The Idaho Education Association has many leaders. Staff and governance roles sometimes get the most notoriety, but we have people in every local association who lead and contribute in a variety of ways. Many of our essential leaders may not have a formal role within the local structure, but inspire us with the work they do in classrooms and by providing leadership on education policy, professional practice, or in how they support students. The leaders are the lifeblood of our Association, and we want to give them a voice here in the IEA REPORTER and in other areas. Today we feature expertise from school counselor and Lakeland Education Association member Kelli Aiken on supporting the mental health of our students.
The Role of Professional Educators in Mental and Emotional Health
Are Idaho students and educators surviving or thriving? Are they getting all the support and resources they need to be the best versions of themselves?
Even before the pandemic, many students have dealt with adverse childhood experiences, toxic stress, and trauma. We are talking about challenges such as:
- Abuse- emotional, physical, sexual
- Neglect- lack of food, clothing, shelter, medical/mental health care, emotional support
- Domestic violence
- Substance use/abuse by family members
- Mental Illness of a family member
- Separation, divorce, loss of a loved one
- Criminal activity/family members in jail
- Poverty and lack of enrichment activities
When we fail to invest the time, money, and resources into prevention and early intervention, many students will develop unhealthy coping mechanisms that can derail their success.
- Saying and doing things that hurt themselves or others
- Getting in trouble at school or with the law
- Trying to numb the pain with alcohol, drugs, or unhealthy eating habits
- Self-harm or suicide ideation
- Developing anxiety, depression, or PTSD
All of these issues interfere with the student’s academic, personal, social, emotional, and college/career development.
Supporting Educators = Supporting Students
Educators are trained to provide the best developmentally appropriate activities, lessons, and projects to support student growth and mastery through all the core and elective subjects. They often lead before and after school enrichment activities, clubs, and sports, that give students a vast variety of opportunities to develop their passions and help secure their future success in the real world. When educators notice that a student isn’t engaging or is struggling, they do everything in their power to offer the support and resources needed.
But are we giving educators everything they need to succeed? We routinely expect educators to do more with less, to go above and beyond, and to spend hours above their contract times to pull it all off. They are expected to help every student achieve proficiency on standardized tests, even though they can’t control the student’s environment at home or in the community. We expect them to be martyrs and to sacrifice time and energy they could be used to nurture themselves and their own families because they need to care for their students.
When students and families need outside support and resources, there are often barriers- a lack of time, money, or transportation to apply for help in a fragmented social support system that often relies on charities that are scattered all over the county. We seem to want to rank order who deserves help by creating applications and procedures that are designed to screen people out, rather than realizing that every student and family deserves to have their needs met.
Surviving is NOT the same as thriving… We need to listen and notice. We need to think differently about what people need and deserve, and we need to step up and turn our aspirations into reality!
What can you do?
- Share your stories and concerns with your local, state, and national leaders
- Advocate to fully fund public education
- Promote social-emotional learning throughout K-12
- Create full-service community schools that provide a variety of academic, social, and health services for students and their family members
- Make sure negotiated agreements with school districts provide adequate staffing ratios for counselors, school psychologists, nurses, and support personnel
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