A relaxed mind will excel both inside and outside the classroom
Most students’ lives have been altered this year, with Covid-19 ravaging their homes, routines, interactions, and their family’s health and income. So when schools resume physical classes next month, many students will be in a different mental headspace.
A study conducted in May revealed young adults were at high risk for mental health issues during previous disease outbreaklockdowns. Already, 83% of students analysed have admitted that due to school closures, loss of routine and restricted social interactions, their pre-existing mental health conditions have worsened, meaning they will be filled with deep-rooted anger, grief, and fear when they return to school.
The mental struggle is evident in online classes, the sadness and fear students reveal in their interactions with each other. I see it, and the other teachers do too. There’s no raucous laughter, nor nonchalant attitudes or playful teasing. Instead, online classes are quiet and solemn, filled only with the teacher’s booming instructions.
Our exchanges are to the point: a child cannot submit work as his mother is in the hospital; another’s grandmother recently passed away. Students I knew to be loud and exuberant are now diffident. Some have developed health anxiety after a family member tested Covid positive.
Teachers must understand the stress students are facing and identify the potentially disturbed ones online through nuanced observations. Students should be given time, leniency and assistance to mentally recover, and must be assured that extenuating circumstances would not impact their academic performance.
Come January 11, when schools re-open physically, it’s important for teachers to start by communicating with students and discussing their fears to build a positive approach. It’s evident that school will not be the sanctuary it was. There will be increased sanitation, compulsory mask-wearing, and reprimands for those standing close together. Teachers must take the lead by explaining why these are necessary, and not permanent.
Bullying is bound to increase too. Many students at this age are unable to empathise; it’s easy to make fun of someone’s weight gain over lockdown or mock a family’s sudden reduction in income. Again, teachers should look out for students who seem more aggressive or disturbed, shier than before.
Counsellors, or mental first-aid service is necessary for schools at this time. It’s understandable that schools have suffered from continued financial strain during the pandemic, and are struggling to function, let alone employ more staff. For many who cannot afford professional service, this could mean an empathic teacher being paid more to help.
For those students who express suicidal ideation, have lost loved ones or are simply unable to focus due to anxious thoughts, time spent with counsellors might do wonders. For some, the mental strain might be too much, and as a teacher, I would say it’s understandable. Counsellors can refer parents to psychiatrists or psychotherapists who can help dispel anxiety and depression with medication or cognitive-behavioural-therapy, or both.
Still, while teachers and counsellors can help, it is parents who must acknowledge and take the lead towards helping their children feel safe and positive. At home, parents can help students practise self-awareness and meditation exercises, and form a daily routine too to maintain a sense of control. Communication between parents and teachers is essential; multiple parents ask me for feedback on their children’s performance and behaviour. All teachers would be eager to respond.
Once students’ mental well-being is focused upon, they will become less anxious and feel secure. A relaxed mind will excel both inside and outside the classroom.