When Do We Stop “Kicking the Can?”

A few years ago, I facilitated 15 focus groups with public school teachers. When I finished the focus groups, I had a new appreciation for teachers. They are so much more than providers of education. Teachers often serve as surrogate parents and mentors. They are social workers. They are event planners for field trips and first aid givers on the playground. They can run interference between parents, and between students and parents. We expect a lot from our teachers – way more, I believe, than we did 100 years ago. There are lots of reasons for this, but I think that one of them is that it’s hard for a parent to actually be a parent when she/he/they are working two or three jobs just to pay the rent (not to mention the rest of the bills, too!). It shouldn’t fall back on teachers to be surrogate parents, but it does happen – far too often.

I’ve been reading about similar situations in the behavioral health field. When the insane asylums were abolished in the ‘60s to protect the patient’s rights, many people with mental health conditions found themselves with no safe place to go or call home. They often ended up on the street and, over the course of time, homeless people have become viewed as “crazy.” Citizens call police to report someone acting “oddly” on the street corner. When the police show up, they are not solving a crime for which they are trained. Instead, they are trying to defuse a situation where someone might be hearing voices in his head. Traditionally, police don’t learn about behavioral health in the academy. But now many are getting training so that they can respond in a manner that fits the situation.

Things change and we need to change, too. I get that. But I also wonder, “When is enough, enough?” Rather than push responsibilities on others (regardless of the reasons that it is happening), can we find a way to work together and support each other? It would require huge systemic changes, and just thinking about it makes me feel overwhelmed. But how else can we let teachers be teachers and police be police…and on and on? Or do we “recreate” our expectations to fit the current environment? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that what we have right now is not working – and everyone suffers because of it.

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