Back to School – Filling in the Blanks

And just like that the carefree sundrenched days of summer come to an end. A whole summer has passed and we find ourselves stocking up on school supplies, and setting up classrooms. We get class lists or receive teacher assignments and wonder what the year will bring. In what other stage of life or work setting would we find ourselves with roughly a two-and-a half-month break and a return to nearly the same circumstances? And as appealing as it sounds for those year-rounders, the reality for many is how difficult it can be to readjust.

All the living that takes place from school year end to school year start inevitably comes out in some way. And if we consider that our kids spend roughly 1000-1500 hours in school each year, and teachers 100’s more, it’s to everyone’s advantage that we take the time to understand each other. A child may return to school unruly, inattentive, overactive, and disruptive – but it may be because they feel that school is the safest pthey have been since June. A teacher might start off somewhat cold or withdrawn – the product of a recent divorce or news of a health crisis. On the surface both can be frustrating and unsettling, but the key is to remind ourselves that the passage of time by the school calendar is not seamless.

A major life event or tragedy that takes place over the summer is relived in sharing details with, or hiding details from, friends or colleagues – as though the experience just happened. Some schools still address mail “To the parents of…” – a statement so seemingly minor can feel so stinging for the child of a parent who just abandoned them. There it is again…raw, painful. We can do better.

Teachers: Offer a nurturing environment, with an effort not to jump to judgment or compare to last year’s behavior. Spend some time getting to know the “whole” child – not just what fits within academic boxes. Allow for opportunities to ease back into the class setting.
Colleagues: Understand that a change in dynamic or attitude can happen to anyone for any reason – be kind to each other. Avoid talking about each other or inclusion/exclusion frameworks. Reports of the highest staff morale and job satisfaction come from cohesive work environments.
Parents: Recognize that information you may get from other parents or even your own children is skewed in some way. If you have any concerns or questions, reach out directly to the teacher or school personnel first before going to higher ups or blasting on social media. Otherwise so much gets lost in translation and you can never truly repair the damage.
Sometimes things get lost in the race to meet academic expectations and mandates. The energy spent on blindly disregarding behaviors or personality shifts can ultimately block the academic process. Energy would better be expended on acknowledgment and resolution. And some basic human compassion can go a long way in setting the tone for a great school year.

Jennifer Melnick LCSW-R

Jennifer Melnick is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a private practice based in Rockville Centre, New York. She offers in-person and telehealth psychotherapy primarily treating symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief/bereavement, among other matters, in addition to focusing on symptom connections with relationship issues. She is on the NYS Assigned Counsel Mental Health Panel providing forensic services in NYC and Long Island Family Courts. Prior to moving to start her own practice she worked in the Queens trial office of the NYC Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Practice where she was responsible for the direct supervision of social work staff, and oversight and in-house training of attorneys, social workers, and paralegals in collaboration with other members of the supervisory team. She has worked within community-based agencies providing family and group counseling to prevent foster care placement and promote reunification, and in school-based settings providing groupwork services focusing on anti-bullying, healthy decision making, and increasing self esteem. She was a mental health provider within a sleepaway camp, where she provided training and support to campers and staff. She has presented on issues related to Secondary Trauma Stress, as well as on the importance of youth empowerment and participation in their court cases. She grew up in Montreal, Quebec but was drawn to NYC after visiting to do research for her Graduate School thesis. She took a leap of faith accepting a job in Brooklyn and moving to Queens within a year of graduation from McGill University. She now lives in the "burbs" with her husband and 3 children - a daughter and two sons...and is figuring it out like everyone else ;).