Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's More Than Being a Teacher

The current culture in our education system is a complicated one.  School is not just about learning in reading and writing, but a setting in which students acquire social skills and knowledge.  It is a place where they learn to navigate the social mores and the community culture with which they have grown.  It is also an environment where students can seek support, if they so choose.

Over the past year I have been a sexuality educator and a counselor in schools throughout Delaware.  All of my clients seek counseling for mental health issues.  This is not uncommon.  The CDC estimates that nearly 1 in 5 children under the age of 17 experience some mental health issue that impairs their life.  As educators, it is our responsibility to promote their mental health wellness.  So what does this require, especially as sexuality educators?

It means that we need to work with mental health professionals at schools.  There is often a climate in which mental health professionals are shunned, and not incorporated into the school environment.  A belief that we do not need to work together, because the two - education and mental health - have littlein common.  However, as educators, we should work together with counselors, to promote the wellbeing of the students we work with.  We are all aware that teaching about sexuality is a sensitive topic, and can often bring to surface issues that students either have not yet dealt with, or are still working through (sexual assault, bullying, gender nonconformity, etc.).  This is why working with the school mental health professionals is crucial.  Working together allows students to receive support on every end.

In an atmosphere where LGBTQ bullying is rampant and adolescent suicides are becoming more frequent than they are not, it is vital we provide these students especially with all the support.  Mental health professionals and educators can work together and aide students through navigating the incredibly difficult period of adolescence, and beyond.  My experience this last year has helped me realize how important this partnership can be, both for the school environment and more importantly, for the students we work with.


  1. Tegan,

    Thanks for bringing up this point, I think that it is an important point to make. I have been looking at a lot of community centers recently and realizing how standard it is for them to have both educators and mental health professionals employed. I appreciate that community care that happens when both of those come together.

    That said, I also get really nervous about the idea of opening up a topic that is too sensitive for someone and knowing where my responsibility lies. I agree that working with professionals would really ease this issue as we would have someone that can support our students in different ways in order to create more holistic care.

    I have been having a lot of conversations with people lately about what it means to know someone needs more care in some way and to not be able to provide it. I think this is especially relevant when we touch on sensitive subjects or sexual histories. I think that sometimes we need to lean on other professionals in the field and realize that we are not the only people that will come into people's lives that can help them and that it is ok to not be all things to our students. That said, it is a good practice to know the resources in our community and to help students connect with people who are going to be supportive for their needs.

  2. Tegan,

    Great points! The school community consists of so many individuals and unfortunately, not everyone has an opportunity to communicate with one another about how best to serve the children. As you said, school and education are so much more than learning to read and write. It seems as though teachers not have the time and/or possibly the desire to talk with each person within the community. As a reading teacher, I have definitely seen this when I talk to the counselor at the school to ask her to talk to a particular student. The classroom teacher didn't mention anything or see that this student needed someone to talk with. Often things seemed to get overlooked, including sexuality education and mental health.

    As sexuality educators, I think it is important that we maintain contact with all members of the school community, including parents, administration, counselors, teachers, and students. Each person will have a different perspective of the community and issues that may arise that as sexuality educators we can provide interventions.

  3. I appreciate your support of interdisciplinary teams in educational setting! I think another reason to have mental health professionals or guidance counselors working alongside sex educators (or at least being available to them) is to help guide educators when they come across young people who are engaging in potentially dangerous behavior. One of my 12 year old students recently revealed that she was texting with a 20 year old boy and he was being very sexually explicit with her. As an educator with limited experience navigating challenging situations like that one, where parents and school administrators need to be involved, mental health professionals or guidance counselors can help us determine how best to support students who may not realize they are engaging in potentially dangerous behavior.

    I think there is a real opportunity in continuing education to teach educators and counselors how to work together. To know how counselors could help me as a sex educator would be a great asset. I think it is important to teach educators and counselors alike the importance of an interdisciplinary perspective and when it might be appropriate to call in someone from another discipline - as they might be more qualified to handle specific challenges. As educators, we don't need to have all the answers, working in an interdisciplinary team is the way to go!