Nearly three-fourths of about 2,200 public school teachers and counselors who responded to a survey say they have seen a recent increase in the number of students in their schools affected by addicted parents and caregivers in their homes.
About half of those who reported a rise in such students said the increase was “significant,” while the other half said there was “some” increase. The survey focused on teachers’ views of the opioid crisis, though this question asked about addiction in general.
Only 6 percent of all respondents said there was a decrease or no change, while 21 percent said they didn’t know either way.
Dr. Sara Anderson said the still-ongoing survey by professors at the West Virginia University College of Education and Human Services is a convenience poll, not a random sampling, so it’s not representative statewide.
But Anderson, an assistant professor of learning sciences and human development who’s also on the Monongalia County Board of Education, said the sample population so far reflects the typical profile of a West Virginia teacher. She said most of the respondents have been teachers.
Anderson said the data the professors presented Wednesday to the state Board of Education were based on responses received as of the end of January, which represented 49 counties and made up about 10 percent of the state’s public school teachers and counselors.
She said the survey asks teachers over 130 questions.
Dr. Jessica Troilo, an associate professor of learning sciences and human development who’s also working on the study, said the questions ask teachers, among other things, how they view their ability to handle students and what training and resources they believe they need.
Troilo, who’s also a WVU Extension parenting specialist, said we know that “many people in active addiction are also parents.”
“But little is known of what teachers are facing in the midst of this epidemic, and that was the purpose of our study,” Troilo said. “We were looking for research on what teachers are experiencing, and we couldn’t find anything.”
About 35 percent of teachers who answered the survey said they feel frequently or always “burned out.”
Alongside the multiple-choice questions, the survey allows teachers to write about their feelings.
“I wish back in the 1980s in college, that I had chosen another profession,” one teacher wrote. “I see my peers in other professions happy and pleased with their careers at this point, at least not struggling. I have been struggling the entire time, all these years, and it only gets worse. And I feel I am more equipped than 95 percent of most teachers in this field with my background experiences.”
Also working on the study is Frankie Tack, a clinical assistant professor and coordinator of WVU’s new addiction studies minor.
“Teachers talked about having to wash the kids’ clothes at school,” Tack said. “Letting kids not participate in class and go over to a corner on a mat and sleep because they hadn’t gotten sleep the night before because people were in and out of the home. Having extra snacks during the day because they don’t have enough food at home. Just all kinds of things that normally wouldn’t happen in the classroom.”
The professors’ recommendations so far include:
- increase teacher training on how to handle affected students and how to interact with their families
- increase support from staff like social workers, counselors and other mental health professionals
- encourage discussion among teachers
- provide National Association for Children of Addiction educator kits
- and provide information on Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous support groups for friends and family members.
The respondents have grown from the 2,200 at the end of January to 2,700, Anderson said last week. She said the survey has been open since November, and the professors will produce a final report over the summer.
The West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute and Dr. Kim Horn helped fund the study.
Miles Payne, Megan Mikesell and Sloane Glover provided research assistance, and the state Department of Education’s Office of Special Education also helped.