Teachers are some of the most amazing individuals out there. It used to be that all a teacher did was teach. They had a subject and kids learned about it. That was it. Most didn't mess around with behavior issues, tears, or someone not having anything for lunch that day. It just wasn't what the school was capable of handling.
This school year comes after two and a half years of a pandemic, where both kids' and teachers' lives were disrupted by bouts of remote schooling and quarantines. Many families also faced financial strain during this time, and the overall stress of everything seemed to only add to an already uneasy state of children's mental health in the U.S.
Teachers are not taught how to be mental health professionals in college. It's not part of a teacher's job to necessarily know all about mental illness. However, in this day and age, it is something teachers are stepping up to the plate to help with. In an effort to ensure that they have some knowledge to help advocate for their students, some school districts are investing in mental health professional development for their teachers.
Teachers can also benefit from training in the area of post-crisis recovery. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), one in 100,000 children ages 10 to 14 die by suicide each year, as do seven in 100,000 young people ages 15 to 19. Mental health training can help teachers acquire the skills needed to help their students cope in the aftermath of peer suicide.
In The Classroom
Teachers can start right in their classroom when it comes to recognizing mental health issues in students. After having effective professional development, they may be able to start noticing symptoms of different mental health issues. Providing a safe and caring environment for students can go a long way. Especially if the child is experiencing issues at home. According to PBS News, students spend six or more hours a day at school so, it is inevitable that teachers will encounter mental health issues with some students.
In Their Actions
- Time and attention: More often than not students don't need a lot. Just someone who is willing to be there for them. Having a trusted adult to whom they can talk is important.
- Listening: Listening to the child and trying to understand what is happening to them, and how they might be able to help.
- Try not to judge: Children may be reluctant or even scared to talk about their issues with a teacher because they don't want to get in trouble or upset anyone. When a teacher is calm, understanding, and nonjudgmental it may make it easier for the student to trust them.
- Knowing what resources are available: Young students will need more support when it comes to getting additional help. Older students may be able to seek help themselves. Regardless, having support and someone in their corner armed with proper direction will make them feel safe and confident.
- Know when it's too much: According to Reach Out, if teachers feel like the problem is serious, or they have concerns for the student's welfare they should report it to the admin team. As mandatory reporters, teachers are required to report situations where they believe a young person is at risk of harm.
When dealing with mental health issues, teachers can use strategies like teaching problem-solving skills, goal setting, and creating accommodations for the student when situations arise that need more redirection. According to Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT), accommodations may include, but are not limited to:
- Special seating
- Exams in an alternate format such as orally versus essay form
- Use of assistive computer software to help them understand better
- Extended time for test taking
- Exam in a separate, quiet, and non-distracting room
- Substitute assignments in specific circumstances
- Permission to submit assignments handwritten rather than typed
- Extended time to complete assignments
Overall, any additional kindness a teacher can show to a student who may be suffering from mental health will help. Teachers may also want to make sure to take care of their mental health as well, as the work they do is above and beyond their initial calling, and can sometimes be stressful.