Teachers are increasingly handling student wellness issues during pandemic, Mason research shows

During the coronavirus pandemic, PK – 12 teachers have been increasingly helping students with wellness issues— sometimes to the detriment of their own mental health, according to  Elizabeth Levine Brown, associate professor at George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development.

“Teachers are concerned about the wellness of their students, their mental health, their academic stress, anxiety, depression, grief,” said Levine Brown. “Often, teachers end up handling these issues themselves and that, in turn, affects their own wellness and mental health.”

Levine Brown recently co-authored a preliminary report surveying teachers throughout the U.S. on teacher and student wellness during spring and summer 2020. Teachers often provide front-line wellness support to students, even when there isn’t a pandemic, said Levine Brown. However, the survey found that more than half of teachers personally handled student wellness concerns during the initial stages of the pandemic.

“When we went through the pandemic shifting to virtual teaching and learning, and then the uprising of racial and social unrest, teachers ended up navigating the wellness of their students in unparalleled ways,” said Levine Brown. “Now we’re taking the time to examine the effect this had on teachers, and what we can do to best support them going forward.”

The survey was conducted by researchers at Mason, Loyola University Chicago, the University of Missouri and the University of South Carolina. Researchers surveyed more than 2,100 full-time PK to 12 teachers from 46 states during the summer of 2020.

Teachers in schools serving large proportions of immigrant students, students of color, lower-income students and housing-unstable students reported higher levels of student wellness concerns.

Based on the results, Levine Brown suggests that school districts increase their support of teachers identifying students with wellness issues.

Schools administrators should ensure that teachers are being provided wellness-related training and support resources. In addition, Levine Brown said, school districts should also make it easier for teachers to refer students to wellness professionals, such as social workers, counselors and school nurses.

“Teachers’ own wellness matters, and they have to be able to care for themselves,” said Levine Brown. “We need them to know it’s OK to say this is outside my expertise and refer the student to someone who is trained to help. Teachers need to trust that school-based wellness personnel will in fact support the student concerns efficiently and effectively.”

Elizabeth Levine Brown can be reached at ebrown11@gmu.edu

For more information, contact Anna Stolley Persky at apersky@gmu.edu

About George Mason 

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 38,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.