Teachers’ organization focuses on mental health needs of educators

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Being a teacher has never been easy, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the job even more stressful according to educators, who say caring for students is harder if you don’t take care of yourself first.

“I recently had to go to counseling because I’m not well,” said Tonya Tolson, a 12th grade English teacher at Mountain Island Charter School in Mount Holly, North Carolina.

Tolson says that in his two decades of teaching, the work has been rewarding, yet demanding.

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“It’s always us who give. And we give, give, give. So no one notices that we’re giving from an empty cup,” she said.

Earth School teachers speak out about issues around lack of COVID testing outside of PS 64, Dec. 21, 2021, in New York City. In a twist, New York City Mayor Eric Adams is considering a remote option for schools.
(AP Photo/Brittainy Newman, File)

Planning lessons and grading papers require long hours. And keeping distant students on track during the pandemic has been particularly difficult, educators say.

“A lot of teachers leave the profession because it’s really not mentally great for us,” Tolson explained.

According to the National Education Association, there are nearly 390,000 fewer educators in US public schools than before the pandemic. In addition, 55% of educators say they are ready to leave the profession sooner than expected.

Darnita Samuels is a North Carolina-based marriage and family therapist who regularly works with teachers. She says some feel overwhelmed, but aren’t sure why.

“What they’re saying is ‘I’m stressed, my anxiety is increasing’, things like that. So when we start asking questions, there’s burnout. But there’s also mild depression. “Samuels said.

A "firm" sign outside a public elementary school in Grand Rapids, Michigan in March 2020.

A “closed” sign in front of a public elementary school in Grand Rapids, Michigan in March 2020.
(Stock)

Samuels works with an organization called Teacher’s Resource, which connects teachers with help.

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“A healthy person equals a healthy teacher, healthy students,” said Sonya Battle, founder of the organization.

Battle says she started the teacher resource when she noticed teachers across the country were being ignored when it came to mental health.

“Our first reaction is to always help babies, help babies, let them pass. And then we end up hurting,” Tolson said.

Battle does Facebook Live and group Zoom sessions with licensed therapists like Samuels.

Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal in Zelienople, Pennsylvania.  (AP)

Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. (AP)

“Sometimes I open it up and ask if there’s anyone here who would like to share exactly what they’re dealing with. So we can help them learn some coping skills,” Samuels said.

As of 2020, Battle has connected with around 1,000 teachers, including Tolsen. The goal is to continue to grow, as Tolson says connecting with mental health resources has proven to be a valuable lesson.

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“You can say you’ve had enough all day, but when you feel like you haven’t had enough, you haven’t had enough,” Tolson said.

Group therapy sessions are helpful, but Samuels says finding individual therapy is the best way to deal with a teacher’s own issues. To help you find advice in your area, you can go to theteachersresource.org and click on “contact us”.

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