Teachers are mental health frontline workers and they need some better skills

“STIs on the rise” was a headline I saw on cbc.ca, the other morning, way back before summer, before school went out. Student engagement, learning outcomes, increasing participation, increase student achievement are all the subject of PAC documents and school websites. Mental health awareness, body image, LGBTQ concerns, anxiety, depression, ADHD, ADD are all over the news and important issues for teens and adults.

Schools can’t do it all.

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Can this call for ‘student engagement’ be a wake-up call for curriculum developers and the Ministry of Education to put a real focus on attachment, relationship building, and conversations with teenagers that respond to their needs and as a result increase engagement, outcomes, participation and achievement?

Yes, students need core subjects of math, English, socials, PE.

Yes, they need exposure to options like Outdoor Ed, soccer, metal work, foods, carpentry, automotive mechanics and more.

They also need to know that their mental health is important, their knowledge about life and death issues like STIs, drugs, alcohol, legalization of marijuana, attachment and relationships are equally important.

Anti-bullying campaigns, anxiety awareness campaigns, mental health awareness, show the issues as being important enough for a poster but not quite important enough for everyone. Campaigns make engagement optional. What would it look like if there was a core course with a mix of human development, social justice (aka how to treat others), substance use and mis-use discussions, sexual development, STI psychoeducation, relationship navigation, decision making and this may lead us to really connect students to a school environment that is responsive and responsible.

I’ll take it one step further – we need to certify teachers in this subject and not simply fill it into whoever’s schedule has an empty block. This stuff is important, and as important as it is to have an English teacher who reads and knows where to put the comma, it is equally important to have someone teach and engage students in the aforementioned topics who is interested and comfortable having those conversations.

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