From my junior year English teacher asking me about what was wrong at home, to our vice principal asking me about the sexual abuse I endured as a child, a sudden realization finally hit: my mental health concerns my teachers more than my grade point average does. And although that might be hard to believe for the students who sacrifice hours of sleep to maintain their GPA, it’s nothing short of the truth.
I recall the first time my English teacher first revealed her concern for me. It was a right before class ended that she pulled me aside, and to this day that memory lies vividly embedded in my mind; I was 17 and it was nearing the end of the year, close to winter break.
“Hazel, so what’s wrong, what happened? I remember you in eighth grade as bright and happy, and you don’t strike me as that anymore. You used to smile all the time and now you seem, well… just not as happy. Something is different.”
I felt a lump in my throat. I managed words and sentences between swallows and sniffles, and still she continued to listen intently to every word I had to say, no matter how incomprehensible my murmuring became. After giving me a big bear hug and telling me everything would be okay, I walked out of her classroom and went straight to the bathroom before heading to my next class. As I looked in the mirror, my reflection blurred as my eyes became glassier. I started crying, but this time not out of sadness, anger, or frustration. I cried out of happiness.
After struggling with depression and anxiety for so many years, it became increasingly difficult for me to believe that others cared about me, even when all the counteracting evidence came in the form of family and friends. If my teacher who I had barely spoken to outside of the classroom had a genuine concern for my well-being, much more other individuals in my life. It was shortly after that conversation that I decided to work to get better and actually be better, and I have been depression free for a year and one month now. It’s because of conversations like those that I am able to share my voice and talk about the issues of my mental health in past tense.
The more I interviewed students and teachers, the more I realized how many teachers’ emotions paralleled those of my teacher’s. But, as I interviewed over 15 students, teachers, and counselors, I noticed a trend: teachers spoke about how much they cared for their students as students spoke about how much they valued their teachers’ outreach, but neither seemed to be aware of their counterpart’s emotions.
Mr. Dalley, a twelfth grade English teacher, elaborated on how teachers often feel as though they hold a somewhat parental role in their students’ development saying, “I know that now that I have kids it’s kind of hard to distinguish who I’m talking about, but before, when I said “my kids,” it was whenever I was referring to my students. I never called them my students, it was always, “my kids.””
This revelation made me wonder, do students really understand how deep-rooted and sincere the sentiments of our teachers are. Eighth grader Daniel Kwon, gave me insight into how much students appreciate student outreach. “I’m really thankful for Mr. Dalley. I always talk during his class, and instead of getting mad he just pulls me aside and asks what’s going on and tries to find a solution. He’s really patient.”
It can be quite frustrating for teachers to have to constantly repeat themselves in order to get the behavioral results they want, but little do they know their refrain from becoming infuriated benefits their relationship with the student. In order to bridge the gap between teacher and student, Mr. Dalley says that it is important as important for students to validate teachers as much as it is for teachers to validate students. Teachers, aside from merely instructing students to do school work, also aim to council and aid students in endeavors outside of academics. “One of the most frustrating things as a teacher is trying to figure out whether you’re making a difference in your students’ lives.” He mentions that even a small act of affirmation, such as thanking your teacher, can make a world of difference.
It’s extremely important as a school community for us to bridge the gap between students and teachers. There are so many students on campus who are bogged down by circumstances, academics, and personal issues that lead to a lack of emotional stability in their mental health, and by bridging the gap, it would change the way students perceive teachers. Teachers aren’t just academic authority figures, but individuals who have also gone through mental health dilemmas who have open ears and open hearts to listen to those of any student. I think so often we forget, teachers are people too, and just because an age gap lies between us, doesn’t mean they can be any less understanding.