50% of all mental disorders surface by the time children are 14 years of age. 75% surface by the age of 25 (Victoria State Government, 2022). What do these two statistics have in common? These are the years young people are in formal education. Thus, mental disorders are often presenting for the first time when students are in school. If mental health isn’t a priority in classrooms, what will that mean for young students beginning to present signs of mental illness?
Educators often spend more time with children than anyone else during the school year. Let’s work out the math. If Arizona students spend an average of 7 hours per day in the classroom at 5 days per week, that adds up to 35 hours per week spent with educators. Can parents honestly say they spend 35 hours with their child per week?
Where am I going with this? Well, if educators are spending the largest amount of time interacting with and observing our students, the classroom is where they have the potential to be one of the GREATEST resources for the mental health of our children. Seeing our kids nearly everyday, week after week, allows them to see their highs, lows, routine behaviors, and any deficiencies, allowing them to play a pivotal role in the mental health journey of children.
How Do Educators Support Mental Health in Classrooms?
First, educators are mandated reporters. If they see something questionable, they are required to report it. Educators are there to support our kids, and therefore, work to their best ability to protect our kids.
Second, they can see patterns and deficiencies. Remember how much time educators spend with our kids? If educators say something, as parents, we should give it a sincere consideration.
Third, educators support mental health in classrooms by creating a safe, calm, welcoming environment, which is something our kids crave. Checking in with each kid every week makes a world of difference.
The Real-Life Impact of Educators
I often think of one of my college professors, Dr. Knight, who used to stop me in the hall and say, “How are you doing?” When he said it, I felt that he meant it. It was more than a common curtesy.
Why did his words impact me to the point I still think of them today? As I reflect, it stands out to me that he would stop, look us in our eyes, and make a personal connection. He remembered us. When we saw him again, he would remember what we said or how we felt and follow up on it. He meant what he said and each of his students knew he cared.
An amazing example of an educator creating a calm, welcoming environment is my child’s third grade teacher, Mrs. Faye. She starts each day by checking in with each student and leading the class in meditation. The. Whole. Class. Yes, 25, 8-year-old students. Why? This puts the kids in a calm, clear-headed space to begin their days. She teaches them how to breathe, how to stay grounded, how to be calm. Two years later, my child still utilizes these skills.
Blossoming Mental Health in Classrooms
Educators are additional mentors for our children, which children deeply need. They are specially equipped to see patterns and deficiencies, leading to early intervention and help for our children. Educators can teach our children different ways to cope, to stay calm, and to persevere. What can the practices of educators like Dr. Knight and Mrs. Faye do? They can help children build resilient minds that support mental health far beyond the classroom.