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Having a teacher or another adult to turn to at school can be key for stressed-out students, but only about half of teens say they have someone like that in their lives, according to a survey by the Toronto public board.
“I do know that having a person to connect with in school can make a huge difference for someone — academically and socially,” said Hirad Zafari, a student trustee with the Toronto District School Board and president of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories about how teachers have saved students’ lives … teachers who are able to build that relationship make a huge difference in not just our school lives, but the rest of our lives.”
The student census, which surveyed 103,000 students from Grades 7 to 12, found that among those in Grades 7 and 8, 34 per cent “haven’t met” an adult at school they feel they can turn to, 34 per cent have one, and 31 per cent have more than one.
School enjoyment also drops as students hit their teens, with 73 per cent of Grade 7s and 8s reporting they enjoy school, and just 59 per cent of high school students.
Some 65 per cent of high school students feel supported by their teachers, while 88 per cent say teachers have set high expectations for them.
Board researcher Maria Yau said this census marked the first time students were asked about the adults in their lives at school, “and we discussed (the results) with staff; we want to do a lot of things in here … as educators, we have to pay attention” to these numbers, she added.
Zafari said such relationships can’t be forced, and that not all teachers are “motivated to act in that way.”
“I would never ask a teacher or force teachers to build that relationship, but what I do know is that if a teacher is cognizant of the fact that it plays such a huge role in student life, they may be more motivated to do so.”
“As a mom — setting aside being an educator — our children are our world,” she said. “Knowing that our child does not feel part of a classroom or is feeling down, or lonely — that hurts. I think that as parents, it’s a wake-up call for us to stop, in this hurried society, have a conversation and touch base.” Even, she adds, if it’s just by text messaging, as Quan herself keeps in touch with her daughters, to keep the lines of communication open.
Quan said the board will look into why almost half don’t feel there’s an adult in the school they can go to. The board has been focussing on the idea of “one caring adult” who can be a crucial point of contact for troubled teens.