Educators Facing Your Fear

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It’s time to go back to school again. As I’m thinking about my personal and professional goals for the year, I find myself reflecting on the month of August.

On the first of the month I started seeing teachers post about how they are dreading going back to work. In New York we don’t start school until after Labor Day, so the general frenzy of lamenting summers end came a bit early.

For a profession that’s constantly shamed for having summers off, and getting the good life, one would think that we would be at least enjoying vacation.

In fact it's the opposite. Most of us work second jobs or teach summer school. Perhaps we vacation with family in July, but then August comes around. As a facebook meme I was tagged in so rightfully expresses, August is the Sunday night of teaching.

There are lessons to plan, classrooms to clean and decorate, and emails to respond to. Heaven forbid you detach from work when you’re not actually being paid.

But that’s all typical, back to school stuff. The thing that I really noticed was how many friends of mine were run down, discouraged and down right unhappy.

Why? The conclusion is a simple one. It is because we live in a constant state of fear.

So many of us are scared to teach how we truly want, scared to advocate for what our students (and ourselves) truly need.

Fear takes on many forms, but one thing is certain—it emotionally, psychologically, and physically changes you.

The studies done on teacher stress indicate an alarming truth. We are “experiencing a wide range of abusive behaviors that resulted in serious or extensive harmful psychological/emotional, physical/physiological, and work‐related effects to themselves, their work, and their families. An overwhelming majority (77 percent) indicated they would leave their job for another because of the harm caused by the mistreatment.” ( See article)

Not only are we constantly fearful; it is taking a significant toll on our health. The physical effects of fear in the workplace lead to shocking rates of prescription relief such as anxiety medication or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. ( See study)

Teachers literally can’t take care of their students’ social and emotional needs to the best of their abilities because they are so sick with fear that they aren’t functioning themselves.

So, what would our classrooms look like if we were truly unafraid?

I polled some teachers I know. Their responses are telling…

I would “teach with my door open” if I weren’t afraid of being told that my student’s joy of learning was “too loud.”

I would teach culturally relevant histories of people of color, if I didn’t have to spend all of my time teaching to a test.

If I weren’t afraid I’d get called dumb, I’d speak up more at staff meetings.

If I weren’t afraid of a gunman, I’d unlock my classroom door.

If I weren’t afraid of retaliation, I’d file charges for sexual harassment against my administrator.

If I weren’t afraid of losing my job, I’d stand up and do what’s right for kids.

If I weren’t afraid of being constantly told I’m not a team player, I would take sick days when my newborn is sick, instead of dropping him off at the babysitter and hating myself for not being there for him.

If I weren’t afraid of being “dinged” for bad test scores, I would like teaching again.

In all of this, one thing is apparent. If we want our children to get what they deserve out of our education system, we have to change the culture of fear in education.

There, I have it, my personal and professional goal for this school year - to find a way to stand up to fear tactics and call them out for what they are—abuse and bullying of our teachers.

Please join me in this goal. We need you.

Register for Wednesday’s QWL webinar “Educators Facing Fear” at

Melissa Tomlinson