Mental health: What do our teachers need?

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Selma City School Superintendent Avis Williams.

By Avis Williams 

Teaching is more than just a little challenging. It’s hard. This is especially true when serving in a high poverty setting. Challenges range from the workload itself to secondary trauma.  

As the lead learner of Team Selma, I do not take for granted the commitment and dedication that I see in our teachers. I value and encourage self-care. Further, our district leaders are intentional about celebrating the excellence that we observe in our district. These efforts may help but I recognize that for some of our teachers, this will not be enough. 

I recently read an article, Safeguarding the Mental Health of Teachers by Emily Boudreau.  She cites content from an interview with a veteran teacher, Henry Seton. Here is what he said, “Teachers are attuned to the social-emotional wellbeing of our students and trained to monitor for signs such as trauma, anxiety, bullying, or micro-aggressions. Yet we are still just learning how to discuss a huge, lurking threat to our work: our own mental health.” 

Teachers are givers.  As such, it is natural for them to focus on the scholars in their class, the needs of their school and the gravity of their work rather than their own needs.  This leads to burnout, stress and even anxiety and depression all of which is part of secondary trauma. 

Addressing secondary trauma is must for schools today. Secondary traumatic stress or STS has long been acknowledged as a condition impacting professions such as nurses, social workers, first-responders, and mental health counselors. Today, we know that teachers, paraprofessionals, school nurses, principals and even school resource officers are affected by STS. 

So what do teachers need? Team Selma has included self-care and wellness for employees as part of our focus on social-emotional learning.   

Our district team created a mobile self-care unit. The goal is for each school to experience true elements of self-care, from comfy seating to soothing music and duty-free lunch. Ultimately each school will create their own self-care room. 

I routinely share articles in my Morning Joy emails about the importance of self-care and tips for incorporating it into daily activities. 

Our Aim for Excellence Awards are a way to show our team members that we value and appreciate their commitment to Team Selma. We thank our amazing partners for making this possible. 

All of our schools have a focus on improving school culture. I recognize that none of this is enough to completely eliminate the stress of working in a school. It is a start. Teaching can be hard, and I encourage our team members to take time for self-care, speak with a professional if needed and find true work-life balance. 

Avis Williams is superintendent of Selma City Schools. For more information, email avis.williams@selmacityschools.org.