Special education teacher’s “mental health check in” for students inspires other educators


APRIL 5, 2019 / 12:00 PM / CBS NEWS

A special education teacher from Fremont, California, made a “mental health checklist” for her students. Now, teachers around the world are doing the same. 

Erin Castillo posted a photo of her mental health poster on Instagram and it went viral. She made a version of it available to download for free, and teachers around the world are posting photos of the chart in their classrooms.

The mental heath checklist asks kids if they are “great,” “okay,” “meh,” “struggling,” “having a hard time” or “in a really dark place.” Students are encouraged to write their names on the back of a post-it and stick it on the poster under the section describing how they’re feeling. 

If they put their post-it in the “struggling” section, they know they should try speaking with an adult about their feelings. If they say they are “having a hard time,” or “in a really dark place,” Castillo checks in with them. 

The teacher knows it’s important to take time and focus on mental health – especially for high school kids. 

“My heart hurts for them,” Castillo wrote on Instagram. “High school is rough sometimes, but I was happy that a few were given a safe space to vent and work through some feelings.”

Castillo teaches high school English to special education students, as well as a peer counseling class to general education students, she told CBS News. Her whole classroom is filled with positive messages that promote self-care and kindness. 

She created an “affirmation station,” where students can write positive notes to each other. 

“Affirmations are a big part of my classroom,” Castillo wrote. “When students affirm each other, powerful connections can be formed. Think about how good it feels when a colleague or principal comments on something they notice you doing well, they didn’t have to comment, but they recognized you. They SEE you.”

She has also made a section of smaller posters on rings, which can be taken off the wall and looked at up close. She did this because a ton of big, bright posters can be overwhelming for some special education students.

In addition to her wall decorations, Castillo made a table for “Starbucks time.” As a reward for good work, students get to sit at the table and work quietly and independently. They can listen to music, have a snack or just take in some much-needed “me time.”

Many of the fun decorations in Castillo’s classroom are available online, and she has compiled links for where to find them. 

“I may have made this mental health board with my students in mind, but it definitely has kept me going this year,” the teacher wrote on the viral post. 

In addition to her school lessons, Castillo’s students learn many life lessons. Most importantly: she’s there for them. 

First published on April 5, 2019 / 12:00 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.


  1. What an amazing teacher! I love the check-in but the “affirmation station” is such a good idea, too. Let’s hope it continues to catch on and spread further so mental health is recognised and supported more throughout all schools! 🙂
    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

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