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The Unsung Heroes: Our school teachers

Classroom of children with hands raised

As a kid, when someone asked me who my favorite superhero was, I automatically named Wonder Woman. What young girl wouldn’t? As an adult, I look at this question through a different lens.

I buzz into school buildings around central Missouri each day to meet with school personnel. I am met with smiling faces from secretaries and the bustle of a school building. I take in the lunch aroma of chicken patties, the sight of spiritedly decorated hallways, and the sound of kids laughing. 

I am the director of youth services for Burrell Behavioral Health’s Central Region, which is based in Columbia. In School-Based Services, we partner with 30 mid-Missouri school districts to provide consultation and training for school staff, as well as case management and therapy for kids. When I count my colleagues at Burrell, I am fortunate to have 31 work families. 

One of my favorite parts of the job is working alongside school staff. They are kind to take time out of their busy days to discuss how to connect their kids to needed behavioral health resources. They share fun and heartwarming experiences about the classroom and hallways. They problem-solve with me about the next steps in coordinating care. Then … their eyes mist over when they tell me about their kids’ hardships. 

You see, training for a career in a school building does not include behavioral health. The job description says they are to teach, to lead, to coach, etc. And while they do all of these incredible and difficult things, there is another part of the job that descriptions don’t include: loving kids when they are at their most unlovable. One in seven Missouri students has experienced significant trauma in their lives, making them 32 times more likely to have behavioral and academic problems in school. The other reality? Half of all teachers leave the field within five years, citing classroom behavior as one of the top three reasons; the other two being extra duties and compensation. 

Fortunately, research shows strong teacher-student relationships are associated with higher student academic engagement, attendance and grades, fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions, and lower school dropout rates. Research also shows the teacher-student relationship is the best predictor of how much joy versus anxiety the teacher experiences in class. Clearly, both teachers and students benefit significantly from connection and trust. 

When I think of my hero now, I think of the unsung heroes in our society: teachers. They show up every day (sometimes running on fumes) to show their kids love, safety, and stability. I see them take the kids’ dirty clothing home, wash it themselves, and bring it back. I see them purchase snacks with their own money to give to hungry kids. I see them make trips to students’ homes to check on them. I see them brainstorming creative ways to help struggling kids focus in class. I see them doing a million things at once while feeling like they’re accomplishing nothing.

Above all else, I see them as heroes.

To learn more about behavioral health options available in your child’s school, please contact your teacher or your school’s counselor; they can refer you to Burrell if you wish, if a partnership is in place.

Alexa Summers, Burrell Behavioral Health

Alexa Summers, LCSW, is the director of youth services for Burrell’s Central Region.

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