement and hear the difficult stories and see the challenging environments, yet are able to stay positive? Are there different ways to think about problems? Are there specific strategies and resources to best handle the stressful situations that inevitably occur?

Through this series of blog posts, my hope is to build/reflect/grow a community where we all can empower each other.  Although I could focus on the problems within the education field, my choice is to focus on all the great things that can happen and the baby steps it takes to get there.  For if we are able to change our own mindset and growth capacity, we then have the power to grow the capacity of our students, our classrooms, our schools, and beyond.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I’ll target one of many strategies to help you put on your oxygen mask first.