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Prioritizing Student Mental Health in the Secondary Classroom

TW: When I was in high school, I wanted to un-alive myself. I deeply understand what it's like to be a teenager trying to navigate really tough situations while being in school, seemingly disappearing into the background. And now, as a teacher, I make sure to never forget this.

Back-to-school season always includes an array of content including: first-year teacher advice, things you need in the classroom, top 5 lessons for the first week, etc. and while I love and engage in all this content too, there is something that to me is the most important - remembering students' mental health first.

Life is really hard - heartbreak, trauma, grief, physical and mental health issues, the endings of so many things... - and when you think about how difficult it is for us as adults to process a lot of the pains of life, for youth, they feel it twice fold or sometimes more, and often struggle with or just don't know how to process or cope.

I was one of those kids. Feeling all the big feelings and not knowing what to do, who I could turn to, or how to learn to love myself enough to want to survive or learn to give myself better.

Sometimes I think we forget that teens, while young adults, are still just kids. They still need moments of magic, joy, and laughter in school, they still need guidance when figuring out their emotions, they're still going to mess up and not know how to fix all their messes, and they still deserve the same amount of attention that we give to their younger counterparts.

So I say all this to say, yes, teach your content. And keep those expectations high because our kids deserve to be held to high standards and to be believed in enough to reach them, but while you're teaching and molding the great minds of tomorrow, don't forget to be mindful of the inner workings of those same minds.

Some ideas:

๐Ÿ’› Host a mental health unit, no matter what subject you teach (it doesn't have to be long or take up a lot of time, but review different topics like anxiety, depression, toxic masculinity, the dangers of perfectionism, etc. AND healthy coping mechanisms accessible to students)

๐Ÿ’› Use check-in surveys like THIS to allow students to share info/questions/emotions with you (sometimes if they're shy and less likely to talk in person, they'll feel more comfortable filling out a survey - this can include a quick temperature check, weekly highs and lows, or just a basic 'how are you doing, really?' question at the end of an assignment)

๐Ÿ’› Be mindful of mood/energy shifts in your classroom and schedule low-stakes one-on-ones with students to check in on them

๐Ÿ’› Post inclusive and helpful information in your classroom like THESE POSTERS when you're thinking about decor this year

๐Ÿ’› Plan a lesson or activity this September to raise awareness of Suicide Prevention Month and the new Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 988 (like 911, but for mental health emergencies). You can revisit this in May too during Mental Health Awareness Month

๐Ÿ’› Host a self-care challenge week or month, where students can get extra credit points or a silly prize for completing the most self-care strategies (and maybe presenting about it)

We can all be who we needed when we were younger. We can't assume that all kids receive this kind of love and information at home, and we should not try to be saviors, but we can go into this school year with love and grace for our students.

And also, we can remember to have the same love and grace with ourselves ๐Ÿ’›


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