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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teacher, counselor, therapist: Is it too much?

As students' emotional and mental health needs soar, teachers are being asked to serve as ad hoc counselors, therapists and social workers, writes Holly Korbey on Edutopia. "Is it too big an ask?"

Teachers are not mental health professionals, writes Ellen Dahlke, a high school English teacher, who "desperately" wants to focus on teaching English. Teachers don't have the training or the time. "Even if more teachers developed trauma-informed instructional strategies," they wouldn't be as effective as trained professionals.

Half of schools said they lacked counselors and funding for mental health services, in a 2022 survey, reports Korbey. Most schools have one counselor to every 415 students, half the recommended number, and only 8 percent of districts meet the recommended ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 students. The need keeps growing.

Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation among adolescents are alarmingly high, and were trending upward prior to the pandemic. Last year, according to the CDC, 37 percent of adolescents reported clinically high levels of anxiety and depression—and one in five said they’d seriously considered suicide, numbers that are marginally higher than those reported in previous years. Even students who aren’t in crisis are lagging in their social and emotional development, and incidents of school violence, including fights among students and physical attacks on teachers, have increased.

Congress approved $1.7 billion this summer to expand school-based mental health services and fund more counselors -- if they can be found. Meanwhile, schools and districts are "training teachers to recognize signs of distress and implementing intervention strategies like morning mental health check-ins."

Korbey fears asking teachers to do more is not sustainable. Teachers need to "stay focused on the academic success of students," she writes, while counselors, psychologists and social workers deal with students' emotional and psychological issues.

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