Mental health training for teachers will benefit our students



magine being a teacher of a classroom of 29 students. Most seem to be paying attention, interacting with peers in an appropriate way, and seem to get their work turned in. The others, if in class, may seem as if they are just a “shell of themselves,” feeling as if everyone is looking at them and narrating their every move, or trying every strategy to stay focused and on task. 

Their brains will not let them learn, thinking only of the hollowness they have inside or the weight that is constantly on their shoulders and chest. Believing, breathing is surviving. These are descriptions expressed by students of what it feels like to have social-emotional/mental health concerns and trying to learn in a classroom. These expressions and observations have been made of students of all ages.

To a teacher that has little to no training in mental health and the social emotional needs of students, this may be perceived very differently. It could appear to be students that do not care enough about their education to attend school, are withdrawn and choose to not have friends, are unmotivated, lazy, or disruptive. 

If these students show an emotion of anger, sadness, or frustration, it can be interpreted as weakness or as a signal that something is “wrong” with them. Teachers that have no training on recognizing signs of mental health will not know what to do or how to support these students.

Mental health and social-emotional needs do not choose a socioeconomic status, race, gender, or age.

When the words of at-risk youth are used, they do not pertain to only students in poverty, poor parenting, students failing, etc. Parents and families do their best to support their students in the educational setting and reach out for resources from the school. 

Often there are limited resources regarding mental health and social emotional needs in rural communities. The needs of all students fall upon the educational system to support students while they are in our care.

Mental health concerns have increased to include diagnoses that were not in practice with children 20 years ago. All staff working in a school system need a general understanding of mental health and how it appears in the classroom, lunchroom, on the school bus, and at recess. 

Having tools to recognize signs and symptoms will assist teachers and all school staff as the front line with students. Tools in social-emotional health will give school staff the knowledge to know when the student needs a break, an extra reminder to turn work in, time to compose themselves before answering a question, as well as the knowledge to recognize when to contact the school counselor.

If teachers and all school staff are trained and provided tools to support students, then we all benefit, especially our students.

Toni Arnzen is a counselor for the Fruitland School District. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the District or the Independent-Enterprise.

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