I am worried, after listening to teachers over the past weeks, about the mental health of our students.
Recent studies support this concern. COVID, racial and ethnic tensions, familial dysfunction, uncertainty, school openings/closures and programming changes within the school day, mean that children are struggling. So are teachers.
There are no easy answers. I was recently alerted to student ghosting — defined as students who sign in online to class but actually do not attend. Apparently, they either post a picture of themselves or simply don’t appear on the screen or are on screen but not participating. None of this is good. In a sense, it is like truancy in the old days but worse: they appear to be present.
What is a teacher to do?
Some children are angry. Some of sad. Some are frustrated. Some are cranky. Some are short tempered. Some are silent. This is true whether the students are online or in person or in some hybrid fashion. Within a given class, there are most assuredly more than one student who is struggling.
Teachers are not therapists; nor should they be. But, they can help students understand and regulate their behavior so the children are more willing and able to engage and learn and develop psycho-socially. They can work with school counselors and school social workers and school nurses to help children find a pathway forward.
This is not glamorous work. This is hard work. This is in the trenches work. For teachers, it is exhausting. Same for school nurses and school social workers.
I don’t have any easy answers but I do have a tool that I co-authored with Dr. Ed Wang of Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry (psychology and education need to be de-siloed). We created The Feeling Alphabet Activity Set. It starts with an explanation of why feeling identification is so important. Think about feelings and thoughts and behaviors as a triangle; they each affect the other. And, if we can’t identify our feelings, we can’t tame our feelings. Therein lies the adage: if you can name it, you can tame it.
The Feeling Alphabet Activity Set also allows for positive and negative word identification. We are prone in today’s world to have many negative words but if we add in positives, we can see and feel the power of the possible more easily. We may be crabby but creative also starts with the letter C.
The Activity Set also has Feeling Word Searches, Feeling Up and Down Crossword Puzzles, and exercises with a Feeling Thermometer — a wonderful tool. It has examples of how to create feeling collages and act our feelings (Feeling Charades). It contains thought bubbles and feeling bubbles.
Bottom line: this activity set, well led by a teacher over several weeks of time, can help students.
You can order here. It is right priced at $4.99. And, it can help.
And so share how it is working and examples you are adding or drawings you are making. We can include those in the next edition. We are engaged in an iterative process — and there is newness for us all. Share and let’s help all our children better understand what they are feeling so they can better understand their thoughts and behaviors.
At the end of the day, this will help us all.
Karen is an educator and an author. Prior to becoming a college president, she was a tenured law professor for two plus decades. Her academic areas of expertise include trauma, toxic stress, consumer finance, overindebtedness and asset building in low income communities. She currently serves as Senior Counsel at Finn Partners Company. From 2011 to 2013, She served (part and full time) as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. She was the Department's representative on the interagency task force charged with redesigning the transition assistance program for returning service members and their families. From 2006 to 2014, she was President of Southern Vermont College, a small, private, affordable, four-year college located in Bennington, VT. In Spring 2016, she was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in VT. She also teaches part-time st Molly Stark Elementary School, also in Vt. She is also an Affiliate of the Penn Center for MSIs. She is the author of adult and children’s books, the most recent of which are titled Breakaway Learners (adult) and Lucy’s Dragon Quest. Karen holds a bachelor degree in English and Spanish from Smith College and Juris Doctor degree (JD) in Law from Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law.