Sage Thrive Today Blog Student Mental Health Podcast 7: The Anxiety Epidemic & Teacher Burnout: What’s the Solution?

Podcast 7: The Anxiety Epidemic & Teacher Burnout: What’s the Solution?

Welcome to our podcast: Conversations About Student Mental Health. I’m Chris Leonard, Clinical Social Worker working with adolescents for over 25 years. In this podcast, I talk with school administrators, educators, clinicians, and parents to open a dialogue that will help the growing number of students struggling with mental illness.

More and more, we’re hearing from directors and school administrators that teachers desperately need more support in recognizing mental health issues in the classroom, and support in effectively responding to certain behaviors linked to mental health issues. With the growing number of students experiencing mental illness, chances are virtually every teacher is dealing with this issue in his or her classroom.

Most teachers lack the training that would give them tools and strategies for working with these students. When teachers are left to fend for themselves, struggling students don’t get the support they need to succeed. The rest of the class often gets short changed and even the best teachers can become overwhelmed, discouraged, and burned out.

Chris: Today, we are going to have a collaborative discussion with two special education teachers in New Jersey public schools who can speak to some of their experiences supporting students with mental health issues.

We’ll share some strategies and interventions that teachers and school staff can use to help students be more emotionally available for learning and ensure a more productive school day for everyone.

I’d like to welcome Jessica LaForgia, an elementary school teacher who has been working with special education students for 15 years. Thank you for joining us today.

Jessica: Hello. Thank you.

Chris: Great to have you. We also have RJ Laxamana who has worked with special education students in high school for five years.

RJ: That’s correct. Thank you for having me.

Chris: Oh, it’s great to have you. Welcome. So let’s start by talking about the consequences when teachers with no mental health training are forced to deal with student mental health issues in the classroom. How would you say the students suffer and how do the teacher suffer?

Jessica: I would say that without the proper education or training, the teachers can mistake behaviors and signs of a mental illness for just bad behavior. With that said, the child can also get a label: “Oh, look out for this kid, he does this or she’s doing that,” and it’s not something they can help. So if you had the proper training and knowing what to look for, the signs of current mental illness, you would be able to better help the child in need instead of just thinking they’re causing some bad behavior instead.

Chris: That makes great sense.

RJ: I totally agree with Ms. LaForgia. If you don’t have that prior background or training or education on mental health issues, it’s really challenging because, we could label it as bad behavior when it’s something they’re experiencing at home. It could be something that they’re bringing into the classroom. With proper training in identifying the indicators that might display mental health issues, we can then as teachers support them with counseling, with supports in the classroom. Because some of the kids that we teach on a daily basis… we don’t realize what happens at home.

Jessica: Right. It’s a better understanding of why behaviors are occurring.

RJ: Right. Yeah. I agree.

Jessica: So it’s really getting to the root and understanding why this is happening … then we can better assist and help the student and pass the knowledge around to the other teachers who they’re involved with throughout the day.

RJ: And ultimately service them as students and do our job as teachers. Yeah. I agree with that.

Chris: Yeah. So it sounds as if teachers don’t have the training that you both have. Teachers can tend to make negative assumptions. They put a label on a student. Before they even get the student, they’ve set the student up as, “This student is a problem.” Now they’re not being sensitive to the student’s needs and not responding to them appropriately and giving them the support that really can help the student. So what would be some of the red flags that you might look for in the classroom? What would be some of the signs of a mental health issue? I understand this might be different on the elementary school level versus the high school, so I’d love to hear both…

Jessica: Yes. Well, for me, I would say if a student is withdrawn from the other students, if they have unstable emotions, uncontrollable mood swings, or excessive worry or fear that you can see throughout the day, or difficulty concentrating, these are all major signs that something’s just not right. The cause could be something as simple as a learning disability or unfortunately some form of abuse. These are all things that are present consistently throughout the day so you’re going to notice something’s not right. They’re going to be a certain way because unfortunately that’s what they’re taught or that’s all they can do for themselves. So that’s what I see. You’re going to see a lot of crying, a lot of worry, and unfortunately a lot of uncontrollable behavior … it’s called negative attention. The child is seeking attention.

So they’re going to get the attention by acting out negatively if they can’t get it positively. If they don’t understand what’s wrong with them or how to feel better, they’re going to be reaching out in a negative way in order for somebody to try to understand them. So those are the signs and symptoms that I see at the elementary level.

RJ: At the high school level, it’s very similar. All those indicators are very much the same in the high school level. But then you also have to take account developmentally where they’re at. So for my students, and I’m sure just as well with middle school and elementary students, we need to also investigate their family background, where they come from, the baggage that they bring into the classroom.

Also, developmentally speaking, they’ve hit puberty already. They’re a little bit more self aware. They may be special education students or gen ed students, but with that whole social media aspect, there’s the self image issues, there’s stuff that they bring from home. So a lot of the same indicators at the elementary level, plus developmentally what they may be encountering at the high school level. Those things play a role so that we can better help them and encourage them to be successful in the classroom. But yeah, at the high school level, those are a lot of things that I see.

Chris: So I’m hearing two important takeaways from that. One is that, really what the students are exhibiting are their solutions. They’re not exhibiting problems, they’re reaching for solutions to whatever they are, have experienced or are experiencing and they’re basing those solutions based on prior experience. So if I know that somebody is going to respond to me if I do this, well, I’m going to continue to do this, because at least I get that contact, at least I get that response.

Jessica: It’s a coping skill, their defense mechanism. Even if it’s negative behavior, they want that attention because somebody is giving them attention.

Chris: Right. Whether positive or negative, they need that attention.

Jessica: Yeah. That’s exactly what you’re going to see. Or they’re going to be extremely withdrawn as we said, and you’re not going to really be able to get anything out of them. But again, that’s a huge sign that something’s off.

Chris: Then the second thing that I’ve heard both of you say is you really need to look for what is underneath. Look at family background, look at prior experience, look at what has happened to the student, what the student has experienced in the past, and that helps you understand what’s going on in the present. So, how do you intervene? What are some of the steps that each of you have taken to address these things that you’re seeing in your classrooms?

Jessica: If the child is able to verbalize, I believe you should establish trust and respect with them first. It is very important to build that rapport with them. So therefore, you’re going to get a lot more information if they know you’re there to help and that they can trust you. That will bring out another whole side of them. Again, this is if the child is willing to speak.

RJ: And open.

Jessica: So my number one thing is you go up to them, you talk to them privately. It’s called pairing, you pair with them. You find something that they enjoy, you talk about it, and then you slowly are able to get more pieces of information out. So instead of jumping to conclusions, get to know the child first, and then of course you look at their background, what information you have from other teachers, talk to the parents. Here, you can speak with your peers, you speak with your administration, you speak with your counselors and you speak with other staff members to say, “You know what? I feel like this and this and this is happening. How can we go about this?” Or, “I’m concerned, I want to find out more information.”

So we do have a child study team here who can help us. We have counselors and we have administration. So if we feel that something more is going on, we then have to take it to the next step and let somebody at a different level contact parents or have the child tested. I personally believe when they say, “He’s always sleeping on his desk and he’s tired,” okay, well, maybe ask why. Maybe he didn’t have breakfast.

RJ: What’s going on.

Jessica: Maybe he didn’t sleep all night before because he had to be up babysitting his two year old sister. Instead of jumping to conclusions, maybe just find out first, and that you can do by speaking with them alone. And/or again, reaching out to parents, reaching out to other staff members. And then you intervene after you have the information gathered.

Chris: I’m watching you nod, RJ, and really agreeing with everything that Jessica has been saying.

RJ: Absolutely.

Chris: What would you add?

RJ: I totally agree with everything that Ms. LaForgia has shared. There’s a model that I live by as a teacher: kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I like that because kids are discerning. You could tell when a child really can make that connection with you. They can tell whether you’re just here just to teach them and just to pick up a paycheck or if you’re really here to care for the kid. I found the same thing as Jess, with my kids and the kids that I’ve taught in the past in my teaching career. I noticed that it really takes establishing that really deep rapport with this child, that you care about me more than just teaching me this lesson. You care about my background, you care about my likes and my dislikes. That’s when the kids can open up a little bit more.

You see them at their level and you don’t talk down to them. You see them at their level. I totally agree with Jess. The collaboration with staff, we don’t know everything. As teachers we have professional development on a lot of things but we don’t know everything. And we spend a majority of the day with our students. So collaborating with school psychologists, the child study team, who are well trained and well equipped. When we collaborate we come up with strategies and techniques for these kids. For example, I’m going to talk about one of my students. They were withdrawn, they were exhibiting such negative behaviors and we’re like, “What’s the matter?”

We just found out over break their father figure in their life passed away. Had we done proper… not investigation but finding out what had happened for them to open up and share about it, then we would understand, “Oh, that’s why they’re acting like that.” Then we can say, “Okay, do you need to take a break? Do you want to go talk to somebody? If you’ve had a memory come back, do you want to talk to someone and express yourself and cope, find proper strategies to release and grieve and then come back and then get refocused?” But I know collaborating with staff, building rapport, and knowing strategies to help a kid’s mind shift are really good.

Chris: So you’ve both done such a wonderful job of articulating how you would respond. One of the phrases I’ve often heard and used in the past is connection before correction. You need to connect with a student before you’re going to move in and try and correct something, whether it’s behavior or anything. I thought you both really reached in for what’s underneath the behavior and being curious about that and being diligent about that and not trying to do it all by yourself.

RJ: No.

Jessica: No.

Chris: You talked a lot about collaboration and seeking resources. You don’t have to be the be all and end all for any student. You rely on each other and colleagues-

RJ: You have to.

Chris: … and people with other areas of expertise to support you.

Jessica: Right. Yes. 100%.

Chris: Not everybody has your wisdom and insight. So it can be frustrating for a teacher when a student can’t complete a task or follow instructions, they’ve asked him numerous times, “Please do this or that.” That frustration is perfectly understandable if you don’t know some of those underlying issues that you are constantly looking for, right? You’re constantly trying to understand. How would you suggest that a teacher deals with this kind of frustration?

Jessica: The biggest thing, for us, is understanding what’s going on and finding ways to help. We call them behavioral interventions. The biggest thing is finding out what’s going to be motivating for the student or pinpointing what happened, and then, as RJ said, to piggyback off of that. Okay, if we feel like they need frequent breaks, we can put that in, talk to them about it. If we feel like they need time to go to see the counselor three times a week, then we can put that in. So, it’s discussing with them, “I want to help you do this. So how can we do this? Yes, you got to get your work done. I understand you don’t want to. Okay, but after your work, what would you want to do?”

So it’s getting on their level and finding that motivation in order to help them. It is setting up people for them to talk to, if they need a break for whatever reason. There’s so many things you can do, it really just depends on what we’re trying to focus on, with their challenges. But again, we have a team of people who can help us with these behavioral interventions. We have a behaviorist in the school, and like I said, we do have a counselor on call that could be there for kids who need the help. Verbal praise, positive reinforcement, that is the number one thing that you do naturally throughout the day. “I love how you’re doing that. Great job. Thank you for doing that.” Sometimes giving them jobs to do, just making them feel important, making them have a choice.

Number one thing you can do with kids is giving them a choice. It’s not just about what I want as the teacher. You can have a choice. So all those things combined are things that are going to work in the classroom. Again, help build that rapport. And moving forward, hopefully they will then start to feel comfortable and know how to deal with what’s wrong. They have to learn how to cope. Coping is a huge skill.

Chris: Secondary functions.

Jessica: Instead of coping this way, that’s not the proper way to cope. This is the right way we can do it. So again, teaching them, “It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be upset, but this is how we have to handle this situation. Not by doing that.” So giving them the guidance of the proper way to handle a situation is a huge thing that we have to do, because they don’t know. They only know what they know. That might be okay at home, that’s not okay in school.

RJ: No. I agree 1000% with Jess. We also encourage, “Reach out to past teachers.” You might have kids who just came in district or just new students in school. Just research back on history to give that as advice to teachers, reach out to the director, the counselor. Those are really helpful resources within the building, there’s professional development on it. There are so many new strategies out there, just like she was mentioning. Our kids, especially kids who are on the spectrum, kids with special needs, they don’t know how to cope and they’re products of their environment. I totally agree. What is acceptable at home is not acceptable in the room, and we need to teach them.

There’s this new strategy out there, it’s called zones of regulation, and I found that to be extremely beneficial. I believe it was an occupational therapist who came up with it. It’s identifying… There are appropriate times to cry. When you’re grieving, it’s an appropriate time to cry. When you’re hurt, it’s an appropriate time to cry. But it’s not an appropriate time to cry when you don’t have enough money to buy something. We have to teach them the proper skills and the coping strategies where they should be appropriately responding. We use four colors to represent different zones of regulation. It’s blue to demonstrate tiredness, sadness…

Then you have green, you’re ready, you’re excited, you’re ready to go. Yellow is like you’re kind of anxious, you’re getting a little excited. Then red is yelling, you’re crying. So it’s appropriate to cry, red, freak out when you find out exciting news or you’re cheering at a football game, but then it’s not appropriate when in the classroom. Green is you’re ready to go and work. But when you’re going to sleep, you’re not in the green zone, you’re in the blue zone. So it’s identifying the zones and where it’s appropriate to employ those moves.

Jessica: Moves.

RJ: Yeah. So it’s really good. I like it. I found that to be really helpful and for new teachers. And for teachers who’ve been in the game and education for such a long time, to find out the newer strategies and things out there.

Chris: So students kind of come in with their bag of tricks, their tools in their toolbox and some of those tools they’ve been using for a long time. What you’re doing is you’re giving them new tools, you’re giving them new ways of responding. So could you provide us with some simple examples of a situation or situations that you’ve dealt with recently where you kind of went through these steps of identifying what was going on with a student and then bringing the resources to bear and providing them with new tools?

RJ: I want to talk about an interesting story…

Jessica: Oh, go ahead.

RJ: One of my students, he’s well known in the district. The child had behaviors coming up all the way to high school. Very bad behaviors and the child was not very compliant. He was noncompliant for a lot of time of his life throughout his education. But when it came to me, I was like, “All right, let’s take a different approach. ” I had to understand his family background, where the kid was coming from, why he had these natural tendencies that he would exhibit these behaviors. When I came down to his level, it was so much easier to speak to him. Instead of telling him, “You’re doing something wrong,” I told him, “Well, you’re the only one in control of your behavior. Right?” Then it was giving him the power to understand that he has the ability to control himself and his actions.

I said, “You are great, but the only person that can make yourself great is you,” and now he realized, “Oh, man, it’s me. I’m in charge of me and I can control myself versus always getting yelled at.” Now it gets phenomenal. He’s an exemplary student. He’s such a great role model student. We talk about the zones of regulation, we talk about certain coping strategies, when it’s okay to express certain things and when it’s okay not to do certain things. So with that specific student, primarily I did what Jess was saying earlier about repairing and establishing that rapport and speaking to them at their level. She can attest because she knows the student, it really eliminated his behaviors by almost 100%.

Chris: He doesn’t need those bad behaviors any more, right?

RJ: No. Everything has been reduced. Now counseling has been reduced, medication has been reduced, everything has been reduced. I mean, yes, we have to understand developmentally where that student is in his life. Because now he’s a high school student getting ready to age out of the program in a few years. So that plays a factor as well. But I believe that a lot of the strategies that we employed, myself and my staff and everyone that I work with for the student, have really helped. It’s a game changer for all these kids.

Chris: Sure. That’s so appropriate, providing the scaffolding when it’s needed and then gradually removing it as the student starts to be able to cope without it. Because you are preparing them for life beyond school. They do need to be able to self-soothe…

Jessica: Self-cope.

Chris: … self-cope, take care of themselves. Obviously, they’ll always need to rely on other people, but you want to reduce that intensity of reliance that they have and dependency, right?

Jessica: Right. There are no IEPs in the real world.

Chris: Exactly.

RJ: No, sorry.

Jessica: I am a very nurturing but strict teacher. I do not let them get away with anything because there’s a disability. “Okay, figure out how to work it out.”

Everybody knows that I treat them as I would treat anybody else. I mean, the biggest thing, whether it’s parents or teachers or caregivers, you have to be consistent in order to make anything possible with behaviors. And there has to be consistency. And there’s no warnings. You know what’s going to happen, if this doesn’t follow through, that’s it. So having that patience to understand them, having the consistency of following through on what you said and what they said, is going to do a world of wonders for them. We try our best to fix everybody, we can’t always do it. There are times when students need medication, there are times when students need counseling. There’s only so much we can do here…

RJ: Right, with the resources.

Jessica: … it’s just finding what I know going down to their level, as you said. What’s going to motivate them? Giving them the control at times and teaching them those coping skills. That’s basically what you’re going to do for a lot of problems you are seeing. Again, having that routine in your room, that consistency, knowing you’re the boss, they’re not the boss. Those are all important things. If you’re upset, you can be upset, you can be mad, you can not want to be here. But these are the ways you have to act about that. I’d rather accept them saying, “I don’t want to do my work” than throwing a tantrum. “Thank you for telling me. You know what? Maybe today we’ll just do one page instead of two because you were able to tell me the right way.” So it’s giving them a bit of that control.

RJ: The maturity aspect of it that we’re introducing. Yeah.

Jessica: Right. You got to choose your battles, you got to pick what’s important.

Chris: So it’s clear that you’re both very fluent about how to intervene and how to manage and work with these students. You received some training along the way, what would you recommend for teachers? What would be some good ways that teachers could get the training that they need? I mean, obviously some of it is just time and experience, but it’s not just time and experience because sometimes time and experiences is you just keep making the same mistakes and doing the same stuff. Somewhere along the line you have to get some training. What would you recommend?

Jessica: It’s important to educate yourself. I spend a lot of time looking up things on my own. So educating yourself is a big thing. As RJ mentioned, having professional development, having people come in who are psychologists, behaviorists. They will do lessons on things to look for, what you can do if you find them. Getting those experts to come into your school and making it known that, “Okay, you all have to go to this PD and then we will follow up with it, have another one.” That said, “Okay. Did anybody have anything that you learned from this? Or did anything else come up since then that maybe you need to know now?” We did one last year and I taught it and then we followed up with it again. Say, “Okay, so what did you use?”

RJ: I know.

Jessica: “How did it help? How did it not help?” So I think having those professionals come in and teach us as well as educating yourself is so important. Also, I think people need a lot more experience and time in rooms that are maybe not gen ed. Go to a special ed room and learn. Just go to a gen ed room and learn. I think everybody needs to kind of switch sometimes-

Chris: Yeah. Good point.

Jessica: … because there’s a lot that happens in gen ed that we don’t see in special ed classrooms. I teach self-contained, so we got a whole world of a lot going on in here. But then in gened, it’s different. It’s different for a child who maybe is suffering from something with 20 other kids around them.

RJ: Yeah, right.

Jessica: Right. So I think it’s very important to learn from each other. But number one, giving the districts the opportunity to have professionals come in and teach us is going to be the most important thing. Experts are very expensive, time is very limited, so even if people want to offer their own time for us to watch a webinar, that would be awesome. If we’re not exposed to what’s out there to help us, nobody’s going to really go looking for it. We have to have those opportunities brought to us. We already have a lot to do throughout the day. A lot of teachers have the outlook of, “Oh, well, that’s not my experience. That’s not my area.”

RJ: We put on multiple hats a day.

Jessica: We put multiple hats a day.

Chris: Well, one of the hats I heard you say you put on is, in addition to having those experts come in from the outside, as you develop your own expertise, you turn around and teach others yourself. There’s nothing better than teaching something to really know that you’ve grasped it and that you own it. So that’s really important.

Jessica: Sharing information. Yeah.

RJ: There are these approaches to managing a classroom: you hear responsive classroom, positive reinforcement, zones of regulation. Those are all really good, but I like the old-fashioned way. I’m very similar to Jess. That’s why our approach is very similar. I’m a realist as well. For every action there’s a consequence, positive or negative. If I don’t come to work, I’m not going to get paid. I’ve a token economy in my classroom. I pay them Belleville bucks. A lot of the focus in my class is life skills. So you don’t exhibit good behavior, you don’t complete your work, you don’t act like a model citizen, I have a checklist for them so they’re self-aware of what they’re doing.

Then you don’t get a certain amount of money per period. And they get to buy snacks, they get to buy breaks, they get to buy pencils and pens. The thing is, they’re like, “Well, I want more money. I don’t have enough money.” I’m like, “Well, so sad. Sorry. You can’t buy it,” like when I take my kids to the mall, because if I didn’t have that money, I can’t purchase something I want because I don’t have enough money. So I’m a realist just like Jess. We have to make it so understandable. Because I feel like today we try to pacify the kids and just give them whatever they want and it doesn’t prepare them for the real world. We both come with that approach because it teaches the kids those life skills, because we have those multiple hats. We’re a teacher, we’re counselor, we’re-

Jessica: Parents.

RJ: … parents. We’re kind of like a medical professional at the same time too, when they have this cut or they’re hurt. Another thing is old school bribery, hold things above their head. You want break time, you want iPad time. “You want to go to a music park for the end of the year? Okay, well, get your behavior together because I’m taking you out in the community.” So those simple things, those real life things that parents would do to their children, we do with the kids in the classroom because that’s just ultimately the reality of life.

Jessica: That’s everybody. We come to work because our motivation is getting paid. I mean, yes, we like our jobs, we love our jobs, but in all reality, if nobody was going to get paid from anything you did, who’s really going to get up and go to work just for fun? Not a lot of people. So it’s the same thing. They just need something that’s motivating to them. It’s pretty simple.

RJ: And they understand it too. So when they whine and complain about their work, I’m like, “It’s the same expectation for me. There are days that I really have the headache and I really just can’t work and I want to put my head down and sleep. But I got to get to work, I got to get a paycheck.” And they’re like, “Okay, I’ll do it.” I mean, they’re very reluctant, but then they see the authenticity that we display to them.

Chris: So reality, really presenting people with reality. There’s no substitute for that. But the other thing I heard you both talking about was wearing a lot of hats and clearly you’re both extremely knowledgeable, extremely dedicated to your positions. You work very hard and you make it sound easy. But I know it’s not.

RJ: No.

Chris: So how do you keep yourself from getting burned out? How do you take care of yourself? What do you do?

Jessica: You know what? I’m very thankful for the weekends. You do need a break and that’s why we do have breaks and summers that we aren’t here because you need to recharge. The biggest thing is having the support system. There are four other autism teachers in this school and without them, I wouldn’t get through a lot of the days because we truly understand what our classrooms are like. So having that support system and just really having to remind yourself some days what you’re here for. Thinking about those great moments when, “Wow, my kid talked for the first time,” really kind of gets you through those hard times. It’s been a rough couple of weeks around here and you have to kind of take a step back sometimes and be like, “Okay, we’re just going back to day one of behaviors and we’re going to start all over again until we can get back on track.”

So it’s really just taking time for yourself at the end of some days, recharging on weekends, recharging on breaks, and ultimately having that support system. Without support from administrators or fellow staff, it is a very, very hard thing to stay positive. And you need that uplifting, you need that, “Okay, you’re going to do it. That’s okay.” Or, “I’ll take your kids and you take a walk.” So it’s really being creative: “You know what? Today, we’re just going to go for a walk outside for 15 minutes, get everybody recharged.” Overall, I think it’s just tapping that ultimate support that really helps you get through the tough times. Because it is exhausting day after day-

RJ: It is.

Jessica: … dealing with all of their needs, times six for me, with being a mom, a nurse, a counselor, a teacher. Yeah.

RJ: I totally agree with her as well. She has the luxury of having four other teachers or a few other teachers that teach them. We’re pioneering new programs in high school, so it’s myself. One other teacher is up there, but their kids are very different. But the number one thing that she said is just remembering why you came into this profession. It’s the passion behind it. I mean, as teachers, in all honesty, we don’t make a fortune. But it’s seeing the day-to-day impact, seeing the extreme progression, where they were and where they are now. The big highlight moments of your kids’ educational career. Because for a lot of our kids, it’s the life skills they need most. It’s their future. Many of our kids may or may not go to college, mine won’t. But it’s the idea that, wow, they’re going to work. They couldn’t even be trusted in the hallways and go to the bathroom without an adult. Now they’re working.

Jessica: Yeah. They have a job.

RJ: They have a job. It’s like, “That’s why I’m here.” And their parents, hearing the response of their parents: “My goodness! My kid couldn’t do this and now they can.” Not to say we get the credit, but yeah, there’s a lot of effort on our end in order to see that change. So that’s the advice that I would give to other teachers. Obviously, remember the passion, why you came in, and do things that… like with Jess and her kids… let’s take a walk. We also need those too. I workout every day after work as much as I can. Mental health is huge for us as well, for the gen ed population and for adults. Just to stay grounded, work out, do things that you’re passionate about outside of the classroom.

Choose not to answer emails after three or four o’clock or six o’clock. Because in the beginning of my career I would answer emails in the middle of the night, answer parents, answer phone calls. I realized, “Oh my goodness! Now I need time for me.” And just setting boundaries for yourself because it can get overwhelming.

Jessica: It’s overwhelming.

RJ: Yeah, and just choosing not to respond, although you really want to help. In certain situations, just saying, “I’ll wait until the next morning to just respond.” Yeah. I have eight kids, but it can feel… With our kids, you might have less than 10, but it feels like each kid is five kids. But we love what we do and we have the supports in our classroom, the paraprofessionals,-

Jessica: That’s wonderful.

RJ: … the administration, that really helps. So recognize the team that you have around you because they’re there for the kids, but they’re also there to support you. Because we’re the visionaries in our classroom. We set the tempo and we set the pace of where we want to take our kids. And the support of everyone really helps us a lot.

Chris: The word I kept hearing is support. It’s support of people in your own life. It’s support of other professionals. It’s more throughout the school system. It’s making sure that the administration provides you with the resources, whether it’s the experts who are coming in, or to the paraprofessionals who are working side by side with you, to the cooperating teachers who work with you. Constantly receiving that support, knowing when to set boundaries and limits for yourself, knowing not to answer that text at 10 o’clock at night, knowing that at a certain day at a certain point, one day needs to end and you need to wait for the next day to resume. All very important. Jessica and RJ, I just want to thank you so much for taking the time. I feel as if I could speak with you all day. This has been such a pleasure.

RJ: Thank you.

Chris: There are just so many numerous nuggets in this discussion today for people to take away. So thank you both.

RJ: Yeah, welcome. Thank you for having us.

Jessica: Thank you. You’re welcome.

Chris: That’s all for today, folks. Please join us for future conversations about student mental health. Bye for now.

Conversations About Student Mental Health is brought to you by Sage Thrive, partners in school-based mental wellness.


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