It’s a Pandemic, Don’t Leave Students Out of the Mental Health Conversation
By Suleiman Adan
This post is the eighth in our Education at a Distance series, centering the voices of students, parents, and educators during the COVID-19 crisis.
In the adult working world, emotional and mental health is a central part of the conversation as the pandemic wears on. There’s a keen eye to how we are taking care of ourselves; we’re encouraged to reach out to others and take advantage of support systems in our companies and organizations. But what about the students?
For eight hours a day, students are in front of screens, trying their best to comprehend and digest what their hardworking teachers are trying to impart. Students don’t have bosses like adults do, but they have similar days. Online, they clock-in and clock-out to prove attendance. They have a calendar full of meetings to attend and tasks to accomplish. But while many work environments emphasize adult wellness, students are missing from this conversation—skipped over with the popular refrain that children are resilient.
Too often, I see the impacts of distance learning on students’ mental health as a private tutor. Students feel like they are taking two steps forward only to take one step back. Items marked as incomplete submissions (even though the student submitted their assignment correctly), tech issues, and language barriers—are just a few of the things that continually weigh on our students.
One student I work with is an English Learner who thrives in our one-on-one sessions, but he struggles in class online. “While I am in the class, everything is moving so fast. We go from one slide to the next,” he explains. “I am encouraged to ask questions, but I always just want to get off the zoom, so I can work on the problem alone.” He says his brain feels like it is “a car running on empty.” He wants to learn and take in knowledge, but he misses being in person with his friends and classmates’ support.
Our students are our future, and now more than ever, we must come together to support the hearts and minds that make up that future. No matter what the age or level, here are three ways to address the mental health of your students in the classroom:
Virtual Drop-In Meetings with School Counselors
Sometimes, students just need to be heard. Offering virtual drop-in meetings with school counselors can give students the opportunity to have a dedicated and trusted staff person to confide in (or even to rant to). Having someone to turn to outside of assignments is significant, and schools with strong counseling programs are reporting a greater sense of happiness, safety, and security among their students.
Genuine Pulse Checks and Touchpoints
When teachers reach out to students personally and check-in to see how they’re doing, it demonstrates another level of care and investment for students. When an educator shows that they truly care, student engagement increases and attitude improves. And educators can check-in almost anytime—scheduled office hours, beginning classes with anonymous polls on how students are feeling, or emphasizing that the teacher is readily and openly accessible to students are just a few ways to accomplish this.
Celebrating Student Successes
Celebrating student success is traditionally shown in comments on tests and assignments. However, calling out students and celebrating their accomplishments in the virtual space as they happen can increase the students’ self-esteem and the bond between teacher and student.
In the end, there’s only so much that can be done in the classroom with minimal resources; now is the time to ask leadership to step up. Right now, the Minnesota Department of Education and districts across the state have the opportunity to invest federal dollars in the emotional and mental health of students. And legislators should work quickly to pass bills that address these needs.
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