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Educator exhaustion – How do schools survive?

Updated: Oct 6, 2023


It’s official. But sadly, it’s not surprising.

Schools currently find themselves at a formidable crossroads, where a pervasive and persistent student mental health crisis now intersects with deep-seated staff burnout. That is the reality of school life in the United States. If you’re an educator, you already know. If you’re not, just look at three stark data points regarding school life:

First – According to a recent report from the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1 in 3 of ALL adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience a clinically relevant anxiety disorder.

Second – Compared with 2019, emergency room visits for suicide attempts rose 51 percent for adolescent girls in early 2021. This has been a horrific upward trend seen in young women for many years now. The pandemic can’t be blamed for all the problems associated with teen suicide. Nor will these problems magically disappear when COVID-19 falls out of the news headlines.

Third – Wondering about the teacher’s side of things? Maybe they are better off than the students, right? Nope. School staff are exhausted. US News and World Report highlights that teachers left their classrooms in the summer of 2020 faster than ever; and now in 2022, nearly 50% surveyed are considering an early exodus from education forever.

With all that mind, it begs the question: What next? What is there for educators and principals who choose to stick it out during this daunting time? Answers will vary depending upon circumstances, assets, and challenges unique to each community. But one thing is likely to be in common for all motivated educators – a new approach to social emotional learning. One that benefits students AND staff. Because let’s face reality: business as usual, especially in the face of the American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC data, has been proven to fall tragically short.

One interesting option that presents itself to schools is the rise of esports. Gaming? Really? Yep, you heard me right. Allow me to share some perspective that might alleviate your eye roll toward esports and gaming. It may not be quite the antisocial activity you think it is. Nor does scholastic gaming subject students to delirious amounts of screen time. There is much more to it. The NEA reports on their website the following:

  • Since 2018, when the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) first recognized esports as an official sport, more than 8,600 high schools have started video-gaming teams.

  • Last year, more than $16 million in esports scholarships were awarded by U.S. colleges, helping to fuel the explosive growth of high school teams.

  • Proponents say they work just like other sports teams. Players respond to coaching and work together to develop effective "on-field" strategies.

That’s not all. Enter into our discussion a national research study conducted by Generation Esports regarding student mental health and relationships with teachers. Charles Reilly, co-founder of Gen E, offered the following, “We realize that esports captures a lot of students that would not otherwise have a place to call home in middle school and high school. We want to seize that opportunity and do something good with it.”

Mr. Reilly offers a wise perspective. This is why I collaborated with former educators to adapt a scholastic gaming curriculum to address current health issues. Gaming Concepts 1.1 with Mental Health Moments aligns with educational standards and connects the fun of gaming with lessons about self-esteem and self-efficacy. Our team, composed of educators and a physician, in addition to esports experts like Reilly, believe this approach to SEL is a lot more effective than current school operations – such as hiring a speaker to discuss the perils of social media in a packed gym, full of students on their cell phones. Or, showing a YouTube video about alcohol abuse in the middle of English class, just so that operational requirement can be crossed off. Schools have tried that. It failed. There was no connection for students. It’s time to engage with something that kids find relevant.

So, teachers – take the time to imagine it. Using games to connect with the student cohorts that currently don’t have a place at school to call home. Leveraging esports to promote connections with kids and seamlessly link class content to life lessons. Interesting, right? Agreed. Sounds like a nice pause in the middle of an otherwise stressful school day. And that, my friends, could be a win for ALL involved.

Dr. Chris Jenson is a senior health advisor that consults for schools and businesses regarding public health issues in education. He spent his clinical time in emergency medicine and taught nine years of high school science. Jenson is not a gamer, but sees how scholastic gaming provides a niche at school for many students that currently don’t have one. Dr. Jenson is excited to oversee a data driven research project that is measuring the quantitative impact of Generation Esports’ curriculum, Gaming Concepts, on student self-esteem, self-efficacy, and relationships with teachers. Study will be completed in June of 2022.

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