“Experts worry that bad habits for dealing with stress learned early will carry over into adulthood.”
This is the first sentence of an article that recently appeared in USA Today. One-thousand teens were recently surveyed by the American Psychological Association, and the study reveals a clear epidemic of stress for our young people. Twenty-seven percent of the teens surveyed experienced “extreme” stress during the past school year. Another 55% experienced “moderate” stress during the past school year. So 82 percent of our teens have experienced moderate or extreme stress during the past school year.
These statistics are alarming, and ought to be of great concern to teachers working with teens.
The problem is that teachers are experiencing similar levels of stress. The 2012 MetLife Study showed that 27 percent of teachers experience “great” stress almost every day. Another 24 percent experience great stress several days each week, and 30 percent experience great stress at least once or twice per week. So a combined 81 percent of teachers experience great stress AT LEAST once or twice per week. Administrators report similar levels of stress.
So it appears as though we have schools FILLED with stressed out people, and those people are given no tools to reduce the pressure they feel. There also seems to be very few policymakers who are willing or able to address this growing problem.
Why? Why are we not making it a priority to address this issue? Are we too focused on improving test scores? I would argue that test scores would likely improve if we had fewer students and teachers dealing with high levels of stress.
Even if addressing stress did NOTHING to improve scores, wouldn’t it still be the right thing to do? Is it ethical to chase after higher test scores if that requires sacrificing the mental health of our students and teachers? As we add metal detectors, security cameras, and resource officers, should we not also consider adding mental health services and stress reduction programs?
What good is academic progress if we are building a generation of stressed out, unhappy human beings? While academic progress, at times, requires some frustration and challenges, educating our youth does not have to be a miserable process.
So many great teachers are doing their absolute best in this toxic environment. Many are able to maintain a positive attitude and build a positive classroom environment, but there are also teachers crumbling under the pressure and distressed by the inner conflict they feel when forced to follow policies that they know are not in the best interest of their students. The teachers who are crumbling are not weak or whiny. They have simply reached a limit, and many wind up leaving the profession or finding other environments that don’t force them to live in conflict with their conscience. Those who remain, continuing to lead compassionate classrooms, may soon be unable to hang on. It hurts me to consider those teachers who are able to maintain a positive face during the day, but go home feeling broken, depressed and unhappy.
We are crushing teachers’ spirits in this poisonous environment and students are clearly absorbing the toxins as well.
We have to end this cycle of stress, and I believe mindfulness can be a part of that objective. Allowing students and teachers to practice mindfulness daily would, without question, reduce the high levels of stress they are experiencing. Then we can insist that our policymakers practice mindfulness so that they could, perhaps, see the folly in placing data above our humanity.