How Do Teachers Impact Mental Health and Wellness of Their Students?

Picture a child learning to ride a bike. They teeter forward, their parent’s hand resting on the back of their seat, guiding them. Soon the child gets into a stride, gradually becoming more confident. Eventually, without the child knowing, the parent removes their grip, and the child rides forward excitedly and proudly. The parent smiles and waves encouragingly, as the child sails on.

While this scenario is a very common and familiar one, it remains a perfect metaphor for a positive teacher-student relationship. In many ways, teachers move their students forward, as the parent moves their child forward on the bike. Teachers fuel students with the knowledge and motivation that help them grow, learn, become confident and dependent on themselves. This is true for students of any age, at many stages of life. Students are a very diverse bunch; they can range from toddlers in pre-k to the elderly taking adult-ed classes, or middle aged people going back for one or more degrees. Likewise, teachers can span generations, imparting a lifetime of wisdom on their students, or they can be as young as a recent college graduate. Whatever age they are, teachers bring their own brand of learning and life to their students.

The best learning situations include a positive teacher-student relationship. According to Emily Gallagher, writer of an article titled The Effects of Teacher-Student Relationships: Social and Academic Outcomes of Low-Income Middle and High School Students, “positive teacher-student relationships enable students to feel safe and secure in their learning environments and provide scaffolding for important social and academic skills.” Positive teacher-student relationships are fostered through warmth, closeness, and bonding, Gallagher says. When the student feels trust and connection to the teacher is when the student blossoms. Most of the time this trust and connection is subconscious and innate, like the child who finally feels secure enough to bike without their parent’s guiding hand. This confidence is integral to a student’s behavior and mental well-being. A student who is secure and happy is less likely to act out, in class or otherwise, and their mental well-being will benefit from challenging themselves and succeeding.

Students who have a positive relationship with his or her teacher tend to benefit academically and socially. This is especially true of students going through transition years, such as elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school, but also of any vulnerable student, such as those in low-income areas. Gallagher writes, “Students in high-poverty urban schools may benefit from positive teacher-student relationships even more than students in high-income schools, because of the risks associated with poverty. Risk outcomes associated with poverty include high rates of high school dropout, lower rates of college applications, low self-efficacy, and low self-confidence.” She says that there are several factors that “can protect against the negative outcomes often associated with low-income schooling, one of which is a positive and supportive relationship with an adult, most often a teacher. Low-income students who have strong teacher-student relationships have higher academic achievement and have more positive social-emotional adjustment than their peers who do not have a positive relationship with a teacher.” This speaks to the fact that teachers can, and often do, make a world of difference in students’ lives. They are often the bridges between students and their passions, such as an outstanding English teacher who inspires a student to love writing, who then goes on to become a writer. Or, a great science teacher may foster future researchers and neurosurgeons.

Teachers connect students to society itself, introducing them to all the different facets which people occupy and study, such as world history and politics, art, language, and business. In essence, great teachers make for a great future.

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