Teaching Teachers: Learning to deal with emotions in the classroom

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POSTED: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 1:33pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 3:28pm

When the school bell rings, there's often more on students' minds than classwork.  Whether it's problems at home, or with friends, students are stressed, and that impacts their performance in the classroom.

"I think in today's society, given everything that's going on, the students are coming in with a lot more emotional issues than they were in the past," said Dr. Rick Myer, Chair of the Department of Educational Psychology and Special Services at UTEP.

"Research shows that students who are distracted because of emotional difficulties, whether it's in the classroom or from their family life, or from wherever, they don't learn as well," said Dr. Myer.

Improvements in assessments have made it easier to diagnose some problems such as ADD/ADHD and Autism, but not all issues are as easy to identify.

"You also have students coming in who have more transient, or temporary emotional problems that teachers may not be aware of, and may or may not be prepared to handle," said Dr. Myer.

Dr. Myer said teachers now are dealing with students who have anger and other emotional issues.

"When I was in school, if a teacher told you to do something, you did it. You didn't talk back, and I think that has changed," said Dr. Myer.

Frank McDonald is a middle school science teacher in El Paso and he agree with Dr. Myer.  He said he is definitely seeing a trend in student behavior.

"Some kids are more outspoken, they feel more comfortable expressing their feelings, where there isn't that idea that whatever the teacher says is right," said McDonald.

McDonald believes this is especially common among middle school students because they are not only going through a lot of physical changes, but they are learning to deal with a lot of emotional issues for the very first time.  McDonald said helping students deal with those emotions can take a personal toll on a teacher.

"There have been issues where a kid has been affected by something and it bothers me. The things that really do bother me are the things I realize can play a role for many years to come in the child's life," said McDonald.

McDonald believes that the role of teachers no longer only includes classroom instruction, but also looking out for the emotional well-being of their students.

"A lot of times I'm the first line where I say, 'This child has an issue,' and I direct them in the right way to get more help," said McDonald.

McDonald would like to see more training to make sure he does not miss any read flags.

"Maybe there's kids that have sat in my classroom that have shown the signs, I just wasn't able to recognize them.  And if we can get it at an early stage and take care of the problems, then the better off the kid is going to be," said McDonald.

That is precisely the training that Dr. Myer is working to develop at UTEP.  A new program scheduled to launch in the fall is targeted at helping teachers recognize emotional problems in their students.

"These classes will help to coach and to train teachers to identify these students, know where the students are emotionally and how to approach them," said Dr. Myer, and added, "We're not training them to be counselors or therapists or psychologists, but helping them to learn how they can use their lesson plans to be helpful to the students who are having these kinds of issues."

The new program at UTEP will be a continuing education certificate program open to professionals who are already teaching. 

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