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Another inevitability in the wake of a gun-related tragedy is the expression of the idea that we should focus our prevention efforts not on guns, but on mental illness. Now, I have no problem with addressing the issue of mental illness, although I don't see why we can't do both. However, my experience as a teacher suggests at least a small reason why we have so much difficulty addressing mental illness in young people, thus allowing it to fester unchecked into adulthood.

I taught high school English for 13 years. During that time I had more than my share of students with moderate to severe personality disorders. High school in America is a lot more like a Larry Clark film than people would like to believe. True, a lot of teenagers grow out of it, and teachers do become jaded after a while. But I had a lot of kids in my class over the years who I sincerely thought at the time might be mentally ill.

If you teach long enough, you're bound to say the wrong thing to, or about, a student from time to time, without really meaning to. I had plenty of foot-in-mouth moments over the years. The worst of these, back in the late '90s when I was a second-year teacher, still haunts me to this day; an automatic, boilerplate response to misbehavior that an inexperienced teacher might use, but just happened to be the exact wrong thing to say to that particular student at that particular time, and for which I found myself apologizing profusely and mellifluously in front of the entire class within seconds after I said it.

Years later in a different school I had another student whose behavior really troubled me. Like a lot of teenagers, he seemed to lack impulse control, empathy, manners, and self-awareness. He would make random noises during class, such as by tapping the chain on his pant-leg against a metal table, and when I or the other students would ask him to stop he would say "No," keep making the noise and burst into hysterical laughter. One time he came in and refused to take his seat, backing away and shrieking, "There's bugs all over the table!! I ain't sittin' there, there's bugs all over the table!!" I looked at the table and saw a couple of ink stains and a clump of black thread.

On Open School night I was describing this behavior to the student's older sister, who was also a teacher, so I thought I had a sympathetic ear and perhaps conversed a little too casually and candidly. [CLARIFICATION: In the NYC public schools, "Open School" refers to parent-teacher conferences. It's not an open house-like, communal event. This was a private conference between me and the sister in lieu of the parent, with no one else present.] What I did was use a word to describe the behavior that, while not offensive or even really inappropriate, was nonetheless a bit hyperbolic. I won't say what it was because I don't want to distract from my main point, but it was clear that I was characterizing the behavior, not the student. [To be precise, I said, "There's simply no reason for this behavior. It's inexplicable, it's bizarre, it's [X]."] The sister promptly reported to the mother, who was with another teacher at the time, that I had called the student [X], and the two of them went straight to my supervisor and demanded that the child be removed from my class and that I be disciplined or fired.

I'm not trying to excuse what I said or imply that I wasn't wrong to say it, because I may well have been. As I said, I had plenty of these moments. But my point is this: As soon as this happened, the entire conversation with respect to this student became about What That Teacher Said, not How Can We Help This Kid? The issue was not what this child's problem might be or how we, the school or the family, should address it; the only thing being discussed by anyone, including the parent and school administrators, was how and to what degree I should be punished for calling this student [X], which I really hadn't done in the first place.

One of the reasons I got out of teaching was because I came to realize after a while that if you're a teacher, you can't tell kids the truth about themselves, and you can't tell parents the truth about their kids. It seemed that as a society we'd become more interested in hanging teachers than in helping kids. It's a broad stroke, I know, and I was fortunate in my last school that, at least most of the time, I could be honest with kids and parents about the former's ability and performance, and found that more often than not they appreciated it. And none of this is to say that you don't still have to be diplomatic and avoid foot-in-mouth moments that can easily be misinterpreted and get you in trouble.

This incident stands out in my mind not because I felt I was treated unfairly or wrongfully accused. It stands out because this was a kid who probably needed help, beyond what I or the school was able to provide; a kid whose mental health was at least in question and could have benefited from his family being aware of that. But any possibility of getting him that help, figuring out what he needed or even recognizing that he needed anything, went completely out the window while everyone occupied themselves with What That Teacher Said and How That Teacher Should Be Punished.

I don't know how often it happens that teachers keep their impressions of students' potential mental health issues to themselves, for fear of becoming the focus of the wrong conversation. Teachers are under a lot of pressure nowadays to always find positive things to say to and about kids, give them the highest grades and the highest praise, and avoid criticism of any kind that might make the student feel bad or the parent inclined to take action. I just think that nipping mental illness in the bud might be a little more important.

10:19 AM PT: Wow. Thanks for the rescue, and all the recs.

Originally posted to GrafZeppelin127 on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 06:29 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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  •  Tip Jar (214+ / 0-)
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  •  It's challenging being a teacher in many ways (34+ / 0-)

    But especially challenging if you have a mentally ill student. Most teachers aren't trained to recognize or deal with mental illness. Even special ed teachers usually know a lot more about common learning disorders than they do about other mental and neurological conditions (makes sense, but there are lots of issues a kid can have that can get in the way of learning). So basic lack of understanding is a common problem.

    I do think though that these kids often have more trouble with their peers than their teachers. Teachers are adults and are generally motivated to help kids, even difficult ones. Kids are not mature and once you get to middle and high school can be prone to tease or bully other kids who stick out or have difficult behaviors.

  •  Thank you for this (83+ / 0-)

    This is a valuable perspective to add to the discussion.  What often infuriates me about debates about teacher salaries/benefits/etc., is that teachers are truly our first responders when it comes to kids in trouble.  They recognize traits of mental illness. They recognize signs of abuse and neglect.  They are not always trained to deal with these things, but we expect so very much from them.

    To call them "union thugs," just doesn't fully comprehend the enormity of the job we are asking them to do every day.

    DailyKos: Saving us from "The Oligarhy of Teh Stupid", one diary at a time.

    by Exurban Mom on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 07:37:05 AM PST

    •  the point is (6+ / 0-)

      that this should not be left to teachers. Teachers should make referrals for mental health evaluations, and be done with it.  The most obvious kids usually have drug problems, not mental health problems, or they're being abused at home.

      It's the quietest kids that are somehow disliked or avoided by other children that need attention. Even if they're not future psychotics, they are having too bad a time and they deserve some help. And it's while they are meeting a few times a week with a therapist that 'thought' problems will show, there will be things they don't understand or get totally wrong, and they can then be referred for services, if we had services that is.

      It's not about teachers, it's the lack of resources and that lack of belief in mental illness.  

      "oh no, not four more years of hope and change?" Karl Christian Rove

      by anna shane on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 03:05:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  They can't. It's budgetary (6+ / 0-)

        According to a teacher friend of mine, if the school officially brings up that a child might need mental health services, then the school could be on the hook to provide the services.

        On the other hand, we informed the schools that my family has a very strong history of bi-polar disorder and depression and we would be extremely grateful if they would let us know if they saw any indications in either of our kids, so that we could get them treatment.

        •  well, they can (0+ / 0-)

          and they can be fired over it.  They don't have to do the superintendents job for her, they can refer anyone they like.

          The same is true for CPS, any teacher who notices any marks on a child, or excessive fearfulness, or a complete change in personality can call CPS and give their fears and then be done with it. The teacher doesn't have to prove a thing, but social services can't investigate if no one ever tells them.  

          CPS knows how to conduct an investigation and they'll never tell the teacher's name.  

          Sorry, it's too easy to claim that enforcement of budgetary concerns is up to individual teachers. Teachers are there to teach, not to determine if the school district can afford to provide mental health services to a child who isn't able to cope with school society.  Some of those kids will just go on to have a bad time and never get over it, like that kid Mitt Romney chased down, and some are in desperate need of help and help works best when it's started earliest.  

          "oh no, not four more years of hope and change?" Karl Christian Rove

          by anna shane on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 05:59:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Would rec this 20 times (60+ / 0-)

    if I could.
    What teachers have to deal with on a daily basis becomes more formidable by the year, at least from what my friends who still teach high school say. This is part of a comment from another diary that is also germane here: I knew a few criminally minded kids, and a few who would get into fist fights when I was in school. On the other hand, at least two kids in my son's class were outright alarming, and multiple classmates were being treated for symptoms that were obvious enough to require treatment. Whether that in turn is caused by chemicals in the environment, lack of parental attention, violent cultural norms, or just the fact that there are twice as many people living in the same space, I don't know, but something has definitely shifted...
    I also know that parents are more defensive and sometimes combative. Bless you for sticking with it as long as you did.

    "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

    by northsylvania on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 07:52:07 AM PST

    •  Evidence is pointing to Environmental Chemicals.. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RWood, GreenMother

      from Scientific American and Science Daily of this year. There are a TON of research links that our body chemical load has reached a breaking point, and that children are no longer developing neurologically as they should.

      Google: Environmental Chemicals Autism Personality Disorder
      There are more research articles than you can shake a stick at.

      Figures don't lie, but liars do figure-Mark Twain

      by OregonOak on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 06:01:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  part of the reason I am not a teacher (34+ / 0-)

    I grew up with mentally ill parents. When I realized in graduate school that being a teacher meant intervening in violence, family disputes, child abuse, and mental illness I found a profession that would not expose me to it.  I had already had enough CRAZINESS.

    "Kossacks are held to a higher standard. Like Hebrew National hot dogs." - blueaardvark

    by louisev on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 08:19:17 AM PST

  •  A few thoughts (35+ / 0-)

    1) I am positive the family understands the child has a MH issue.  But MH care is practically unavailable except for the top 10-20% of income earners in this country.  In some places, even if your insurance covers MH, the practitioners just aren't available to handle complex cases (like the one you describe) because... since no one pays for MH care, no one goes to school or can make a living working with these kids.

    2) He probably had an IEP, and that IEP was probably not being implemented appropriately by understaffed/underfunded special education department.
    Meanwhile, I'm sure the football team has new uniforms.

    3) As a teacher you are a mandated reporter - which means you are actually legally obligated to report your suspicions the child may self harm - there should have been a chain of command at the school where you report to a school psych or counselor and they take it from there.  Most schools have teams that meet regularly to review children's cases where things are not going well.  And sorry... when you work with kids, you take on that responsibility.

    The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. --George Orwell

    by jgkojak on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 08:34:57 AM PST

  •  A comment on the word "crazy" (29+ / 0-)

    I've taken some interest in the enneagram personality theory as presented by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. One part of their theory is that within every type, there are nine levels of emotional health: three "healthy," three "average" and three "unhealthy," running the gamut from Level 1 (liberated from all fears and anxieties) to Level 9 (utterly consumed by them).

    The world revolves around Level 6.

    Level 6, or low average, is the level of offensive attitudes and behavior: reacting against one's fears in ways that go beyond mere defensiveness and that are seriously off-putting to others, though without necessarily causing any actual harm.

    It's the level that people refer to as "crazy" if they've never had any direct personal experience with genuine mental illness.

    It's a level that's hard to climb up from, easy to slip downward from, and even easier to stay mired in indefinitely.

    It's not only the mentally ill who need care. It's also people who, while not (yet) mentally ill, are thinking and behaving in ways that will chip away at and eventually undermine their systems of social support -- and make their fears more likely to come true.

    For that matter, really, we all need care. But the laws and institutions we've created will provide it only in the most extreme cases, and not always reliably then.

    "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is the first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk. Every state is totalitarian at heart; there are no ends to the cruelty it will go to to protect itself." -- Ian McDonald

    by Geenius at Wrok on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 08:38:33 AM PST

  •  After the school shooting in Santee, CA, I called (56+ / 0-)

    my sons' high school with my concerns.  I asked what they were doing in regards to speaking to the students about the incident (answer: nothing) and in the course of the conversation came to discover that for a high school with almost 3,000 students they couldn't do anything even if they wanted to...because there were no, none, nada, zero, zilch, mental health counselors at the school.  3,000 students and no psychologist.  What could possibly go wrong?  But I've noticed they recently built a beautiful new playing field for the small minority of students who play football.  We have our priorities all screwed up!

    •  Thank Prop 13 for that (34+ / 0-)

      Because it starved the schools of their usual funding source, and it takes a 2/3 vote to pass a parcel tax.  But the threshold on bonds was lowered to 55%, so those are easier to pass.  But bonds can only be spent on infrastructure, not staff salaries or operating costs.

      Result? Fancy football stadium but no psychologist or other needed specialty staff in a high school of 3000 students, or even in an entire school district.  And this is why most of them start school obscenely early when every study shows that teenagers are on a later circadian rhythm than adults: because the schools have no time or money or staff to try changing things.

      Have I mentioned that I hate Prop 13 and its proponents for destroying our schools, with a white, hot, burning rage?

      •  The early thing is often a logistical issue (9+ / 0-)

        unfortunately, as you say, without regard to the needs of the kids.

        Parents want their kids off to school before they have to be at work. Buses are shared among multiple schools and so need to have staggered runs. People want the kids out early for sports or jobs or other activities. Etc.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 11:09:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Logistical issue .... (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elfling, kyril, worldlotus, Mgleaf, madhaus

          ... although when my daughter was in school, pre-school to senior in high school... what I came to believe was that most of the school 'rules or issues' did not benefit the student or the parents or the teachers. I questioned a lot of stuff during those years... and I really never got answers that made sense for any of the above (students, parents, teachers). And I found it was the same with the PTSA groups.

          I'm not trying to blame anyone ... but I think the problem is that all of it is piecemeal... a system that was never 'designed', just years of accumulated history, habits, issues, problems and solutions. Each one with ramifications and side-effects that were never expected.

          •  Keep asking the questions, politely (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bernie68, kyril, worldlotus, madhaus

            it's good to remind people that just because "we've always done it that way" doesn't have to guide the future.

            I like to ask my questions by saying something like, "You are the expert for our school and I'm not saying it has to change if you've got a reason, but have you thought about why we do X that way and consulted with the staff to see if it's still a good idea?"

            Of course, the downside is that you may find yourself on the school board. <grin>

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 04:40:33 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  I have a question though (5+ / 0-)

        if teenagers are on a different circadian rhythm than adults, how did they ever function when we were a more agricultural society?

        Farm kids had to get up early, and do chores, and go to school, and come home to more chores.

        I think it was more the lack of things going on later in the evening (because, frankly, everybody was too tired) than it was their circadian rhythm.

        I understand kids tend to need more sleep. But if you need 10 hrs of sleep, you can certainly still get up early - IF you don't stay up late.

        Kids didn't used to stay up til midnight. Consequently, they had an easier time getting up earlier.

        If you consistently deprive yourself of sleep, of course you're going to be lethargic, and annoyed at anything, and miserable. And our teenagers do that today, as do many adults.

        •  Some of the answer may be segmented sleep...? (4+ / 0-)


          by raincrow on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 01:20:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Think about the math for a second... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Bernie68, kyril, worldlotus

          If a teenager needs 10 hours of sleep, and has to get up at 6 (as I did in HS), that means he needs to be in bed by 8 every night.  That just isn't realistic, especially considering homework and other demands.  

          If the kid gets home from school by 2:30, that's only 5.5 hours from bedtime.  Most high school kids I know have 2-3 hours on homework a night, and quite a few have extracurricular responsibilities as well.  If we estimate three hours for homework and other activities, that's 2.5 hours of free time left.  If we assume that the kid eats dinner, that's another half hour or so, and we're down to two hours.  We're talking about kids as young as 14 with potentially less than two hours of free time and leisure a seems wrong say that somehow it's their fault for not getting 10 hours a night.  

          My point is just that the world we live in now isn't the same as an agricultural society where people were done for the day once the sun went down.  Kids today seem to have a lot more competition for their time.  

        •  they probably didn't function very well at all (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          if teenagers are on a different circadian rhythm than adults, how did they ever function when we were a more agricultural society?
          But people back then were messed up by a lot more than just lack of sleep: heavy physical labor takes a toll all by itself, complicated by chronic malnutrition, lots more disease, fetal alcohol syndrome, heavy parasite load, a society even more rigid and sadistic than our own, etc.

          To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

          by Visceral on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 09:31:37 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  back in the day of "farm kids", there wasn't (0+ / 0-)

          rural electrification until the 40's in lots of places... when there's no artificial light after dark, you go to sleep at dark and wake up when the light comes back!

          I did see some interesting info a few weeks ago, that in the Middle Ages, some folks, in the winter when the dark hours were so much longer, practiced/experienced a pattern of sleeping for 6 hrs, waking up and moving around for 4 hours, then going back to sleep for another 6 hrs! (leaving 8 hrs for daylight activities).

          Myself, I have a heck of a time driving long distances during the winter... have terrible trouble keeping myself awake more than about an hour and a half after dark! in summer it's no problem, because dark is 9.30; but in winter, dark is 4.30!

          "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

          by chimene on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 01:50:22 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  It's a sad fact that there's often one time money (6+ / 0-)

      but not money for 'anything that eats' - ie, ongoing costs for people, which are the most expensive thing in a school.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 11:07:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  i am a retired rn (38+ / 0-)

    i also hold two degrees in another field.  at this point, i am subbing in local school districts.  i don't so it much, as it is very challenging work.  VERY CHALLENGING.

    hallucinating bugs is a symptom of psychosis.  not to say that it's definitive and that the student was psychotic - he may have been on a hallucinogenic drug at the time - but it needs to be addressed.  teachers are the people who see this stuff every day.  they probably should be protected by law when reporting same.  you are a mandated reporter for child abuse....shouldn't the same apply for symptoms of major illness?

    i have a great deal of sympathy for classroom teachers, who are hobbled  to such a degree by parental reactions that they can sometimes barely perform their duties.

  •  please change your headline (0+ / 0-)

    diary does not address mental illness
    just social mores

    "I'm sculpting now. Landscapes mostly." ~ Yogi Bear

    by eXtina on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 08:45:53 AM PST

    •  It addresses the worry or fear (4+ / 0-)

      of how teachers should or could respond to mental illness, and what are some things that contrain those responses.    

      A discussion of social mores ABOUT mental illness, is sufficiently close for headline purposes to a discussion about mental illness.

      "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

      by lgmcp on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 10:35:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  there's no discussion of mental illness (0+ / 0-)

        at all, just some vague references to calling someone something and the reaction to it, about general name-calling (not about mental illness specifically)  and taking offense. this has nothing to do with mental illness and is not helpful, and 'mentioning' it casually to another person, a relative, is not 'handling' the situation. this is an entirely personal account about the author, has nothing to do with dealing with mental illness in the school

        "I'm sculpting now. Landscapes mostly." ~ Yogi Bear

        by eXtina on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 10:43:30 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Let me just clarify (12+ / 0-)

          That my intention was to show how mental illness, or potential mental illness, can get missed or ignored during formative years because teachers, as a representative of adults in kids' lives outside of their own family, can't address the warning signs honestly with parents or bring them to their attention because parents (a) don't want to hear it, and (b) respond primarily by threatening the teacher's career.

          I'm sorry that the diary doesn't meet your personal standards for what the title implies it should be about. As for why you're so angry about it, that's for you to deal with.

          •  Your intent is clear and thank you. n/t (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            northsylvania, ladybug53

            Others have simply gotten old. I prefer to think I've been tempered by time.

            by Just Bob on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 01:34:43 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  missed/ignored/we don't have the funds .... (0+ / 0-)

            My son was only 3 years old when they noticed he had significant problems. In Head Start.... he was a safety risk to himself and others. He has Pervasive Developmental Delay ... he had open heart surgery at 5 months old - but even with a BSN education - I could not see the full issues with my son ... it took many experts to see things I could not even begin to have seen ... I was just too close and struggling to deal with the obvious rather than to keep seeking out all that was wrong with him.

            When living in GA I will never forget when I had requested a special needs bus for my son (who at the time was 5 years old and in Kindergarten and a teacher told me that what was wrong with my son was that he needed to learn the rules of the bus and follow them.

            As a parent - I felt helpless while I watched my son - trying to get him the help he desperately needed - but being ignored due to lack of funding. He was already on an IEP - they knew he was having problems and as a Kindergarten student he was sent all over the school to his special needs teachers rather than the teachers coming to him - he has anxiety issues and he was running away from the school - out the building at age 5,   and he would run away at home also - I was a mess. When I moved from GA to FL  I couldn't talk to a counselor without bursting into tears. Who was to blame? I was stuck in a system that either by ignorance or lack of funds was pushing my child, me and my family beyond what we could take.

            and here again - I don't really care so much

            WHO'S FAULT IS IT??

            as much as I would love to say -

            WHAT'S THE SOLUTION??

            I hear your message in your diary and I respect your genuine concerns. Even if the child is noted to have a problem - they do not always get what they need because of budgets. Teachers get fried out - and the teachers are getting the pay cuts, bigger classes and more and more STRESS.

            If people want to get American jobs - I suggest starting with Education and investing in our future. Allow for smaller classes and more freedom to be creative in teaching and not just teaching to the test but helping to mold minds to enjoy learning and find hope in the future.

            Another American job would be working with youths as counselors, mentors, tutors, etc. If we do not invest in our future we wont have one.

  •  People who have never taught (24+ / 0-)

    don't understand the intense emotionality of teaching. It is intimate. It is highly charged. You feel vulnerable. Depending on your personality type you may become overly protective of the children you teach. Or you may become hypervigilant. Or careless with your words and actions. There are few jobs where you have an audience of 35 immature, unformed people. And it is interactive.. You can turn their world upside down and they can do the same to you. And some people want to arm teachers!! I will never forget my German teacher in 11th grade who bellowed at us "Would you please all go very quietly to hell!!" Glad she wasn't armed.

  •  I think we handle things better now ... (7+ / 0-)

    This happened 30 years ago...

    In junior high there was a student in my math period class that every kid there knew was very introverted and disturbed. and frankly, a little scary.  

    It was only the second day of class so the teacher knew nothing about the students problem. The student was doodling on the page in front of him and teacher noticed, got irritated and grabbed the page from him and held it up in front of the class to humiliate him. Virtually every kid in the class cringed knowing this was the LAST  thing to do.

    We all survived.

    I'd like to think that today the teacher might have been forewarned. It seems we handle the problem kid better these days but probems still exist.

    "I can't believe that the noblest instict of man - his compassion for another - can be completley dead here". Col. Dax - Paths of Glory.

    by renewables on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 09:18:46 AM PST

  •  I would not have used Open School Night (7+ / 0-)

    to address this issue.

    If I had a student who behaved the way you described, I would have reported it to Guidance first, then to the School Psychologist and the Social Worker, letting the principal know about all of these steps. I would have demanded an immediate Parent/Teacher/Guidance conference.

    I would be concerned about the parents being able to do anything on their own, and honestly, I would never stun a parent by telling them of their child's bizarre behavior at an Open School Night. There are hundreds of parents around, the parents are there to get general information. That kind of concern should have come in a private Parent/Guidance/Teacher conference.

    As a parent, I probably would have been very taken aback with the approach you used. I am sorry, I don't mean to be critical of you, but I really think that was a mistake, and missed the chance to get that student meaningful help. Sensitivity is always called for when dealing with a person's child, especially if calling the kid out for bizarre, mentally ill behavior.

    My dog is a member of Dogs Against Romney: He rides inside.

    by adigal on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 09:38:36 AM PST

  •  I think this situation bothers me the most (4+ / 0-)

    clearly there is something wrong, but in a blind attempt to protect the real mental health issue is painted over and ignored and the messenger (callous or not) is vilified.  This needs to change.

  •  Teacher overload (9+ / 0-)

    When I studied for my teaching credential in CA I was told that it was my responsibility to know which drug the Mother had taken that caused which symptoms in the child.  For example a crack baby could not tolerate loud noises.  I was to make sure that child stayed away from loud activities on the playground.  This was in the 1990's when the early grades had 30 plus children and volunteer aides.  There seemed to be no administrative support in the school where I volunteered.  It was too much for me.  How can anyone survive in the conditions you experienced?  The Charter School movement seems to me an end run around these unrealistic demands of the teacher by cherry picking students and especially not accepting "special needs" students.

  •  There is no piecemeal way to deal with a sick (14+ / 0-)

    society.  The guns, the neglect, the greed, the impotence of the people under a plutocracy, they are all one big ugly system.

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 09:51:57 AM PST

  •  I can't possibly judge the story you tell without (3+ / 0-)

    knowing the word that you said.  Retarded - crazy - disturbed - what was it?  C'mon.

    You know, I work as an attorney. And confidentiality forbids me from rebutting your story, but I know of a lot of times when people untrained in spotting mental illness, have labeled kids or seen warning signs that weren't there.  I've seen kids expelled from classes because of poorly developed social skills and rumors.  So it cuts both ways.  

    And besides, do we even know anything about Adam? I've seen no evidence of an active mental illness diagnosis. I've heard him described as withdrawn, but I heard someone else say he was just an introvert.  Adam was out of the school system for approximately 2 years.  I'm not sure what could have been done to discover Adam before this moment happened.  

    •  Who said you should judge? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jan4insight, Throw The Bums Out

      And why would you think to do it in response to this diary?

      "[L]et us judge not that we be not judged." Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865

      by ByTor on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 10:59:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  How are we suppose to know if the person's (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pollyusa, AllisonInSeattle

        reaction was justified if we don't know what she said?  I'm sorry I don't take everything I read on the internet, even on this site, at face value. We don't have any context.  

        "Hey sister, your younger brother is acting fucking crazy!"  "Hey sister, your little brother is a retard!"  "God, is your brother dumb or something?"

        What if she said that about a student?  How is the sister suppose to take that?  You have a teacher gossiping with the boy's sister in an inappropriate setting (not trying to get the boy help) and she is pissed that someone got upset?  

        I'm sorry, I tend to be more skeptical.  

        •  Hmm... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Throw The Bums Out
          I can't possibly judge the story you tell...
          Seems to me you've done nothing but judge it. You've mischaracterized events so badly, and made so many unwarranted assumptions in a short space, that it's clear you're interested only in judgment, not understanding. There is therefore no point in giving you any more information, since you've already misread what I have given you so severely that your "judgment" is corrupted no matter what more I tell you.

          I made it very clear how I phrased the statement ("There's simply no reason for this behavior. It's inexplicable, it's bizarre, it's [X]."). I also made it clear that I was probably wrong to use the word [X] and did not mean to excuse it here, but also that I used it to describe the behavior, not the student, as the aforementioned context which I provided, and which you conveniently ignored so you could indulge in this self-righteous rant, showed. The issue is not that the sister and/or the mother were "upset" by it; the issue is that they were solely concerned with what I said (which, again, I did not actually say) and not at all with how their brother/son could be helped, thus eliminating any possibility of anyone doing the latter.

          Why should it matter what [X] is? What you're saying is that it is appropriate and "justified" to focus one's efforts on crucifying the teacher and thus completely ignore the student's problem, if what the teacher said (or, more to the point, what the parent thinks the teacher said) was "bad" enough; that in at least some circumstances it is more important to punish a teacher for his/her poor choice of words, a momentary, inadvertent breach of etiquette, than to understand and address what might be a very serious, long-term problem for a student that is affecting the rest of the class and will not go away on its own.

          In effect you've proven my point; we're more interested in hanging teachers than in helping kids.

  •  As a parent of a disabled student (0+ / 0-)

    you should be grateful it wasn't MY child you were candidly discussing during an open night.  Because I wouldn't have stopped fighting you till you were gone.

    What word did you use? "Retarded", "Oddtistics", what was it because obviously you're too ashamed to say it here.

    Speaking about another student's behavior and describing it to another is very low class.

    and not productive of at all.  You could have gone to the parents and the rest of the IEP team if you really wanted to help.  Or are you one of those teachers who are too busy to attend IEP meetings?

    Seems like you were just gossiping.

    My son's behaviors are due to his disability.  What's your excuse?

    "Love One Another" ~ George Harrison

    by Damnit Janet on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 10:18:22 AM PST

  •  A teacher gave me a (13+ / 0-)

    heads-up about my child's classroom behavior;  clowning, etc.

    I immediately asked for help of a professional.  The solution was that he was not the only boy who was not in the golden group.  The advice which my son embraced was to ask some other boys who were in the geeky group to come over and use our swimming pool.

    Good friendships began.  Even a weird but funny short movie.

    Son has a good job and a good family.  And he votes democratic!

    United Citizens beat Citizens United

    by ThirtyFiveUp on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 10:36:54 AM PST

  •  Defensive parents and socially acceptable illness (7+ / 0-)

    There was a thread on the shooter's supposed Asperger's.  I'm wondering if that wasn't just a socially acceptable diagnosis.  Physicians don't want to diagnose or don't know enough about mental illness or rare brain injuries or defects.  Parents don't want to know.  If you get a diagnosis that allows you to delude yourself, you may not look further.  My child has "special needs".  My child has the new flavor of the month developmental disorder.  

    My child has a severe and persistent disabling mental illness?  Can't be.  Don't want to know.

  •  It is truely THAT simple... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow, gffish

    Murica hates teachers.

  •  My sister in law (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    renewables, raincrow, LucyandByron, Noor B

    quit teaching after one mentally ill child too many.  My sister teaches special ed students and is mildly so herself- ADHD- and had a horrible time full of idiotic dramas getting through school herself dealing with teachers who naively imposed excessive correction on her.

    I've come to the conclusion that teachers have to have much more training recognizing symptoms of all the relatively common psychiatric and neurological disorders.  And a level of internal reporting and keeping of centralized records of these to an intelligent and experienced set of people- counselors, or assistant principals, or such- to keep an eye on these.  A lot of teachers will overdiagnose or overreport or misreport, others will be oblivious.  But there will be kids consistently flagged by many or most or all of their teachers and others flagged by their peers.  The school probably ought to have no duty to do anything particular that's new except that the internal record be aggregated and available to all teaching staff under strict confidentiality.  And make what records there are available to medical, maybe justice system, professionals upon serious request.

    There is a problem with parents and denial.  Most mental illness is genetic in origins, so in most cases an affected child will have a parent who is carrier or at least mildly affected.  Some parents will be exceedingly realistic and accepting, others denialist.  Hopefully the culture will change and denialism be less of a resort parents feel forced into.

    The day is coming. maybe a decade or two down the line, when there will be DNA based identification and accurate diagnostics of neurological and psychiatric disorders.  After a period of increased testing children will largely be DNA tested not long after birth, and/or parents will already be aware of what is in their DNA and check for it.  And a lot of the often socially tragic sorting out of children that occurs now throughout primary ed will happen in preschool.  

    But until that time comes, and the integrated and efficient high tech health care system that requires is formed, the muddle will be awful.  

  •  I would like every school to have mental health (7+ / 0-)

    services, on site. There's no shortage of issues to deal with, from an individual who is not displaying neurotypical behavior to bullying to relational dynamics between the kids in the class.

    So much of what we dismiss as "kids will be kids" could and should be addressed by an adult who has that as their sole responsibility - helping kids see relationships from other points of view, and supporting each other in community.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 11:04:57 AM PST

  •  One-in-Sixty (19+ / 0-)

    I'm a retired community college instructor (digital media: video audio, graphics, Web stuff) and was chairman of my media production program. During my first year of cc teaching  in 1989 (Seattle) I had a student who, at first, seemed nice enough. He played classical guitar and participated in class.

    As the semester progressed, however, he became more hostile in class to both me and to other students. In a different class, not mine, he happened so open his gym bag and said to another student, "Look what I've got." It was two handguns. The other student immediately reported it to me and I immediately reported it to campus security and the administration. Confronted by campus security he showed a legal carry permit but also said he had stopped taking his lithium meds. What??

    This was ten years before Columbine. The administration refused to do anything about for fear of a lawsuit even though his behavior got worse by the day to the point he was disruptive in class, yelling and accusing other students of cheating and coming into my office an screaming obscenities at me. Still the college did nothing. Campus security responded by requiring him to check in his guns when he came onto campus and pick them up when he left. Oh, and "Call us if you need us." Cold comfort. Only when he yelled obscenities at my secretary, two full years after it was discovered he had guns, was he expelled. I kept one eye over my shoulder for several years thereafter. He wasn't allowed to drive (though he was allowed to have guns...go figure) so if he did take me out it would be a long bus trip, with two transfers, to get back home to West Seattle. Again, cold comfort.

    Once he was gone I requested that the college have an in-service on how to deal with disruptive students (with or without guns). The presenter, a trained behaviorial psychologist, said that about one-in-sixty students has moderate to severe psychological issues that and lead to classroom disruption or violence.

    One in sixty. That meant that there were two students in 75 or so students I say each day who were capable of, at least, disruption. Perhaps worse.

    I retired in 2006 and while I miss my students and my teaching, I don't miss the environment. In my suite of offices, classrooms and labs there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I'm glad Im gone.

  •  Diaries like this need to be treated better (15+ / 0-)

    Mental illness is very frightening and an issue a lot of people would rather avoid.

    Progressives may be allergic to dealing with this because, as people who have an intellectual bent, and who are concerned about things in the world, we are all vulnerable to being thought of as "crazy."

    This is an ancient, atavistic response and quite natural.

    But we all need to get over it  There is a lot of science on this subject and lots of clinical practice.

    I happen to have some familiarity because the tragedgy struck my family and I had to become acquainted with the ins and outs of serious chronic mental illness and the MHMR system for many years.

    Most people, thankfully, have not.  People who don't have to deal with it don't.  It isn't an area that people decide to read up on as a hobby.  There is nothing pleasant about the situation.

    This nation has shut its eyes and closed its ears to all the human suffering involved.

    It is time we put our focus on this and began an effort to look at what serious reform would really mean.  Maybe we don't deal with stuff until it becomes a crisis.  

    It is now a crisis.  

    hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

    by Stuart Heady on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 11:21:43 AM PST

    •  Disagree that progressives are "allergic" (7+ / 0-)

      The left-leaning people of my acquaintance (and yes, I have only anecdotal data) are EXTREMELY willing to pay more taxes to better treat mental illnesses, shelter those who can't take care of themselves, etc., etc.

      But left-leaning people are exactly as ignorant as right-leaning people when it comes to knowledge of human development, psychology, and behavior. In my experience, most people who have more than superficial knowledge about mental health have learned what they know because they or someone close to them is mentally ill, or because their profession demands such knowledge.


      by raincrow on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 01:36:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is my impression as well (0+ / 0-)

      Progressives are very sensitive to possible "stigmatization" of "marginalized" classes, which makes them less likely to support any kinds of blanket treatment of the mentally ill or initiatives that would single them out for special or different treatment. Also, they will instinctively recoil against the idea that teachers need to be free of disruption in their classrooms because they feel that the marginalized will pay an unfair price for this need.

  •  Public doesn't know (5+ / 0-)

    There are many disturbed children in our schools. They are born from parents of alcoholics or drug addicts.  They are traumatize by sexual and/or physical abuse and they suffer from depression or PTSD. More children are diagnosed with autism bipolar disorder OCD and ADHD, and they are often on powerful medications young brain probably shouldn't be on. As economic inequality widens parents are working longer hours and families are under stress. As educators, we try to identify students that are at risk, but they need professional help beyond what we can give. If our country continues to ignore the cry from those who suffer, we will pay for it in both small and large tragedies.

    •  There are ~51M people, age 9 and older, (4+ / 0-)

      in the U.S. with diagnosable mental illness, according to numbers from SAMSHA and NAMI, 15M of them significantly impaired by their illness.

      A conservative estimate of the economic losses due to mental illness: $300 B /year. I wouldn't be surprised if it was more like twice that much.

      We've come a very long way in the past few decades, but our attitudes toward and treatment of mental illness are still too primitive.


      by raincrow on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 01:40:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  "they are often on powerful medications young (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Maple Jenny, rosarugosa, susanala, gmats

      brains probably shouldn't be on."

      I'm SO sick of this attitude.  Unless you're a physician or a mental health professional, I'm not interested in your impressions of what kinds of medications are appropriate for what patients.  It's exactly this kind of anti-scientific attitude that stigmatizes the use of psychiatric drugs and leads people to wait far too long for potentially lifesaving mental health treatment.  

      •  Why? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The United States accounts for approximately 90 per cent of the manufacturing and consumption of Ritalin. As a teacher, I KNOW there are children abusing these drugs.  


        U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a public warning in October 2004 about an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior (suicidality) in children and adolescents treated with SSRI antidepressant medications. In 2006, an advisory committee to the FDA recommended that the agency extend the warning to include young adults up to age 25.

        National Institute of Mental Health

  •  My own experience in Chicago (11+ / 0-)

    Although I was certified in other subjects, there were some years when I had a Letter of Approval in behavioral and learning disabilities, based on taking a sequence of courses. Sometimes I taught special small classes, at the elementary level, and later, when I was a high school teacher, I taught full sized special classes in biology and ecology.  

    All the schools were extremely disorderly to the point of being dangerous, and there were so many hostile and misbehaving students in everybody's classes, special or not, and roaming the halls, that it was hard to find kids who weren't troubled.  Some kids with IEP's probably were helped by the special attention, and others were essentially just pushed out of the way because nobody knew what to do with them.  A lot of my special students barely came to school and didn't do any of the work because their absences kept them perpetually lost, so it was hard to tell if they actually had a disability.

    I am all for improving mental health care and identifying those who need it, while they are still in school and cannot easily walk away from what parents and schools advise.  But looking at the reality, I don't see how it can happen without a lot of work and funding.  First of all, in many schools it is a given that the teacher is to blame, for not handling it right, when a student acts in some unacceptable or bizarre way. Then, if a teacher does have a receptive and caring administration and family supporting the idea of getting help, in many cases there is no help available.  Finally, our treatment of mental health overall does not seem to be at a very advanced or effective stage, and drugs seem to be a big part of it; treatment is not cheap and comes with side effects, including the possibility of a kid being stuck with a label that will hurt his future, although the other kids have probably already given him a pretty bad label anyway.  

    What I am thinking is that, although individual teachers often are able to help individual students, we are very far from a time when we can help the majority of disturbed kids enough to prevent some tragedies. But that doesn't mean we can't make a start at doing better and at least work on finding solutions.

    •  fractured system (9+ / 0-)

      I think schools are unfairly asked to be a panacea for all manner of social ills that schools have little ability, power or funding to solve. A teacher’s role is a little greater than simply being an instructor but it’s not fair, or effective, to ask them to be social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors as well.

      Schools get scapegoated with social pathologies because society does little to address them anywhere else and school is where the problems manifest themselves where everyone can see them. But teachers aren’t the answer to mental health problems in children. An effective public health system that screens for and treats behavioral health is. The latter basically doesn’t exist, so problems that schools and teachers don’t have the tools to solve appear in classrooms anyway, where they are expected to just deal with it.

      Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx

      by Joe Bob on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 12:18:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Special ed and at risk classes (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AllisonInSeattle, Noor B, worldlotus

      We have chosen to separate the problem children from their peers so they don't disrupt the learning experience for the rest of the students. We can tell ourselves that we are following the utilitarian principle of the most good for the most people...and that's true.

      The problem now is the classrooms where every child is disruptive. Some of those children will be bullies and some will be their victims. We have treated them all as if they are disposable. We don't allocate the resources necessary to produce the best outcomes for every child.

      Is money the only obstacle or are our own prejudices even more of a problem?

      Others have simply gotten old. I prefer to think I've been tempered by time.

      by Just Bob on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 02:16:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I also think schools have to deal with bullying (8+ / 0-)

    Kids in their teens are finding themselves - who they are, where they fit in, how to dress, what they like, etc. And especially if you're new to the school (whether a freshman or moved from someplace else) you feel like a little fish in  a big pond. Some kids just aren't gregarious or outgoing. Others take it to the extreme.
    But for too long schools have turned a blind eye towards the outright bullies as well as the more benign ones. The outright ones beat kids up, steal their money, make fun of kids with cruel language and taunts. The benign are the clicks, the cool kids, the jocks and cheerleaders. They too, even though many are smart and might be school heroes to some, also engage in a form of bullying by treating those not in the cool group with insults, or by talking about a person when they're near and then looking and laughing.
    We all know these actions take all forms and degrees. But schools need to pay attention to what goes on in the hallways between classes, in the lunchroom, etc.
    We've had too many kids who felt ostracized and then either gone off or committed suicide.
    Young minds are impressionable. And in today's society, where we are both instantly connected (social media) as well as separated, kids can more easily fall through the cracks.

    Isn’t it ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray. ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring ~

    by MA Liberal on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 11:54:26 AM PST

  •  I agree with much of this diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow, ladybug53, worldlotus

    I've never been employed as a classroom teacher, but I've sure worked in and around schools enough. I know about being hanged for saying the wrong thing--or for saying the right thing that gets heard wrong. I know about politics.

    But this remark raises my hackles a bit:

    It's a broad stroke, I know, and I was fortunate in my last school that, at least most of the time, I could be honest with kids and parents about the former's ability and performance, and found that more often than not they appreciated it.
    Maybe it's your use of the word "ability." I can imagine a scenario where some obnoxious, narcissistic helicopter parent expects their child to be super-human, and doesn't want to hear about their offspring's human limitations, from anyone. On the other hand, this trendy burst of "educational reform" in the last decade, for ways its misguided, HAS at least re-inserted "universal student potential" into the discourse about educational reform. Any student of at least normal intelligence, no matter what their cultural background, should be able to master any academic subject, at all. I believe that. When kids are failing in school, we have to look to their surroundings--and this  includes their teachers.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 12:05:56 PM PST

    •  Not really sure what you're getting at. (8+ / 0-)

      All I meant by the quoted remark was that I didn't have to pretend that a kid was an "A" student if (s)he wasn't.

      I once had a student, an 11th grader, not Special Ed/IEP, who could not compose a coherent English sentence. What passed for "sentences" in her reader-response notebook and in formal compositions were naught but disjointed strings of words, barely approximating meaning. She simply did not have the capacity to assemble words into a clear, grammatically-correct sentence.

      Now, when I told the parent (or grandparent, not sure which) about that, she began to cry. Not because she was upset by me, but because no one had ever told her that the girl's literacy skills were so limited, and it was now probably too late to bring those skills up to par with the state Regents Exam which was only a few months away. It occurred to me to ask myself the question, How does a child get to 11th grade without being able to compose a sentence in English? The answer is obvious: Because no one ever told her, and no one ever told her parents, the truth about her abilities.

      Reading and writing are skills; like any other, some people are better at them than others. Telling a student or parent that the student's work is exceptionally good when it isn't, doesn't ultimately help anyone. No learning can occur if you think you're already an expert.

      •  True enough. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ladybug53, rosarugosa

        All except this:

        Because no one ever told her, and no one ever told her parents, the truth about her abilities.
        "Abilities"? Please substitute the phrase, "skill attainment to date." Her level of accomplishment with writing English sentences, was really what was at issue. Had this student received what she needed from her schooling? No, obviously not. Her problems were deep, and preceded her enrollment in your class. How could you be blamed? The fact remains, if she'd had what she needed from the get-go, she'd have grade-level skills.

        I'm making a distinction you may well intend, but don't make clearly. The distinction is between this student's "skills" (which are acquired by training) and her "intelligence" (which is innate). I believe schools, usually, are rightly concerned only with the former.

        It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

        by karmsy on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 12:52:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I appreciate what you're saying but I think you're (6+ / 0-)

          splitting hairs here, looking for something to get upset about. Specifically you're splitting the word "ability" into the words "skills" and "intelligence," which are not synonyms, but "ability" can be a synonym for either. "Skill attainment to date" strikes me as a euphemism, like "deferred success."

          I don't really see a negative connotation in the word "ability" and its variants, in this context. Whether a student's inability to do [X] is the result of a lack of training or ineffective training, or an "inherent" lack of "intelligence," is irrelevant to the basic fact that the student, in the here and now, cannot do [X], or cannot do [X] well enough to pass a state exam.

          I appreciate the importance of framing and of using words with precision. I was always very careful to do that in order to avoid misperceptions. Just one example: Most students understand the structure of an essay to be "Introduction-Body-Conclusion." But I would not let them refer to the middle part as the "Body;" I insisted that it be called "Discussion" instead. Why? Because that's what an essay does. If you change the nouns to verb form, you have Introduce-Discuss-Conclude. "Body" has no verb form; it does not denote what the writer is doing in that part of the essay. "Discussion" does.

          In this case, though, I think you're looking for a negative connotation in the word "ability" that simply isn't there. I understand that there's a difference between that which a person is inherently capable of doing and that which a person is presently able to do, but "ability" can mean the latter without implying the former.

          •  I think you basically get me: (0+ / 0-)
            I understand that there's a difference between that which a person is inherently capable of doing and that which a person is presently able to do, but "ability" can mean the latter without implying the former.
            (I know I'm getting off the topic of your diary here, although my point is tangentially related.)

            You believe I am "making too much" of that distinction between "accomplishment" and "intelligence." I'd respectfully disagree. You and I live in a culture where a lot of money is spent promoting the meme that "some of us have it, and some of us don't." Poor people are poor, well, because they're dumber. In the 1990s, didn't some clown come out with a fat best-seller all about how some races were just naturally smarter than others?

            There is an element in our culture, a powerful one, devoted to keeping that thinking alive. Public schools, at their best, flout it.

            It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

            by karmsy on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 01:27:31 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  I Had a Student Who Brought a Gun to School (5+ / 0-)

    It was maybe a week after Colombine, and because he quickly let his classmates go and turned the gun over to a brave girl who had also been a student of mine, it made the news for only a minute. It may be it wasn't loaded. I can't remember. I do know it was a handgun he had gotten from his dad.

    This boy had sat in my 9th grade English class the year before physically distancing himself from the rest of us. He would literally move his desk backwards or against the window, depending on where he was in the row. He always had his hood on, and he drew grim and violent pictures in his notebook with sharpie. At the same time, he was not threatening to others-just clearly very troubled. I honestly thought he was going to kill himself. On multiple occasions, various staff members begged his father to get him help. Like many parents, he was in total denial, and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know what happened to him, but I know that in the wake of this episode he did finally get court ordered help.

    We had another student who stood up the first day of class and said, "I hate you all." Many people were genuinely frightened of him. We ultimately got him into a class for kids with behavior disorders, but not without creating a mountainous pile of evidence in support of this move. As far as I know, he never acted out.

    I believe we must have real gun control. We also need real mental health care reform. One of the first things I'd do is pass laws with mandatory jail time for people who let children or those with a history of mental illness near  guns.

    We also somehow have to give schools the ability to share information about troubled kids with law enforcement. I am willing to bet that we will find out there was a deep pathology within this family way beyond a kid who was a , "Nerd," or, "Loner." I realize this raises all kinds of issues about privacy and big brother, but I am soooo tired of these stories, and the whole predictable narrative where we learn about these long-troubled ticking time bombs who sat in our midst.

    •  We do have to give schools intervention ability (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Noor B

      Teachers are in a position to see a lot of kids, over the course of time.  Thus, they see children that need help quite clearly.  

      Parents may not like hearing that mental illness is in the picture, but there have to be ways that help can be given children who need it.  Mandated intervention if necessary.  

      I think, with the alienation of more children who learn to zap mass kill numbers on video games, the prospect is that we are going in the direction of creating more mayhem.  We can't continue to ignore this.  

      hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

      by Stuart Heady on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 01:28:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  In my school system teachers are very (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AllisonInSeattle, Noor B, RWood

        pointedly told not to suggest a need for counseling, a need for anything because then the school system would be liable for paying for it. We can ask a parent, "Have you maybe considered possibly a counselor?" We sure can't say, "I think he needs a counselor."

        •  I think that is also because teachers cannot (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          diagnose anything. An experienced teacher might notice patterns, but they cannot diagnose illnesses or conditions. You are not licensed to do that. You could be wrong. What if you say the person has ADHD, when the person really needs glasses or has schizophrenia? I think that is what you could be liable for.

          I think the only thing you can do is if the parent is worried or bringing things up and is asking for a diagnosis you can suggest they bring their child to the doctor.

          •  Common sense (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            rosarugosa, worldlotus

            The bigger value is getting help to those people who need it.  One teacher or anyone else who spots a problem should be taken for what it is, a useful indication of something.  

            Further definition should be up to professional specialists and testing, and treatment.  

            Psych treatments are never about one hour of encounter.  It takes years, if in fact it is not already too late.  

            hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

            by Stuart Heady on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 07:22:26 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Once a friend of mine tried to tell a student's (0+ / 0-)

              mother he thought her child needed psychological help and she responded, " I think YOU need to see a psychiatrist."

              •  Perhaps what that suggests is a mandate (0+ / 0-)

                I can see parents and teachers getting into a contest of wills over something like this.  But some progress has to be made, otherwise we are going to lose the ability to call ourselves a civilized society.  

                Perhaps this is an indication of something Congress needs to address.  Or maybe the Department of Education.  

                At any rate, I think the role teachers play in observing students every day should get more respect.  

                hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

                by Stuart Heady on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 09:39:23 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I think it was a case of teachers who (0+ / 0-)

                  didn't realize that some parents don't want to know, and I can't blame them. Nobody wants to hear that.

                •  choose your words carefully (0+ / 0-)

                  sometimes the only thing you need to say is simply report the behaviors observed. You can not say someone NEEDS anything ... but you can say you observed this and it disrupted the class - or Johnny spends approximately 75% of his time in class sleeping - then say what interventions you have done to try to help this problem.

                  If the parent's do not care to hear it - then what?? Invite them to come and observe the class - they don't have time - so who else do you report it to? Government agencies? so we have the government raising kids more than the parents ....

                  The diarist makes valid points. what is a good solution to the problem?

  •  A former student of mine (11+ / 0-)

    broke into a house (of another former student) and stabbed the father and 10-yr old daughter to death and stabbed the mother almost to death. I have been haunted to this day by the thought that I would NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS have thought this student could do something violent, and he was in my class only a year before he committed the crime. That was scary as hell for me -- to realize that perhaps many people are capable of these violent acts and there might not be any way to predict them.

  •  Mom Retired Early for Same Reasons (8+ / 0-)

    There has always been some troubled kids that could not function in a traditional classroom setting. When my Mother first started teaching Elementary School there were special classes for emotional disturbed children. She was a teacher in one of them for several years and found it very rewarding. Because she only had five students to deal and a full time aide she was able to give them the attention they needed. Back in the 80's under Reagan, funding for her program was discontinued and "mainstreaming" was the word of the day.

    She returned to the regular classroom and now she was expected to teach 25 fully functioning students along side another 5-7 special needs children. It was impossible. She couldn't conduct class for the benefit of most of the children because of a handful of kids who were incapable of sitting quietly in a classroom. They would scream, get up and throw things, attack other children and once a child even throw a chair threw the window.

    Sending the children to the office was frowned upon on by the Principle and so most of her time was spent trying to keep a few kids from hurting themselves or their fellow classmates. Getting the children the help they needed was nearly impossible because the parent had to agree that there was something wrong with their kid, something that few parents seemed willing to accept. The only alternative for the schools was to get a Court Order and given the time and expense that only happened in the handful of cases where there was a real fear that a child would seriously hurt or kill another student.

    After a few years, my Mother couldn't take the feeling of failing to educate any of students and took an early retirement.

  •  Children are the prisoners of their parents (6+ / 0-)

    and so long as that remains true, there will be no "real mental health reform" for children.

    The main reason for this excitement about "mental illness" in school kids is that Americans would like to find a few easy scapegoats to other and to blame for the situation we have created themselves. If we have "mental health" screening in schools, it will turn up all sorts of troubled and marginalized kids whose problems are deeply entwined with their dysfunctional families. Do you think Americans will support massive intervention in our countless dysfunctional families?

    Of course not. What they will support is finding easy scapegoat kids and punishing them for the crimes they will someday commit.

    The only "quick fix" is to reduce the availability of guns. Making mental health services available and affordable will also help. But the problems at the core of American family structure -- the fact that it really does "take a whole village" to raise a human child, and capitalism has eliminated the villages -- those problems were swept under the carpet when "feminism" became a bad word.

    •  You make several really good points here. nt (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      atana, lurkyloo

      "It's not like lightning or earthquakes. We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God that's something we can change." John Steinbeck

      by Snarky McAngus on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 03:54:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I have no desire to punish anyone. And I agree, (0+ / 0-)

      that our society is addicted to quick fixes and has forgotten how to use long term critical thinking.

      I would like to see marginalized kids and adults get the care they need.

      Many mental health issues go away by the age of 24. Many before that age. But without proper care, those conditions could linger or worsen in some cases. Or worse simply go undetected or unreported.

      I am not talking about kids wearing scarlet letters here. But maybe giving them a professional they can trust, a stable adult they can count on for good advice, because we know many kids don't have that in their parents.

      Then maybe they can limp through what should have been their childhood.

  •  Look, onset of symptoms throw people (4+ / 0-)

    Parents see the symptoms of the onset of serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and they go right into denial.  The discussion is supposed to be about the bright future, the university they will attend, the prospect of a wedding in the near future.  

    Mental illness doesn't strike in families that are in poverty or who have a history of drug abuse.  They strike affluent and middle class and working families because the DNA involved is distributed throughout the population.  Mental illness is not someone's fault.  

    There is an ancient tendency to think it is the fault of the parents or someone.   We still have a huge amount of superstition or at least a horror of the whole subject.  

    Progressives should be interested in the fact that there is a whole lot of intelligent practical knowledge and science from a century of psychiatric practice and research.  Yet, this is not being used.

    Low hanging fruit should be to take this knowledge and apply it, through adequate funding and through various forms of public education.  

    Why have we not done this already?  We ourselves, if we really contemplate this, are afraid of mental illness.  Being around people who are psychotic or severely affected is very negative and produces a sense of threat.  We sense that somehow this radically unstable energy can destabilize us.
    It isn't catching.  It is just frustrating and fatiguing.  

    We need to face up to our own reluctance to face the issue of mental illness and face it.  

    We need to build up a progressive fervor about the ways that we could improve things.  

    hope that the idiots who have no constructive and creative solutions but only look to tear down will not win the day.

    by Stuart Heady on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 01:11:14 PM PST

  •  Great diary and great comments. Thank you. n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Others have simply gotten old. I prefer to think I've been tempered by time.

    by Just Bob on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 02:21:14 PM PST

  •  Hard to judge this without knowing what X is. (0+ / 0-)
  •  I too find it dificult (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noor B, worldlotus

    to figure out exactly what to say to a parent or guardian whose child I suspect might have a mental illness--depression, anxiety, eating disorder (not sure if that fits under mental illness), or schizophrenia--or might be on the autism spectrum or might be using drugs. Any of those conversations can lead parents or guardians to reject what I say for a variety of reasons: embarrassment, denial, or even money (can't afford treatment).

    I am getting a little more forward, though. While I used to just say "Here's what I see (list details from class); I recommend seeing a doctor," now I list the symptoms, and then recommend a doctor because those symptoms match those in students I've taught who have depression/anxiety/drug problems/etc. I am not trying to diagnose, but I've found that parents/guardians move faster and with more purpose with greater specificity on my part.

    And just to clarify: I do not want to suggest that autism is a form of mental illness. But like mental illness, I've found parents and guardians reject diagnosis and services for ASD in a way that is similar to the rejection for mental illness or drug treatment.

  •  Teachers are in a difficult position. (0+ / 0-)

    I don't know that I could do it.
    Technically a personality disorder cannot be diagnosed in anyone under 18 and even then it's avoided because PD's are stigmatizing. Having said that, we've all seen kids who are so clearly on that path that it would seem to require divine intervention to avoid it. One of the problems that I imagine teachers face is that a child with personality pathology very often has one or more parents with a PD so the parent feels threatened and defensive at any suggestion the child is ill.
    Gads.  I really thought about working with kids until realizing it meant working with parents.

    Stay fired up: now is the time to focus on downticket change! #Forward

    by emidesu on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 05:22:57 PM PST

  •  Teaching or discipline? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    worldlotus, GreenMother

    It should not be the job of a teacher to discipline, but rather to teach and if there is resistance, to call into use specific disciplinary methods that the school supports.

    I learned this from a master teaching consultant:

    Ed Ford
    Responsible Thinking Process (RTP).

    Essentially, if a student is disrupting the learning processs, s/he is asked "what are you doing?" If the RTP-trained classroom student perceives that they are disrupting, s/he will say: "I am disrupting" or some such. At which point, a very quick dialog is made that either to stay and participate or to LEAVE the classroom for a special classroom where such disruptive people go to prepare their reentry to the classroom.

    I can't describe it completely, but I would not want to teach without this technique. Sadly, most schools do not implement it.

    Ugh. --UB.

    "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of East Somalia!"

    by unclebucky on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 06:28:24 PM PST

  •  My friends who are teachers ask me a lot (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I am a mental health professionaltrained to work with adults but my friends who are teachers ask a lot of questions about their students and families.  They seem desperate for consultation despite the fact each school has a counselor and the district has 2 psychologists.  It's hard for me to comment on children's mental health issues, but some of the behaviors they worry about are obvious signs a child needs help.  They tell me there are too many kids with counseling on their IEPs for the school counselor to see them all regularly and the teachers I know are very willing to allow the student to miss class if a parent or guardian takes them to counseling appts with an outside counselor.  However, how many parents can actually afford that in time or money?

  •  It's not easy for anyone. I don't believe that the (0+ / 0-)

    system is set up to benefit the students, nor is it set up to help the teachers. It stinks all the way around.

    I would love it if we could fix our schools for everyone. Teaching should be a job to love and fall in love with. We have removed the possibility for so many people.

    School should be the archway a child walks into, to enter a grander world of new thought and new perceptions.

    Maybe this happens for some, but I don't hear of it very often any more.

  •  a Larry Clark film (0+ / 0-)

    i remember high School as more like

    The Faculty

    'Killer' Sound Trac too

    Who is mighty ? One who turns an enemy into a friend !

    by OMwordTHRUdaFOG on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 10:54:25 AM PST

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