Back to School: Mental Health Challenges for Teachers and Staff

Sep 19, 2022

A recent RAND survey showed that teachers and principals are experiencing frequent job-related stress at a rate that is about twice that of the general population of working adults.

The Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition will host a Facebook Live on Wednesday, September 21 at noon to discuss how teachers and staff can manage the stress of returning to school and what resources are available to help. The event is free and open to the public.

Featured speakers include Wendy Castiglia, NYSSSWA board president; Michael Cornell, superintendent, Hamburg Central Schools; and Dr. Keli Koran-Luchey, Sweet Home School District, Family support Center.

Peg Barrett, LCSW, school advocate for Mental Health Advocates of WNY, believes there is a loss of respect for the teaching profession. Parents have become more involved and there is increased political pressure regarding curriculum. School personnel are also experiencing a raised level of anxiety about school safety.

“As teachers return to school, safety concerns are paramount,” Barrett said. “I believe every faculty meeting should include a five-minute dialogue regarding updates on keeping the building, students, and teachers safe,” she said. “Also, if there is a safety committee have them provide information and resources. If there is a school resource officer, she or he should be present as a resource. This open dialogue creates trust between faculty and administrators.”

According to Barrett, many districts offer EAP programs for employees, yet school personnel may be hesitant to ask for help because of the stigma associated with mental illness. They may feel if they ask for help, they are weak or they just “can’t handle it. “

Barrett suggests that teachers who are struggling talk to their own school social worker or psychologist who can provide information about agency resources.

“It takes ego strength to seek out help,” Barrett said. “We should respect and honor when people ask for help.”

For teachers of the future, new programs are addressing new challenges of a career in teaching. One example is The University at Buffalo’s Teacher Resiliency Program which offers training and a year of mentorship co-teaching with an experienced teacher. During a residency year, students complete rigorous coursework while co-teaching alongside a mentor teacher.

Mental Health America Offers These Tips for Mental Wellness

  • Set boundaries early on—and hold them.

  • Focus on what you can control.

  • Move your body

  • Stay in touch with friends and family

  • Keep up with the self-care.

  • Maintain reasonable expectations.

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