Teen Suicide: awareness vs. prevention
Teenage suicide is a real problem.
Thankfully, teen suicide awareness is more widespread than it’s ever been.
Sadly, teen suicide prevention is not even close to where it needs to be.
Recently, Arizona Senator Sean Bowie proposed a bill that would require suicide-prevention training for all teachers and staff in the state of Arizona. It would essentially mandate two hours of training during the 2019-2020 school year in all school districts and charter schools for counselors, teachers, principals and other school personnel who work with students in grades six through 12.
While I think the bill is a great step toward bringing increased awareness to a very real problem, a two-hour mandatory training is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of creating real, systemic change.
Let me start by saying that awareness and prevention are NOT the same thing. While more and more people are talking about the need for suicide prevention in the schools, what’s actually taking place is a heightened sense of awareness around the schools. The missing piece in this equation is actual hands and feet in the trenches, doing the work of prevention, not just talking about the need for prevention.
Awareness occurs on an intellectual level. It’s the knowing part of the equation. Prevention occurs on a kinesthetic level. It’s the doing part of the equation. In my humble opinion, there’s a lot more awareness regarding teen suicide than there is actual prevention.
Below are two main points that speak to the need for more in the trenches prevention vs. an increased intellectual awareness.
Our education system places a far greater emphasis on core curriculum than it does the core of the child (mental and emotional well-being).
While the powers that be often speak eloquently about the importance of educating the whole child, the money doesn’t align with their mouths.
Millions of dollars are allocated each year to fund the latest, greatest iteration of math textbooks, basal readers, science kits, etc… Meanwhile, funding designed to reach the core of the child (mental and emotional well-being) is pennies on the dollar compared to core curriculum costs.
This bill calls for two hours of annual training for school employees, designed to equip them with the proper tools to address the extremely complex nature of the mental and emotional needs of students. This is a great start, but compared to the number of professional development hours a teacher accrues in a given year for curriculum instruction alone, two hours seems almost laughable.
Do you see the disconnect in terms of priorities?
I propose that districts hire experts in the areas of SEL (Social Emotional Learning), then allow them to go into classrooms as a means of empowering students with the critical, non-academic skill set of emotional intelligence.
Why should we expect teachers to be experts in curriculum instruction AND experts in SEL? Don’t they already have enough on their plate?
True suicide prevention happens in the trenches, not in a board room, conference room, or auditorium.
I mentioned earlier that the heavy emphasis on core curriculum casts a shadow on the true core of the child. There’s another C that stands in the curriculum shadow as well. It’s called human connection.
Teachers are being asked to teach more content than ever before. So much so that designated, uninterrupted times constitute most of a child’s school day. Add this to countless, stress-inducing teacher evaluations and you have a recipe for curriculum overload.
It’s no wonder that more and more teachers are feeling robotic in nature, unable to even hold a class morning meeting, which is often an ideal time to address a student’s mental and emotional well-being. Teachers desperately want to connect with their students, but their hands are tied by a system that values grades, percentages, and test scores over the human being behind the score.
I propose that teachers buck the system and find ways to create more authentic human connection with students. If it means stopping a lesson 10 minutes early to address a human need in the classroom, so be it. I’m sure the curriculum police will be forgiving.
We can all agree that we genuinely want what’s best for kids. The problem is we don’t all agree on what’s actually best for kids.
I pray that in my lifetime, the system of education will radically change. I will do everything in my power to make social and emotional learning a part of EVERY child’s education.
Our students will benefit.
Our teachers will benefit.
Our parents will benefit.
Our community will benefit.
Our state will benefit.
Our country will benefit.
Our world will benefit.