By Ashley London and Sherry Fleydervish

Every year, we sponsor an essay and multimedia contest for high school students. In 2016, 150 students entered the contest, most sent essays; others sent artwork or videos. Contestants shared many concerns that affect their mental health and ability to focus in school, such as:

  • Balancing school and other responsibilities and finding time for friends, family and self-care
  • Keeping up with homework
  • Mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD

One of the winners wrote about her struggles with anxiety:What Teens Want Their Teachers To Know.

The morning of my poetry competition, I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. My anxiety was building up with the thought of reading my poem in front of my entire class. I had practiced day and night, but no amount of preparation can prepare me for what I knew was coming. I heard the bell ring for 8th period, and I felt my heart drop to my stomach. All I could think about was standing in front of my peers, exposing them to the emotions I poured out into my poem. I feared they won’t accept the real me. Or even worse, they’ll laugh at me. My anxiety peaked when I heard my teacher call my name. I felt all eyes on me, glaring at me as I walked to the podium. I took a deep breath, thought about all the hard work I’ve put into this poem, and let my emotions run free.

It would help if teachers knew…If only teachers understood that student’s lives outside of the classroom affect their ability to perform well in school. If only teachers could be more aware of the everyday things teenagers struggle with. If only teachers could be more aware of how mental health concerns affect high school students.

If teachers only knew…

Contestants said that there are small things teachers can do to help. Small things, like getting to know each student as a person, like creating a safe environment, like understanding students have responsibilities outside of school that sometimes take priority over homework. If only teachers just understood the amount of responsibilities they juggle. The expectations placed on them, to get straight A’s, to be star athletes, to help out around the house, and to still be able to manage friendships. Although it is sometimes easier to dwell on the negatives, students have found the only thing that helps them move forward is by looking ahead and developing coping strategies.

Students also reported that dealing with these struggles alone can be overwhelming. Parents and teachers need to lend their support to help students deal with the stress of being a teenager.

If teachers only knew…If parents only knew… If school administrators only knew…

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