School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy


Lucinda Spaulding


mental health, educators, training, trauma, students, colleagues, relationships


Education | Educational Leadership


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the lived experiences of general education elementary teachers attempting to meet the mental health needs of students in their care. Ten teachers from an Eastern Virginia school district were selected to participate in this study. Individuals with experience working with distressed students were selected through purposive criterion and snowball sampling. The theories guiding this study were Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs and trauma theory (Caruth, 1995). Data from survey/questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups were collected and analyzed per transcendental phenomenology procedures to identify emerging themes from the data. The following four themes were identified: job successes, predictors/indicators of poor mental health, the importance of building relationships, and experiences serving as the best teacher. This study supports the need for additional mental health and wellness training at the pre-service and in-service levels for educators. Additionally, policymakers and educational leaders are challenged to ensure that teachers and students feel safe inside the classroom and that mental health resources are easily accessible for use. The aforementioned findings inform the training necessary to increase teachers’ self-efficacy, skill, and knowledge when it comes to meeting the mental health needs of students in their care.