There is Still Hope

by Clint Labrador

“3 suicides in one week.”

A comment from a Kauai High School student at a recent student forum, part of a teacher conference I attended. I immediately thought about the multiple suicides I have heard about over my 15 years of teaching on Molokai.

I asked the student “Have any teachers taught you strategies to cope with school pressures and emotions? Have you learned mindfulness?”

He answered “Nope.” A pause. “I wish teachers took the time to teach us those things.” Silence settled over the teachers in the room.

***

A few months have passed and this exchange bothers me everyday. Questions crowd out my other thoughts. What can be done to address this madness? What can drive humans to get to this point? What can I do to help calm the turbulent waters for our children? Why, in a place everyone calls paradise, are our island people in such distress?

I don’t know the answers but I decided that the fact that this student was able to muster up the confidence to speak honestly to a bunch of teachers meant that he was moving mountains and giving hope to our future. It gave me hope.

Thanks to the work of various groups, including nonprofits such as The Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellowship, we are redefining what it means to be a teacher and rethinking what we can accomplish across our state and profession. More now than ever, we need to prioritize Social/Emotional intelligence as the first stepping-stone in developing our children for their lives. One way to do this is to take time to just listen to our students more.

How do we remain hopeful in teaching? How are we going to address this and other epidemics our young people face? First, the Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellowship treats us like professionals and allows us the time and space to work cooperatively towards solutions. Convenings are held in creative and conducive learning spaces like the Impact Hub in Honolulu where we bounce back ideas and learn from each other in a café like setting.

The teachers in the fellowship represent all parts of the state and all grade levels and are selected in part based on their dispositions, the way they tackle problems and approach this wonderful art we call teaching. The process is similar to how companies such as Google are hiring their professionals, not on a grade point average or lengthy resume, but how the individual approaches problems. Overall, we are a team of dedicated teachers committed to improving our profession.

As a team, the State Teacher Fellows seek to collaborate, problem solve, and tackle the problems plaguing our profession. At our recent convenings, we not only spent time listening to students’ concerns, working together as teachers, and growing together through professional learning sessions but we heard from the assistant and deputy superintendents, the board of education, and the superintendent herself. They came to talk to us about their jobs in the public education system but also to talk to us about their WHY. This was a breath of fresh air to see that their intentions were genuinely focused on the wellbeing of our students, all students.

Ultimately, the hope in teaching lies in bridging the gap between these individuals at the top and the teachers and students because we are all here to serve a common need: leading students to a bright future. Through the type of communication and relationship building embedded in the fellowship, we are going to pave the way for teachers to truly address and respond to the issues concerning our island students, their needs to survive in our ever-changing world of information. The fellowship is also a model for how teachers should interact with their students.

***

As I digest all the information from the convenings, I think about my own practice as a teacher on Molokai. I think about how I have to teach children who have witnessed suicides with their own eyes or have had to deal with loved ones contemplating suicide. How in the world will I tackle this? How will I give hope to this child who views suicide as a way to cope? What is the solution?

Just as the Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellowship gives teachers hope that we can bridge the gaps and have a voice in education, that we matter, we need to instill the same type of hope in our students. We need to encourage self-awareness and emotional resiliency. Schools need to become innovative sanctuaries for children where they can feel safe, listened to, and able to take risks. Teachers need to bridge the gap between themselves and their students and dive deeper into understanding them as human beings.

Ultimately, our everyday lives come down to decisions and responses. With the speed and rate that information is coming towards us, at times, life can be quite difficult to process. It is especially difficult when rejection is rampant on social media and data driven academics label us and our students by our scores.

Sometimes we need to stop, slow down, and take time to listen to our children and model how to cope and make mindful decisions. When we respond with hope, we instill it in others.