Student Mental Health- Back to School
In September of 2021, I(Janmariz) did a student roundtable led by Ed-TrustNY. After two months of school, I can't stop thinking about the changes we wished would happen to improve student wellbeing while struggling with my wellness in the current structure.
Schools need to focus more on the well-being of student’s health over student’s grades, and stop pushing the narrative of “self worth is based on productivity.” Teachers should be trained to understand the signs and symptoms of poor mental health and ways to better support students. A student who is often tired will be underestimated and labeled as lazy which can lead to low self confidence. But a student who is overworked and stressed, will be overly encouraged to continue in a draining schedule. As someone who has been both types of students in the classroom, I know there are many ways teachers can improve to educate in a more accessible manner and cultivate a better, balanced learning environment.
Alternative work assignments such as having the option to write a personal essay relating to a topic when my brain is too cloudy to be analytical has saved my grade this past year. Students don’t get much autonomy in the classroom but we should because otherwise school becomes a job and a chore. If school is a place to guide the new generation and teach us about how to manage responsibilities well, they need to trust us and help us fulfill, not pile on. Alternative assignments reintroduce and highlight the importance of problem solving and creativity in high school, since this hasn’t been important since I was first taught fractions. Before assigning more work as punishment on top of the hours a week dedicated to just homework and studying, consider that the student may have other classes and commitments. The secret is most students hate not doing their homework too because of the pressure and anxiety to complete a task, but not many would admit being so overwhelmed over “such a small thing.”
Students need people to believe in them and their intelligence which is why restrictive punishments and harsh words are way more damaging to students than teachers believe. Teachers, as most people, act on their own emotions before considering others. But as educators who shape students as learners and people, it is crucial they understand how to respond to a “bad student.” Instead of yelling or humiliating students, ever think of taking an extra couple minutes after class to have a one on one conversation and question the student’s behavior and LISTEN before judging them? Because of this treatment, school is viewed more as an institution rather than an educational and necessary part of growth by kids. This, not so subtle, reminder to teachers is not because I am ungrateful for their work but because it's just that: a reminder! A lot of teachers tend to forget that we are simply teenagers. We are human with other priorities besides their class and other stressors besides school work.
Additionally, classrooms should be required to be trauma informed and issues relating to mental health need to be handled with gentle care. I am often turned off by the fact that some lessons with general sensitive topics are handled with such aggression. From my perspective, it seems as though teachers often forget the nature and true depth of a topic because they are running on autopilot and reciting a script.
Many teachers do not accept later work, and others don’t if there is no “proper excuse." But I believe that if a student is not doing an assignment, there is always a proper reason and the incompleteness is a sign of a need for support. As a mental health advocate, I believe teachers should be getting more funding- because yes, it's related! Schools need to pay teachers for staying after or hire tutors, so the young minds have someone to refer to for help outside of a classroom and hold them accountable for their work. Administrations and governments often discount the emotional counseling many teachers do or should be doing. I talk to people from all schools across the nation and this has helped me write up our “for schools and workplaces” section on our site, in which you can find more information on how to help teens in an educational environment. If you have any suggestions, our email and instagram are always open. https://www.projectcalendula.com/for-schools-and-workplaces