School districts roll out mental health initiatives for teachers as staffing issues and burnout plague educators

School districts across the country are rolling out initiatives to help ease educator stress, which was exacerbated during government-ordered pandemic shutdowns and continued this year as districts grapple with staffing issues and students who have fallen behind socially and academically since the closures.

“The demands on all of us were very high and we were trying to make up for lost time during the few years they retreated to their curriculum. But we forgot that they hadn’t been to school for a few years, so they missed that socio-emotional piece. We deal with that in the classroom,” Karen Bowden-Gurley, a fifth grade teacher from New Hampshire, told The Associated Press.

About 20 New Hampshire teachers recently participated in a two-day workshop to combat burnout and address stressors through a program called The Regulated Classroom. Classes included exercises on “creating collective rhythms”, including using wooden sticks to follow the tune of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and learning meditation practices.

“I think it’s no understatement to say that a lot of educators find their jobs quite stressful at this point and lack joy,” Emily Daniels, who led the workshop and founded The Regulated Classroom, told Fox News Digital Sunday in a phone. interview. “They come to school with great apprehension and anxiety about student behavior, pressures and performance expectations, while they often feel that students are not really available to learn. .”

SCHOOL DISTRICTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY UNDER WIRE TO HIRE HUNDREDS OF TEACHERS BEFORE SCHOOL YEAR STARTS

Daniels founded her company before the pandemic and told Fox News Digital she would see a 1,000% to 2,000% increase this year compared to 2021.

“What’s happening is our Department of Education, they’re getting daily phone calls from districts saying, ‘Oh my God, what are we supposed to do? We can’t even have enough hot bodies to fill a job,'” Daniels told Fox News Digital.

“When you have that, when it’s like that and everyone is feeling really desperate, you better have another source of energy to come in and not feel completely overwhelmed by circumstances.”

Daniels told Fox News Digital that she offers clients an understanding of a construct called the polyvagal theory, which holds that “cognitive and emotional intelligence stems from our physical state,” according to Daniels’ website.

“When our body feels constantly threatened or anxious or fearful, the body actually changes how it functions. And that changes our behavior to become a lot more…protective. So, we end up showing ourselves in these a lot more restless ways. It changes our behavior, it just changes the way we perceive the world,” she said. Daniels added that giving teachers the right tools to deal with stressors and anxiety is also an investment in students. , as adults can set the tone for how to be rooted and healthy, which is then inherited by students.

A researcher from the University of Delaware School of Education found that levels of depression, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion among elementary school teachers are 100 to 400 percent higher than before the pandemic.

“Everything is very bad,” said Leigh McLean, senior researcher in the Teacher Emotions, Traits and Health Lab at the University of Delaware School of Education.

TEXAS TEACHER ON THE DECISION TO QUIT AND WHY MANY OF HER COLLEAGUES ARE DOING THE SAME: ‘JUST TOO MUCH TO DO’

As the new school year kicks off, districts across the country are suffering from staffing shortages that began to plague school districts nationwide during the pandemic. Teachers had spoken of the burnout resulting from the uncertainty during the closures, including the shift to remote learning, the shift to blended learning and eventually the return to classroom teaching in 2020 and 2021 Teacher unions have often supported remote learning, even through 2022 in cities like Chicago.

About 300,000 public school teachers and staff left the field between February 2020 and May 2022, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A National Education Association February survey found that 55% of teachers said they were considering leaving the profession. A whopping 79% of teachers said they were dissatisfied with their careers, according to a July survey by the American Federation of Teachers.

TEACHERS SAY CHILDREN FELL BEHIND DRAMATICALLY DURING THE PANDEMIC, LACKING BASIC SKILLS

Teachers have indicated that the fallout from the lockdowns is not their only stressor. They also pointed to the threat of school shootings, such as the one in Uvalde, Texas, in May that killed 19 students and two teachers. Daniels argued that parents speaking out against certain programs taught in school districts, students falling behind socially and academically after remote learning, and more reported violence among students in schools added to the contributing factors. stress felt by educators.

To help retain teachers and prevent burnout, some districts have bolstered mental health training for staff, hired social and emotional learning coaches for educators, run breathing exercise classes for teachers and students, and a school district in Texas is even planning to build “soothing rooms.” ” for teachers, where they can go to relax when they are not in class.

Kindergarten teacher Kelly Hurd said the recent two-day workshop at New Hampshire gave him a feeling of “renewal” for the next school year.

“I love teaching and I love kids, but it’s also tough,” Hurd, who experienced burnout before the pandemic and was part of the New Hampshire roster, told The Associated Press. “The pandemic has been so harsh, so impactful and so stressful. I feel a sense of renewal and excitement, and feel like I’ve been given permission to have more fun and focus on joy at school.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Norma A. Roth