Mental Health First and Academics Second
I remember talking to a friend of mine one day about how things had changed and she reminded me that there were some positive things that came out of last year that hopefully would be continued this year. For instance, kids were washing their hands more often, staying home when they weren't well, taking more care with belongings, cleaning up better, and focusing more on their own work instead of socializing so much.
Of course, there were also many things that were missing that were important for social emotional learning. Being able to return to in person learning and carefully starting to do group activities really made a difference for some kids. I realize that not all schools went totally back to in person teaching, but hopefully they will soon. We learned how important personal connections are as we were prevented from being together for so long.
This was a wake up call for many as the number of children suffering from mental health issues increased significantly in the last year and a half. It goes to show how important it is to ensure that we focus on the social emotional well-being of our students. Academics are important, but not at the expense of a child's mental health.
Teaching SEL Helps Develop Good Mental Health
We, as teachers, nurture the kids and help them to develop positive self esteem and self confidence. It is important that we help them to see that they are special and valuable. Often, when kids act out, they are really crying for attention or help with issues that they may not be able to voice or even recognize. We need to look past the behavior and try to see what may be causing it. This is not an easy task and we may not get it right, but if we are able to let the child see that we care, hopefully it will make a difference.
Getting back to the basics
I heard from many teachers that this year has been a big challenge because of the wide range of levels they need to teach in their classes. Since the start of the pandemic this gap has grown. Some children flourished with online learning and others floundered or didn't even show up. Assignments were left incomplete, comprehension was sporadic, and trying to teach a skill or concept to everyone at the same time virtually was often very difficult and unsuccessful.
Now that many children are back in the classroom, the teacher needs to reassess what they know and where the gaps are so that they can continue on. This may lead to many stressful moments for both the kids and the teachers, especially during assessment times and testing times for those schools that are required to do standardized testing.
I know it may seem unmanageable at times, but it is important that the focus be on what is good for the kids. If it means stepping back and revisiting material that was previously covered in order to provide the base for future learning, do it. If it means that you have to teach in small groups to reinforce and reintroduce concepts, do it. If it means that you won't get to some of the material this year, then so be it.
Pushing through the curriculum just to complete it won't benefit anyone. You will feel like you didn't do your best teaching, and the kids will not get the understanding and knowledge needed to be successful in future lessons. Everyone will feel frustrated and stressed.
You've got this
You may be reading this and saying to yourself, "But you don't understand. It isn't up to me. I am responsible for teaching this curriculum so that my students can do well on the tests." I get it, but I also get that the kids won't do as well on the tests if they don't have a proper understanding of the material. As I said earlier, we need to protect their mental health. Even if it means the academics have to be limited for a short time.
When you give extra support and teaching in the areas that are weak, the kids will develop the skills and confidence to move on to more difficult material and they will ultimately fair better with future assessments and the curriculum requirements.
Remember that every group has had some disruption and that there are many children that are struggling with the academics across the country, and maybe even across the world, so you are not alone with this predicament.
You've got this. Your students will start to catch up as you support them where they are. Remember to encourage them along the way and help them to see that they will be successful and they will be able to reach for their goals and succeed along the way.
Next week I will give some specific ideas for getting back to the basics for primary children.
Hang in there. The holiday break will be here soon and you will be able to recharge and regroup. It may not always feel like it, but you do make a difference for your kids. You are a star. Keep on shining even if the light doesn't seem very bright at times.
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About Me Charlene Sequeira
I am a wife, mother of 4, grandmother of 9, and a retired primary and music teacher. I love working with kids and continue to volunteer at school and teach ukulele.