The mental well-being of students was a hot topic during the 2021-22 school year. As classrooms opened back up after the initial shock of COVID-19, teachers and staff noticed more behavioral issues and higher levels of stress or anxiety in their students. While most were excited to see each other face-to-face again, the transition proved to be harder than anticipated.
This year isn’t likely to have the same pandemic-related difficulties as the last. Most students have been back to full-time, in-person classes for a while now and are getting used to the daily routines again. However, mental health is still an important issue that’s attracting attention, with educators looking for new ways to manage students' emotional and social needs more effectively. Like us, they know just how important our kids’ mental wellness is to a healthy academic, personal and social life.
Although this school year looks different from previous ones, it still has its challenges. These are some of the biggest mental health obstacles teachers and students face this fall.
News headlines are full of stories about staffing shortages and teachers leaving the profession. Educators are facing burnout at an alarming rate due to issues like a lack of support, low morale and poor school funding. It’s no surprise that this level of mental and emotional fatigue impacts students, both directly and indirectly.
For instance, teachers spend many hours a day in the classroom, and kids can pick up on how they feel. If they’re stressed or angry, it will show, taking a toll on students' own emotions. Lesson plans can also suffer due to a low mood and negatively affect academic performance.
While many schools put a lot of resources and effort into addressing the mental and emotional health needs of students, not much is being done to help their teachers. There’s no perfect solution, but some districts are asking for feedback from educators and listening to what they have to say in order to address the underlying grievances.
Social-emotional learning is a proven teaching technique that helps students develop the self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills needed for a successful, balanced life. Kids with a strong foundation of social-emotional learning are able to make better decisions, handle stress more effectively and build positive relationships with others, which helps them thrive in the classroom and beyond. Simply put, it's a more holistic way of teaching that considers the needs of the whole child.
But lately, social-emotional learning has been under attack by critics who say it's politically divisive and a smoke screen for progressive values. That’s because, in the classroom, it often involves cultivating empathy and tackling difficult topics like racism, sexism and homophobia. Even teaching American history can draw pushback. Opponents believe that dealing with these kinds of issues should be left to the parents.
While most of this criticism usually comes from the media rather than locals, it still takes a toll on teachers who already have enough to worry about. It’s also made some reluctant to use social-emotional concepts and curricula in the classroom, despite the evidence that they promote positive behavior, healthier school environments and better academic performance.
This can leave educators with even fewer tools to support kids’ mental health at a time when more are desperately needed.
Technology was once considered a barrier between schools and parents. But as educators shifted to virtual instruction during the pandemic, it became a lifeline that kept teachers, students and their families connected. Many districts even provided laptops and other devices to those who needed them to make remote learning possible for everyone.
As a result, the home became its own kind of classroom and parents were more involved in their kids’ schooling than ever. They also had a better sense of what their children were learning. Teachers kept communication and engagement up with parent outreach events and noticed the positive effect it had on academic outcomes.
But with classes resuming in person, we’ve begun to lose some of that trust and goodwill. Parents started to feel more disconnected and struggled to cope with changing COVID-19 protocols, often blaming teachers for the frustration they felt. Others have lost faith in educators and started to seek more control over what their children are learning, targeting topics like critical race theory and gender identity.
One of the challenges of the 2022-23 school year will be bridging that gap between parents and teachers and remembering that we’re on the same team. Doing so will mean having conversations to keep building feelings of trust and communication now that kids are back to in-person classes.
Most students were able to readjust to the structure and routine of school again right away. However, others struggle with having less autonomy than they did at home and aren’t sure what their teachers expect anymore. So they’re trying to navigate their schedules, follow the rules and remember how to act around kids their own age.
Some of the difficulties in transitioning back into the classroom can be attributed to the turbulence of the past few years. Many families underwent significant changes during the pandemic, with everything from divorce, job loss and separation becoming more common. It’s contributed to a great sense of loss that can be difficult for kids to cope with.
Many are hopeful, however, that this year will bring positive change. It's hard to predict exactly what will happen, but teachers think that things will be calmer and more productive than they have been in a while. As long as we continue to prioritize the mental health of staff and students and address the challenges that arise, we can get back to a better kind of normal that helps kids continue to learn and grow.
If you’re a parent, teacher or student and want to learn more about navigating the challenges of the 2022-23 school year, we can help. Our compassionate team of psychiatrists, therapists, coaches and more can provide the support and guidance you need to maintain optimal mental wellness. We also offer support groups for teens and adults to address specific concerns like parenting or anxiety. To learn more, give Sokya a call at (866) 657-6592 to connect with one of our Care Coordinators. We can also click here to complete our online contact form and we’ll be in touch within 48 hours.