The hallways fill with the chatter of children walking to their classrooms. Soon after, the class bell rings and another school day beings. For teachers, it’s not only a day of teaching material from math to history to literature, it is also a day of monitoring and disciplining behaviors, and tending to the needs of children who may be falling behind or are presenting a need of mental or behavioral health care.
What exactly is the role of a teacher? Some may view the teacher as a walking encyclopedia, a social worker, a surrogate parent, report writer, and even nose wiper and pencil sharpener. The list goes on and on as a teacher takes on many responsibilities within the classroom and school setting. In today’s society, we must remember to put interactive educator and leader of young minds first in that list. The role of a teacher is to facilitate student learning and to be the creator of a productive classroom environment wherein students can develop higher order thinking skills and effective communication among peers and adults alike. Nowadays, we find an interdisciplinary nature in the school setting that truly sets the classroom apart from the past. Teachers may be pulled in numerous directions to help their students. They are not just shaping life-long learners; they are also teaching students how to navigate in the 21st Century. Not all students come to class every day with a full belly, a good night’s rest and a packed back- pack. Not all students go home to a healthy or safe household, or even the same one every day. The child brings everything with them through the door. In the midst of all of this is the teacher, receiving the child in the morning and ushering them home in the afternoon. Due to challenges with increasing numbers of students and decreasing funds in extracurricular programming, it becomes vital for the teachers to have support in addressing issues that arise within the classroom. With that, teachers also have access to a wide array of resources to complete this monumental task.
Children enter the classroom with problems much larger than last night’s homework. From fears of bullying, to parental divorce or even abuse at home, these emotions weigh heavy upon children and can have devastating effects not only on emotional development, but also on academic accomplishments. Research conducted at Stanford and the University of Michigan supports that pupils with anxiety, anger and depression experience educational problems such as learning delays and poor achievement (Child Psychology for Teachers, 2013). Moreover, one in five children and adolescents experiencing a mental health disorder will need psychological support.
Teachers must be prepared to confront a child acting out with an undiagnosed behavioral health issue. They may find themselves dedicating one-on-one attention to a disruptive child who is interfering with the classroom environment. Teachers are often on the front lines with these issues, but they do not have to tackle these concerns alone. A collaborative team approach between administrative staff, behavioral health staff and family is critical to the well-being of the child. A special education teacher in the LAUSD school system noted that when a “child feels overwhelmed by the extreme chaos and stress of emotions, the teacher can be a vital and valuable figure.” The teacher can model “proper coping skills, confrontation resolution skills, and also offer positive support for the child.” The teacher can truly be a positive force that supports the child to seek the help he or she needs so that the child can continue to prosper in the classroom and school environment. The collaborative team can include, but is not limited to, school psychologists, therapists, behavioral aides, developmental pediatricians, psychiatrists, parents, and regional centers. Each member of this team can work with the child to support them as they work through these difficulties.
If a child is exhibiting symptoms of abuse and neglect, the teacher must intervene. If a student makes statements to a teacher about being abused at home, they act upon these allegations of physical abuse and find themselves being pulled from a teacher role to act as “arms of law enforcement” (Walsh, Ohio v. Clark, Supreme Court Case, 2015). Many cases like this transpire across the nation every day. As a mandated reporter, the teacher is again confronted with a task; to report, and feel as though they are over-stepping boundaries and perhaps even be wrong. In spite of those feelings, teachers have an essential responsibility to protect the child. Other mandated reporters include social workers, principals, physicians, therapists, law enforcement officers, and other child care providers (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2016). There are approximately three million cases of child abuse and neglect reported each year (Child Psychology for Teachers, 2013). These can include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as child neglect. Resources from the U.S. Department of Mental Health and Human Services provides a comprehensive list of behavioral indications and physical signs of child abuse. Teachers who suspect child abuse should contact their state department of social services, child protective services or local reporting agency, in addition to their school principal (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2016). Support for these children must also come from outside the classroom. To provide a constant stable environment for the child, therapists and school psychologists can be contacted. School psychologists and therapists alike are trained individuals to address the needs of a child who has been maltreated.
Too many times we read stories of children suffering from emotional abuse from bullies at school. Bullies are relentless and can push other children to feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness and, in more extreme cases, depression and suicide. Studies completed at Yale University have found that victims of bullying are between 2-9% more likely to consider suicide than non-victims (Bullying and Suicide). A teacher may notice a child exhibiting symptoms of depression and isolation and this depression can go hand in hand with bullying or abuse. An estimated 40-80% of school aged children experience bullying and nearly 160,000 children stay home from school every day because they fear being bullied (Child Psychology for Teachers, 2013). Bullying and emotional abuse can make children feel helpless. Teachers too, may feel helpless to stop the abuse and bullying. The American Psychological Association recommends teachers to seek help from the principal, school counselor or psychologist when dealing with serious or chronic bullying incidents. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services highlights supervision as a critical issue in bullying (Child Psychology for Teachers, 2013). Teachers have the responsibility to take action that can help stop bullying and intervene in ways that support both the victim and perpetrator. It is important to keep in mind that bullying is a form of aggression or “acting out” behavior and may serve an emotional purpose for the perpetrator. Teachers can help combat this potential self-esteem issue by relying on support from behavioral health staff such as school counselors. Teachers can also exemplify a strong no tolerance stance by increasing their presence in hallways, playgrounds, and restrooms.
Bronstein, L., Abramson, J. Strengthening the Teacher and School Social Worker Alliance. (2013). Retrieved from: http://alliance1.org/ppf/strengthening-teacher-and-school-socialworker-alliance.
Bullying and Suicide. Bullying Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Mandated Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect. State Statutes. Retrieved from: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/lawspolicies/statutes/manda/.
Understanding Your Unique Role: Child Psychology for Teachers. (2013). Retrieved from: http://www.teachingdegree.org/2013/05/13/understanding-your-unique-role-childpsychology-for-teachers/.
Veira, Ingrid. Roles of Teachers in the 21st Century. (2016). Retrieved from: http://www.pearsonclassroomlink.com/articles/0910/0910_0502.htm.
Walsh, M.(2015). Supreme Court to Hear Case on Abuse Reporting: Mandatory Reporting Laws Complicate Teacher’s Role. Education Week. Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/02/25/supreme-court-to-hear-case-onabuse.html#