The Reality of Mental Health in the Classroom

So a friend posed the question on Facebook, "Do people care about the mental health of teachers?" My response, "Unfortunately, no!"

Let me explain.

In my teaching journey I have worked in several very different school environments. While I was in Baltimore, I worked in a non-public, self-contained classroom with severely emotionally disturbed children. Their behavioral disorder ranged from ODD, autism, ADD, and ADHD. Most dealing with multiple health issues. Depending on if they were getting the medication they required, the children’s short tempers and more volatile behavior would be enhanced.

We even had a protocol for when kids snapped. We were all trained in therapeutic holds. We had a personal behavior specialist for our classroom. Each child had a “tailored” de-escalation plan that could consist of walks, talks, and there was a room they could go into to take “space”.

It was at this school that my mental health was the most attacked and unacknowledged. I worked in a toxic environment. I was threatened with metal trash cans. I spent my days "chasing" after kids who refused to stay in the classroom and caused further disruptions for the school. I was cussed out. I was degraded. I was, for all intents and purposes, abused.

Oh, and that was just the students. The adults weren't easy either.

The lead teacher would not only verbally and emotionally taunt the students, she did the same to me. She would assign me tasks such as erasing an entire student's used workbook of 100+ pages to then make copies of every newly erased page. I was forced to create lesson plans for her during her long term absence. I want to note that I was only the paraprofessional/teacher assistant therefore this was not my job.

When I brought all my issues to the administrators, I became the issue. I was told verbatim, "You hold your values to true. These are very sick kids. You can't care about them too much. Sometimes you have to think about the business of what we do." I was suddenly the squeaky wheel because I saw how unethical this school and situation was. They were shifting public school kids to our program and funneling them into our nonpublic system where they were essentially cash cows. 

My main issue was with the consistency of standards. Kids would be told one thing by the therapist and/or teacher and then told something else in meetings with their parents. The expectations were low. As in the academic rigor did not prepare kids to transition back into the mainstream. They were doing busy work then would feel overwhelmed and would go into crisis in a regular classroom. 

In a system that was created around "serving" the mentally unequipped, one would think mental health would be of high importance. It was not.

Now, since then, I have progressively worked in better schools but, the issues remain the same. Our mental health doesn't matter.…until someone snaps. Then it's too late. Too late for the children. Too late for the teacher. Too late to fix the real problem.

So, I ask you, what do we do to make this better?