By Kelly Hagen, NDU Communications

A recent survey commissioned by North Dakota United’s national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, has some troubling news about the mental health of our education professionals in America.

More than half of the educators in a survey of nearly 5,000 respondents say that their mental health is an issue: 58 percent said their mental health was “not good” for seven or more of the previous 30 days. A survey from 2015 had found just 34 percent of educators felt that way.

The survey also found that 61 percent of teachers and education support professionals say that their work is “always” or “often” stressful. This is affecting their sleep patterns, with only 18 percent of respondents reporting that they get eight or more hours of sleep per night. Most (78 percent) say they only manage five to seven hours per night.

An unrelated survey from UCLA showed that 51.4 percent of teachers reported more students are experiencing “high levels of stress and anxiety” than in previous years.

North Dakota United members are talking about the increased anxiety they are feeling, and we are looking for assistance. Some level of relief is available to our members across the state, we are happy to report. NDU has partnered with Heidi Demars of Mindful You, Mindful Me, to present seminars on mindfulness in cities across North Dakota.

Heidi Demars owns and operates Mindful You, Mindful Me, and trains educators in using mindfulness techniques in the classroom.

“I think teaching is an emotional career,” Demars said, “and so when you look at the (AFT) study, and how that connects to mindfulness, teachers are given some concrete tools and skills they can use during the day to be able to recognize what they’re feeling with present-moment awareness. A lot of what I provide is breathing tools that can be used throughout the day, ways to check in with yourself. And they’re very practical. I know teachers have limited time the way it is, so it’s not just one more thing to add to their to-do list.”

Demars has her Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership, as well as an Associate of Applied Science degree in Occupational Therapy. She first started practicing mindfulness and mediation in 2014, and found in its practice “a place of inner resourcefulness and true healing.” She is certified through Mindful Schools, and now shares what she has learned about mindfulness to “create more resilient, inclusive, empathetic and compassionate people and places.”

“I feel like once they can embody mindfulness and begin to practice that in little ways throughout their day, subtle changes start to show up over time,” Demars said. “I worked as an occupational therapist in the schools for many years, and I really recognized that kids needed some coping skills. But not only that, you have a school of maybe 500 students with maybe only one counselor. That’s a lot on their plate. I realized that if teachers can have some of these coping skills and practices to share with their students, that it’d just be a win-win.”

Demars said her goal is “to help teachers cultivate the skills needed to promote calm, kind and cooperative learning spaces.” She does this be teaching mindful awareness and providing tools and resources that will:

  • Improve their quality of attention
  • Reduce burnout by cultivating their inner resources for resiliency
  • Cope with the modern-day stressors of being a teacher
  • Create greater peace and productivity.

For educator Christine Job, who is a member of North Dakota United, the Mindful Teacher seminar was the perfect opportunity for her to gather with colleagues and learn what they can do for their own mental health and to benefit the students they teach. “There are a group of teachers from my school attending the mindfulness training courses offered by NDU,” Job said. “We signed up together to learn how mindful practices could help our students. This training helped us to build positive learning communities within our classrooms where students are calm and focused on their learning. Our students are using mindful practices to build self-awareness and self-management, as well as better relationships with other students. I would highly recommend this training to any teacher who is searching for ways to create a more focused, effective and joyful classroom.”

Each course is divided into two sections, with the first part devoted to being a mindful individual, and the second part offering suggestions for creating a mindful classroom. After the in-person course is completed, attendees will take part in a book study, which can be completed online, with a one- or two-credit option. Go to www.ndunited.org/events for information on upcoming trainings on mindfulness and ethics from NDU, or visit www.mindfulyoumindfulme.org for more information about Heidi Demars.