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5 Key Workplace Mental Health Challenges in Education

Teaching is a rewarding profession. Not only are teachers developing the next generation of leaders, but they are also observers of their students during a critical part of their development. 

Today, the stakes are higher than ever before, with new challenges and pressures facing teachers, education assistants, and administrators every day, including; 

  1. An increase in student special needs and attention
  2. Lack of support in remote communities
  3. Student behavioural disorders at an all-time high
  4. Lack of appropriate funding and resources 
  5. Teacher self-efficacy at risk

Starling Minds’ Chief Science Officer and Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Andrew Miki, has been at the forefront of treating teachers on disability leave due to mental health problems. Over the last decade, he’s witnessed the changing landscape of the education profession across Canada. We felt it was important to share both what we’ve learned about the greatest challenges facing educators, as well as their perspective. 

An Increase in Student Special Needs and Attention

There’s been a staggering increase in students needing special attention and support due to more diverse classroom compositions. Unfortunately, there are not enough resources to give students what they need to thrive or for teachers to create inclusive education. 

“There’s a lot of awareness around learning disabilities and behaviour problems, leading to an influx of parents enrolling their children into special needs programs. Unfortunately, there are not enough Education Assistants and Teachers to support the numbers.” — Teacher, Grade 7

“Parents are also getting much more involved with their child’s education and what they want us to teach. It’s hard to sustain it – in the public and private education system. We need to shift resources from maintaining a bureaucratic system to one addressing the pains of teachers.” — Teacher, Grade 4

DID YOU KNOW? 

  • An average of 17% of students per primary school and 27% per secondary school receives special education support.
  • 66% of primary schools and 53% of secondary schools report a restriction on the number of students that can be assessed for special education each year—a trend that has been increasing among primary schools over the years.

Lack of Support in Remote Communities 

Addressing special needs in remote communities is a significant and growing issue, with Education Assistants attempting to fill the void, despite only a few years of experience. Parents want certified teachers in their classrooms, leading to more pressure for administrators to fill vacancies, especially in First Nations’ areas. Online learning courses have been used to offset the impact of teacher vacancies, but many schools are finding parents pulling their children out due to the lack of resources available. 

“E-learning resources have been put in place to help in remote communities, but it’s never as engaging as a teacher being in the classroom. E-learning can also be a challenge for students who learn differently and need special attention. In those scenarios, teachers can adapt their teaching style to a particular child, but with e-learning, it’s much harder to do this.” — Teacher, Grade 6

“It won’t happen overnight, but we need to find better ways of keeping the teachers we already have, and making sure they’re supported emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.” — Teacher, Grade 6

DID YOU KNOW?

  • 92% of urban elementary schools have a full-time special education teacher, compared to 72% of rural elementary schools. Statistics aren’t available for remote communities.

Student Behavioural Disorders at an All-time High

Across Canada, aggressive and violent reported incidents against elementary school educators are on the rise. 

New research from the University of Ottawa confirms the troubling rise. According to their study, while 7 percent of educators in Ontario’s schools reported physical violence by students in 2005, by 2017-18, the rate had increased to 54% experiencing violence by physical force. 

“While the search for answers about how to help these kids and the battle over responsibility wages on, teachers and children are left on the frontlines with no backup, lots of blame and criticism, and a complete feeling of failure. They are the casualties of this ongoing conflict.” — Grade 2 Teacher

“We need to increase resources for educators to address student mental and physical health needs in the context of escalating harassment and violence they are experiencing. Educators need early intervention resources and training to identify behavioural issues and to adequately address them.” – Professor, University of Ottawa

Problems aren’t just in primary schools. According to leading studies, high school students’ stress levels are increasing, leading to higher incidences of anxiety disorders and panic attacks. With the rise of social media, perfectionism and expectations among students are at an all-time high. Students are comparing themselves to unattainable levels, leading to “all-or-nothing” thinking. Unfortunately, teachers aren’t given adequate tools and resources needed to help students manage their expectations and stress. For high-school teachers, it’s particularly challenging to build meaningful relationships and trust with students as they may only see a student for 1 – 2 hours a week. 

“Students were never like this before. There wasn’t this level of expectation and worry in so many students. It’s great that students and parents are more aware of the impacts that stress, depression, and anxiety can have, but with awareness comes a call-to-action, and teachers aren’t getting the resources or training needed to take action. We’re getting resources cut, which makes it even harder.” Teacher, Grade 10

“The needs of our students are becoming increasingly complex. Mental health issues have been more prominent in our day-to-day dealings, with minimal support and limited expertise in the building.” Principal, High School 

“Mental health and behaviour issues are on the rise and require a lot more of our time and attention than ever before. This often takes away from the time needed for academic school improvement.” — Principal, High School 

DID YOU KNOW? 

  • According to a BC Adolescent Health Survey, more students said they suffered from anxiety disorder and panic attacks (19% in 2018, up from 8% in 2013), depression (15%, up from 10%), post-traumatic stress disorder (3%, up from 1%) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (7%, up from 6%).

Lack of Appropriate Funding and Resources

In some provinces like Ontario, teachers, and education advocates have been working to ensure appropriate fundings and resources are allocated to the right schools. The prevalence model for funding takes statistical averages to allocate funding rather than the actual number of students. Its use has been on the rise, as it’s an efficient way of predicting what resources are needed and when. Although this model may seem efficient from a policy-making perspective, it does not work in the education field as it takes the human calculation and experience of teachers out of the equation. 

“In the previous system, there were more deliberate efforts to identify special education fundings in classrooms and schools, but with a prevalence model, many students will fall through the cracks due to its removed approach. We are severing the tie between the needs of students in classrooms and funding. ” — Teacher, Grade 9

Teachers’ Self-Efficacy and Job Confidence Declining

Teacher self-efficacy is when they believe in their ability to guide their students to success. For years, researchers have explored the link between teacher efficacy and student achievement. A teacher’s perception of their abilities depends on a variety of factors, including past experiences and school culture.  

Bad classroom experiences or an unsupportive work environment can cause a massive decline in a teacher’s confidence. A positive classroom experience like witnessing their student’s growth can boost their confidence and ability to improve their performance. School leaders also play a critical role in a teacher’s efficacy with a supportive administration helping them feel valued, confident, and successful. 

Teacher efficacy can have a great impact on their student’s achievement, even higher than factors like teacher-student relationships, home environment, or parental involvement. 

“When we are able to focus on professional learning with teaching staff, we see a direct influence on student engagement and achievement.” — Principal, High School

“We’re seeing more and more of our young teachers leaving the profession after five years. It’s become a cost we can no longer ignore, especially as our more senior educators look to retire within the next ten years. As an administrator, we need to find better ways to support our teachers throughout their career.” — Principal, High School 

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Up to 40% of teachers leave within their first five years of teaching, largely due to a loss in confidence in their abilities and overwhelming stress.

How Administrators Can Build Teacher Efficacy and Retain Teachers

Many administrators are well aware that teacher efficacy is linked to better student outcomes. 

The question is:

How can administrators build teacher efficacy and retain teachers?

The key is to support teachers emotionally and mentally, ensuring their perspectives and voices are heard and validated. 

There are many approaches on how to achieve that, but it won’t happen overnight. 

For many administrators, they often need an immediate solution to support their teachers. 

Since 2014, the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) has offered Starling Minds, an online mental health support platform for their educators. The platform offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) strategies and techniques, an approach that Dr. Andrew Miki has found to be the most effective for supporting educators in his years of clinical experience.

“CBT works incredibly well for teachers as it takes an educational approach to mental health. Much of the work I do with teachers requires homework on their part. About five years ago, I realized that everything I teach in sessions could be self-taught, which is why a digital solution was the perfect platform to deliver that. It gives teachers access to mental healthcare whenever they want it, and in the comfort of their own home.”– Dr. Andrew Miki

Educators who used Starling as a mental health tool agree:

“With Starling, it has given me the confidence I need to teach my students. I can’t change the resources I have and don’t have, or the expectations parents put on me, but I know how to manage that stress and anxiety better now.” — Starling Community Member 

“These are the tools I’ve desperately needed for my mental health. I have already been practicing some of these through therapy, such as the thought balancer and journal writing. It’s such a relief to have access to this!” —  Starling Community Member

A Platform for Every Educator

Starling Minds’ platform has programs to target every educator’s needs. Whether they are looking to build a more resilient mind, are at-work and struggling, or are currently on stress leave, Starling Minds is here. 

Mental health support is no longer a question but a priority. 

Reach out to us below to start improving the mental health of your teachers now.

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