Paetz: From Social-Emotional Training To Help Affording Insurance, How Arizona District Supports Teachers’ Well-Being & Mental Health
Paetz: From Social-Emotional Training to Help Affording Insurance, How Arizona District Supports Teachers’ Well-Being & Mental Health
As someone who has been an educator for over a decade, I strongly believe in the power of the environment we create for our children. This environment is something they will carry with them into adulthood and seek to recreate. This belief has been reinforced by the countless times I have entered the classroom with a positive attitude, only to see it reflected in my students. When I establish a positive learning environment, my students thrive, feel secure, and are able to learn and take risks. However, it is crucial that both students and teachers receive the mental and emotional support they need in order to fully focus on learning and growth.
One of the most prevalent issues in education that I have witnessed during my time teaching in Arizona is trauma. Many students come into the classroom carrying the weight of toxic stress, which greatly impacts their ability to learn and form positive relationships with their peers and teachers. Unfortunately, many teachers are ill-equipped and unprepared to address the trauma that their students are experiencing. Before academic progress can be made, it is necessary for teachers to address the emotional and mental well-being of their students. This responsibility takes a toll on teachers themselves, as many of them are also dealing with their own mental health concerns.
A recent poll on the public’s attitudes towards public schools revealed that nearly 1 in 5 teachers have considered leaving the profession due to stress, pressure, and burnout. These statistics highlight the heavy burden that educators often carry, and this burden directly affects teacher retention rates, especially in schools where poverty is prevalent. It is essential that we have committed and dedicated teachers in every classroom, so that all students, regardless of their location or family income, receive a quality education and are prepared for college and careers. When our teachers are given the support they need, we will see students who feel nurtured and empowered to thrive.
As a member of the Osborn School District’s school board in Phoenix, I frequently hear these concerns from my fellow teachers. In my role, I have actively facilitated conversations on how best to support our students and teachers. I am grateful that our school board places equity at the forefront of our work and prioritizes serving our community. We have made significant progress in these areas.
In 2018, our board passed a resolution to support trauma-informed practices. This resolution includes a commitment to providing teacher training in this area, as well as investing in curriculum that addresses the social-emotional needs of children. Recognizing that many of our teachers struggled to afford health insurance for themselves and their families, we sought out an insurance group that was more affordable and tailored to the unique needs of educators. This ensured that they had access to support when they needed it, guaranteeing their physical and emotional well-being so they could effectively support their students.
The collective action taken by the Osborn school board resulted from our commitment to improving educational equity within our community. We took the time to listen to the perspectives of all teachers and staff, including those who had previously been left out of these conversations. Many were grappling with the financial burden of health insurance and the emotional toll of assisting students who were dealing with trauma. By prioritizing equity, we approach every situation with a critical lens to ensure that it benefits every student, especially those who are most in need of support. When a student is struggling to engage in class, it is the expertise of the teacher, along with supportive policies for both the student and the teacher, that create opportunities for success and greater equity.
When teachers receive comprehensive health benefits, training, and affordable healthcare, they are able to consistently deliver excellent instruction year after year. It all begins with taking care of ourselves at a fundamental human level, so that we are equipped to take care of our students. It is imperative that we ensure our teachers are prepared to provide high-quality instruction to every student, and this can only be achieved if they are supported and nurtured in every aspect of their profession. After all, we entrust them with our community’s most valuable asset: our children.
Katie Paetz serves as a member of the Osborn Governing School Board and is also a fifth-grade teacher in the Phoenix Public Schools system. You can connect with her on Twitter @kpaetz.