Minding Mental Health

Emotional resilience for teachers

By Marianne Green

Over the past few months, the nation’s attention has been fixated on strategies to improve school safety. Arming teachers, hiring former military, and improving gun control are just a few hotly debated measures. What issue has not been considered in the midst of this national crisis—the mental health of teachers. The nation should be concerned about these men and women whose profession is now on the front line. More specifically, how are these professionals handling their mental health?

The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Violence Against Teachers reports that “U.S. teachers aren’t just underappreciated; more than one-quarter are threatened on the job” (Monitor on Psychology, October 2010). Psychology Today’s September 2015 article “The Brief Wonderous Life of Teachers’ Mental Health” also comments that teachers’ mental health directly impacts their classroom environments. “Having difficulty connecting with students, classroom behavior problems, perceptions of limited support from administration, and little time to recharge outside of work,” all impact the overall well-being of school communities.

What would an appropriate response be for helping those in the teaching profession? First and foremost, teachers should look to Jesus Christ’s life as a guide. If we are to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” then notice how Jesus himself would take time away from the crowds to recharge and reflect (Mark 12:31). Several times during his public ministry, Jesus would take time to pray and to listen to God, the Father (c.f. Luke 6:12, Mark 1:35, Matthew 14:13). Knowing that the job is literally never done at the end of each school day, teachers must pay attention to their own mental-health needs and take time away from the crowds.

We need to practice what psychologist Guy Winch calls “emotional first aid” (TED Talk, February 2015). According to Winch, “we value the body [more] than we do the mind.” Winch continues to stress that “We sustain psychological injuries even more often than physical ones.” Here are just a few suggestions on practicing “emotional first aid” for teachers:

  1. Spend time in adoration.
  2. Set limits on work projects, even God rested.
  3. Practice the daily Examen or Lectio Divina.
  4. Use free apps such as Calm or Discerning Hearts.
  5. Take time to spend with family and friends.
  6. Research the services of the Alpha-Omega Clinic.

Teachers may be in a state of hyperawareness but knowing that our mental-health needs must be addressed is essential to a healthy life and caring classroom.

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Marianne Green has been educating Catholic students in K-12 schools for the past 16 years and has collaborated on programming with the Institute of the Incarnate Word’s mission in Hafnarfjöđur, Iceland. She currently works as an independent consultant for the Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington, DC. She strives to help students live their missionary calling through the Ignatian philosophy of “seeing God in all things.”