Modern Day Teaching
Picture this: You're standing in front of 25-30 bodies for an average of 40 minutes per day (this is best case scenario) for approximately 8-12 weeks (did I say best case?) once during Jr. High, once during High School. You have a large scale curriculum to cover and it's mandated that you fit it all in. While in the midst of the standardized testing, making sure passing grades are upheld, questions are answered and every child's needs are met as best you can, while also teaching on a level that each student can comprehend, with varying scales of learning abilities, you realize there's a large gap that's missing. During the hustle and the bustle of the days, caught in between the numbers game and what is going on in front of you, you come to the realization that there's another child sitting in front of you that we, as a society, have forgot to recognize. This part of our youth is rarely, if ever seen, but if they are, chances are it'll be during a Health Class.
There is a missing link, the one that goes beyond the test score, the homework, the grades, the performance, the sports, the chores, the work ethic or the college planning - this is what completes the missing link. It's looking at one teacher refers to as, "the whole child", instead of the compartmentalized, partial child - it is their mental and emotional well being.
As Health teachers they get the amazing opportunity to address important topics that spread beyond the average text book. These topics can be real, raw and heavy. But what they're forced to realize more and more each year is that 1 class simply isn't enough to address the ever growing (scarily increasing) need for mental, emotional and behavioral support for our children. Every year we're reminded of the urgency to address these topics, and how depleted our youth have become.
Last week we were able to empathize with parents in their role of modern day parenting, this week, we are able to get a glimpse inside the classroom. I've had the opportunity to interview Health teachers from across SE MN, ranging from small to large districts to get better understand their role and input on what it is like to be a teacher in 2018. And it is truly important that we're being open to their feedback and perspective.
What do you feel is the biggest struggle teenagers are facing today?
"I believe that the biggest struggle our youth face today is the ability to understand that where they are now is right where they are supposed to be. The pressure to "grow up", "fit in", "find their place", "name their best friend forever" is so strong. I don't think they quite understand that everything is building them for the future and the adult they are going to be. Too often, everything is rushed---curriculum, friendships, relationships, conversations...everything is cut off and incomplete."
"It is hard to see how many children aren't supported by their parents/families to help guide them on skills like advocacy, communication, empathy, coping skills, and boundaries."
"Advocating for themselves and asking for help when needed especially during the early teen years. As they get older fitting in seems to be a big struggle for many teens."
What do you feel is the biggest contributor to mental illness crisis being on the rise?
"Students are spending too much time in front of a screen and less time outside, moving and using their minds to be creative. Also, the lack of coping skills and emotionally absent parents along with unattended internet time with online social media and you tubers/bloggers, etc. It's just as important as parents that we're aware and responsible for our screen time, so that we can set an example and have meaningful conversations with our children."
"I honestly believe that social media is the biggest contributor to mental illnesses being on the rise, too many kids identify with their social media rather than the real world."
"This is so hard to say in writing, but, I firmly believe that the lack of parental involvement is our biggest contributor to mental illness. By this I mean the lack of family dinners, using social media as a way to pass the time, the belief that in order for your child to "like you", they need to be allowed more freedom. In the end, to be able to have an honest conversation with an adult is hard for so many of our youth. They aren't used to conversations with parents and in turn aren't sure how to talk to other adults about situations going on around them. When something bad happens, their first instinct is to post about the situation versus reaching out to an adult they can trust."
"Listening to our youth when they are speaking and equally engaging in the conversation. It's important they have outlets outside of a screen."
What are some of the biggest hurdles you face being a teacher today?
"Students mental/emotional and behavioral needs are becoming more frequent and intense and we don’t have enough support for this. It can be difficult when there is such a gap between the parents and the schools. If the kids aren't supported at home, this forces schools to have to deal with the aftermath and we simply don’t have the time or funding."
"Student accountability and parental support. Students are not held accountable for their assignments or their behavior to a standard that helps them recognize the importance of respect of others and self. More parents are blaming teachers for problems rather than taking responsibility for what is happening in the home, or choosing to have an open conversation about the situation."
"Personally as a "young" teacher, one of the biggest hurdles I face is lack of respect from students and parents in the areas of judgement, along with a sense of entitlement that many students possess. I know that "times have changed" since I was in school and with the boost of technology, everything will, however I was hoping the respect for adults and respect for property/equipment wouldn't. I understand that each case and each student is different and deserves a fresh start, but this can be hard when there's an increase in lack of respect, manipulation and responsibility for self."
What are things you see within the classroom that many be unaware of?
(i.e. what is the feedback you're hearing most from kids?)
*They comment that their parents have too high of expectations and they must excel in academics and sports.
*That they don’t see their parents for days, or they're at work and not around.
*Their parents/step parents fight, drink, and don’t make time to listen to or engage with them.
*They don’t do much as a family; we are on our phones or laptops most days at home.
*They go to their room when they get home and stay there all night with little to no conversation.
*Their parents will not listen to them, or, that it’s no use to talk with them (however, this can also a part of low mental health perception and may not always be a reality).
*Their parents assume that sports and good grades make everything better and that they're fine; or that they always want to be on their devices. They still want to know they're cared for and about despite the grade, performance or if I'm bugging you because I'm not on a device.
What do you feel would be most beneficial to help support today's youth to overcome these intense and worrisome obstacles?
"Health class is one of the few, if not the only classroom exposure we are able to discuss these important topics. (It isn't easily embedded into Math or English ;) Unfortunately, the MN Ed. Dept. only requires a semester of health in grade 10 and “an experience” at middle school. This can be challenging with limited time, especially for the amount of crisis like situations that can occur when these topics are brought to light. It's astonishing to realize the weight these kids are carrying!"
"I would love to see outside mental health supports work with schools to provide services inside our schools rather than asking students to reach out after hours. I feel like we could make a greater impact with resources inside our schools, with more prevention tools."
"Hearing from more people who have experienced the same problems they are facing now would be beneficial for them. If real people, even others their age, were to come in and talk about their mental illness, drug problems, recovery or addiction, they are more willing to listen and can better relate to the material."
"I believe that MN standards need to include an entire quarter and it's own standards for a Mental Health class. This can include, but not limited too, coping skills/techniques, stress identification/awareness, scientific explanations of how the brain works, self-esteem and it's meaning/importance, and also lessons on how brain development changes with age."
"More funding to support these important issues. It needs to be at the forefront of our "to-do lists", as it's becoming increasingly more obvious."
Was it helpful to gain better understanding as to what the role of our teachers are and identify with their struggles in the classroom? We would love to hear from you!
*Stay tuned to hear the perspectives of our youth in next weeks entry!*