When she went to graduate school to get her teaching degree, Tamara never imagined that she would be spending a good part of her career managing classroom-wide trauma. “I spend an average of six hours per day in direct instruction. Of those six hours, I probably spend at least two and a half hours having conversations with my students to break through barriers that are preventing them from learning.”
This phenomenon is all too common in classrooms worldwide. Kids’ lives are complicated. Anxiety, depression, and trauma are occuring in epic proportions.
- Nearly 4% of US students have diagnosed depression, yet approximately 9% self-report that they struggle with depression on an ongoing basis.
- 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
- 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34
The numbers are staggering, so what is a teacher to do? Should they ignore the palpable distress in the classroom in favor of test scores or address the whole child? Most educators will admit that getting through the basics of teaching is nearly impossible. Students walk in the door carrying so much more than a backpack, this simply cannot be ignored.
Is it okay to have ambivalence toward addressing the whole child? Absolutely. The average teacher is not equipped with a mental health background. The average teacher wants to impart their knowledge of their skill sets; math, language arts, social studies, science. Taking on more than core curriculum is not only intimidating, but it is also time consuming in the classroom. This is the norm of today.
Some students spend more time each week with their teachers than they do with their parents and guardians. Teachers are dealing with heavy subjects and have a weighty responsibility to not only teach, but to support and guide their students on issues pertaining to everyday life.
If you are a teacher who can relate to the pressures of teaching mental health skills, SEL, as well as your core subject, you are not alone. It can be daunting to select an SEL program for your students. With so many choices out there, how can you find one that works for you and your students?
The box checker solutions:
These are common solutions that are primarily videos, papers, or boxed kits that allow your students to listen to you (and others) talk. These tools are quick and easy to implement and provide students with simple ideas about communication, stress, and relationships to name a few.
The deeper dive solutions:
Most people admit that they’d rather have a solution that actually gets to the core of the issue and enlists the students’ participation. Healthy communication is fine, but if you’re students don’t want to live, graduate, or they struggle to see hope in the future, then a deeper dive is in order- this is the vast majority of students today.
When a solution is therapeutic at its core instead of instructional at its core, your students can join into a process that they can own. When the buy-in is deep and they see the value in the content, they will engage to a greater degree.
If you are a teacher struggling with SEL (like thousands others), you are not alone. The good news is that the onus isn’t on you alone. With the right programing, you can allow your students to embark on a 1:1 journey for themselves. The help is out there and SEL organizations want to help. Your ambivalence is normal, it’s also not your job to come up with the right words. Your SEL program should partner with you, not sell to you. Let the experts do their part while you open doors to do yours.