As we’ve entered the new year refreshed and schools have resumed, children of different age groups across the country and the world are experiencing different emotions. For some, it’s their first time entering formal school, while others transition to new grades or new schools.
With these changes, children are likely to experience excitement, joy, fear or worry depending on their individual context.
Teachers are the cornerstones of the education system as they serve as educators and nurturers.
As a result, their sensitivity is pivotal in aiding learners to adjust to their new positions and experiences.
Ultimately, learners’ experiences of school and classrooms are mostly shaped by teachers, although peers and families also contribute to that experience.
From being a learner myself, learners place so much value on teachers, often times holding them in high regard compared to their parents because to children, teachers know everything.
Attached to learners is their mental health, which inadvertently influences their academic performance. The schools and classroom experiences to a large extent impact learners’ mental health positively or negatively.
This is mainly because children spend most of their waking moments at school or engage in school-related activities whether that be homework, studying for tests or exams, or extracurricular activities even after they have left school premises.
So basically, the relationship that the children have with their school work, a specific subject or school, in general, is shaped by their experiences in schools and with teachers.
Of course, teachers are not trained psychologists and some of them may not even have exposure to psychology through therapy especially, teachers in rural settings because of a lack of access to services.
Therefore, it would be unfair to expect teachers without psychological background or exposure to fully know or understand that their relationship with children can contribute to learners’ mental health.
Of note, some children are already suffering from mental conditions, which are attributed to their background, and they come with these conditions to schools that aren’t tailored to deal with these challenges in depth. Life skills teachers who are first in identifying psychological problems in learners, however, are limited in their services.
Traumatic events that we learn daily through media sources that happen to children in their communities, such as rape, death of parents or caregivers, loss of property (shack fires), absent fathers, growing up in physically-violent homes, having extremely critical parents which inform children’s self-esteem, not having basic resources such as food, shelter or clothing, being turned away from school because of unpaid fees, not having stationary or uniform, being bullied at school by learners and at times by teachers are all contributing factors to learners’ mental health.
It could be argued that teachers don’t need a psychology degree or background to understand the human challenges and that children aren’t exempted from these challenges.
As a result, sensitivity is required from teachers towards learners. The manner of interaction, the choice of words and the modelling of behaviours.
Because when learners are experiencing challenges, they would like to seek help from their teachers.
However, if that relationship is perceived to be unhealthy, children suffer in silence, their academic performance decline, absenteeism becomes frequent, which later results in school dropout.
Currently, learners are still adjusting to the new ways of learning, which for some may be online and for others, regular physical contact with teachers is limited because of Covid-19 regulations, so cognisance is to be taken for their holistic functioning.
When teachers are presented with challenges by learners that they can’t manage, they can always refer them to relevant sources. In an ideal world, a school psychologist would be available for each school in the country.
(Clinical Psychologist Intern) Biweekly