Last week, I (Clive) talked about the connection between general way of life education and career education. I believe there is a similar link with mental health education, which Ontario teachers today are strongly encouraged to engage in. A recent Toronto Star article on mental health education noted that around twenty percent of Ontario school students have mental health problems. It then went on to claim that the life learning these students need would also greatly benefit the other eighty percent of students!
From the teachers’ point of view, this insight has significant implications. It means that instead of constantly singling out students with mental health needs – thus adding to teachers’ workload and also running the danger of labeling students, reducing their self-esteem, and undermining class community – teachers can implement way of life education in the normal course of teaching and classroom life and so help all their students.
Increasing the feasibility of mental health teaching in this way is sorely needed, given the growing demands on teachers, the continuing cut-backs in special education funding, and the increasing integration of “special needs” students into mainstream classes. As Kate Phillippo says in her excellent 2015 book Advisory in Urban High Schools, there is today considerable “under-the-table expansion of teachers’ responsibilities,” especially “to provide social-emotional support” to students (p. 148).
While there is a limit to how much assistance regular classroom teachers can give to students with mental health challenges, supporting all students in developing a sound approach to life can help everyone, including those with special needs. For example, students who lack motivation for school work need a better general sense of where academic achievement fits into their life, now and in the future; and students dealing with bullying would benefit from greater general understanding of when and how to stand up to other people. Along these lines, Phillippo (2015) envisages classroom teachers taking on a broad “advisory” role that includes fostering “life skills development” (p. 154) and working to promote “student wellness” in general (p. 164).