From the student sitting in the front row eager to work with their multipack of colored highlighters, to the student in the back of the room with their head in the crook of their elbow dozing off, teachers see everything. They see their teenage students day-in-day-out, but most only get a glimpse of what their lives are like outside of the daily curriculum.
New to Prosper this year, English I teacher Meg Nguyen breaks down the limits of student-teacher understanding by helping and inspiring teens in school as well as outside of school through her volunteer work as a Crisis Text Line counselor.
“I majored in English Lit at Baylor with a minor in creative writing,” Nguyen said. “I took an education course at Baylor, and I actually didn’t like it.”
After Baylor, she went into fundraising and grant writing at a small private university in Houston.
“I did that for two years and just wasn’t finding it fulfilling,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t really think that I was making much of a difference, so I looked into a program at SMU (Southern Methodist University) for a masters degrees with teachers’ certification.”
Once she moved back home to Carrollton, she started the program and ended up finding her sense of fulfillment in teaching high school students.
“I loved seeing that lightbulb moment that kids would have,” Nguyen said. “I just felt like I was making more of a difference.”
Experiencing that program and finding her footing in education, she found herself drawn to teach at Prosper because of their reputation for rigorous academics and their caring staff.
“After my interview, it really solidified that Prosper’s not just about test scores or numbers,” Nguyen said. “But that we really do care about the emotional growth of the kids and making them lifelong learners.”
While Nguyen spends her time in school helping students navigate aspects of their academic and personal life, her passion does not end with the dismissal bell. Two years ago, she started volunteering at the Crisis Text Line after hearing about the organization on twitter.
“I was really interested in it because mental health is something that I’m very passionate about,” Nguyen said. “In high school I struggled with anxiety and depression, and I felt alone.”
The Crisis Text Line launched in 2013, and has since provided first responders for those in need, especially for their largest text-in group: teenagers.
The organization keeps data and statistics to find trends among text-ins. The recognition of these trends may increase awareness pertaining to warning signs, preventing future crises for individuals at risk.
“I just thought there is a lot of things going on in kids these days,” Nguyen said. “If I was in high school right now I don’t know how I would put up with all the pressure.”
Between overwhelm with school and added pressure from social media, teenagers today can often face unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety. It can be easy for kids today to feel like they aren’t enough.
“Its just not healthy to compare yourself to people online, especially when it isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of them,” sophomore Morgan Begley said.
Each Crisis Text Line counselor goes through an initial 30-hour training course, where they learn how to best listen and respond to conversations about suicide, bullying, homelessness and others. Counselors are also equipped with a multitude of referrals for the texter if they need additional help or safety.
According to Nguyen, her volunteer work has helped her grow as a teacher, especially when it comes to empathy and creating a safe, judgement-free environment to nurture students.
“It’s also made me realize how difficult it is to be a teen,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t graduate that long ago, but a lot of things have changed. I think it’s really given me an insight into all the stresses that kids are going through.”
While counseling has made Nguyen a better teacher for her students, conversely, her background as a teacher makes her a better counselor. She has empathy for those who text-in, as she feels connected to them through the students she works with.
“It makes me realize that this is a real kid somewhere in the U.S. who’s in the school system, going through some of the same things that my students are possibly going through,” Nguyen said.
The Crisis Text Line number is 741-741. Additionally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone.