Teacher Well-Being and Retention

Enduring Together

FuelEd Counselor, Nancy Southern reflects on her role as a therapist and the importance of a secure attachment relationship in overcoming the stresses and pressure of being an educator.

Share a bit about your counseling background. What drew you to FuelEd, person-centered orientation and working with educators?

I’m a person-centered therapist here at FuelEd. I began working here in 2016 as an LPC-Intern. During my time at FuelEd, I gained the experience and hours to become a fully-licensed LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) and have seen over 100 educator clients since I started. Some of my clients have been with me for over two years.

Person-focused work has been a theme throughout my life because I love working with people and building relationships. I had a great experience receiving counseling before going into the field and I’m a strong believer in therapists being actively in counseling themselves. It was important for me to be in the process before asking others to engage in this process with me. When I found FuelEd, it seemed like a perfect match because of my passion for person-centered therapy. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to learn and practice this form of therapy in a way that many people don’t get to learn about in school.

What times of the year seem to be the most challenging for educators and why?

Teachers that I’ve worked with have this mantra that “October is a terrible month.” No one has a really good reason for why, but the feeling that it’s a difficult time seems to be pervasive. Then things to get better around the fall and winter holidays, but the stress hits again with testing season after Spring Break. High-stakes standardized testing seems to be really hard on students and teachers alike. Finally, toward the end of the year, I’ve heard many educators reflect critically on their year - asking themselves what they could have done better.

It’s just hard overall, and I don’t know that the general public really knows how many hours teachers put in. Also, because our society doesn’t properly value the profession, the individuals that take on the difficult and critically important job of educating our youth are not appropriately compensated or supported.

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What are thematic issues that come up for educators facing a sense of burnout or overwhelm?

Just like in many social-service organizations, there’s often a sense of burnout because people are so focused on the mission. That’s true for teachers. It’s our children - the children of our society. It’s so easy to get started as an educator for all the right reasons -- because they want to help kids, to prepare them and train them to do great things in their lives -- but after a while, that becomes overwhelming. It’s such a huge task. I think teachers also feel lonely in their work. It’s hard to say “I’ve got to put this away at 6 pm” when you know your work is impacting a child’s life. Teachers aren’t trained to take care of themselves.

My sense is that educator loneliness comes from the idea that people don’t understand -- whether that be parents, the general public or other administrators and teachers. I think FuelEd is really important because our programs focus on this need for understanding. Leadership Institute and Empathy School help people listen to each other. Just knowing someone understands alleviates a lot of loneliness.

How does FuelEd’s counseling process help educators make it through these difficult seasons?

I would hope that every educator client feels that my office is a safe, private place. I don’t want clients to feel alone and I want them to feel that they can trust me. That goes a long way toward making someone feel seen, heard, valued and respected. When educators come into counseling, they’re not just about talking about school. Our sessions are a place where people can bring anything that’s going on. Sometimes, because they work so many hours, educators feel there’s nowhere else to talk about, and process, what’s going on personally. Having a really good relationship with a counselor can provide that.

If there was one thing you would encourage educators to do for their mental and emotional health, that would that be?

I would encourage educators to take care of themselves. Take care of yourself first. It’s the often-used metaphor of putting your oxygen mask on first on the plane. You can’t help anyone else if you’re not okay. Whatever that means for you, do that thing! Whether it’s meditation, reading a book, biking -- do that thing for yourself.

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