The Teachers.Net Gazette is a collaborative project
published by the Teachers.Net community
Kathleen Alape Carpenter
Editor in Chief
Cover Story by LaVerne Hamlin
Effective Teaching by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Contributors this month: Dr. Marvin Marshall; Cheryl Sigmon; Barbara & Sue Gruber; Marjan Glavac; Dr. Rob Reilly; Barb S. HS/MI; Ron Victoria; Brian Hill; Leah Davies; Hal Portner; Tim Newlin; Barb Gilman; James Wayne; P.R. Guruprasad; Todd Nelson; Addies Gaines; Pat Hensley; Alan Haskvitz; Joy Jones; and YENDOR.
I was at the bank handling a routine transaction when I noticed a good-looking, twenty-something looking at me. He wasn't merely looking, he was staring, eying me up and down with great interest.
"Yeah, I still got it," I thought to myself smugly. "I still turn heads."
When I walked out the door, I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Don't I know you?" the young man asked me. It was an old line, but as cute as he was, I was willing to let it work on me. "Well, you do look familiar," I responded, truthfully. Was he one of my neighbors?
"Didn't you teach at Brookland School?" he asked. I had worked there nearly fifteen years ago. When I confirmed that I had, he spoke in that tone of voice reserved only for elders, "Don't you remember me? You taught me in the fifth grade."
Today's lesson: I keep my ego in check.
Seeing The Signals
Sonya was in my creative writing class and had the disdainful attitude typical of teenagers. She was not a serious behavior problem, but she certainly didn't impress me as a model student. Sonya was definitely in that stage of life where she regarded most adults as a nuisance. In my class, she wrote a story about a teenage girl who attempts suicide. I regarded it as typical adolescent angst and not as a desperate plea, but my principal had made it very clear that ANY indication that a child was considering suicide was to be taken seriously. So I referred Sonya to the counselor.
As it turned out - just as I thought - she wasn't suicidal, but her home life was no Cosby Show scenario. Sonya was living with her adult big sister. Her parents had divorced and both mom and dad were busy with their new partners - and the new babies that were the result. Sonya's story was a way to express some of the anger and frustration that she was feeling; quite a creative way to sort out the messy situations of her life.
Learning the details of the story behind the story made me wonder - how do you tell if there really is a problem? What are the warning signs that a student is depressed or suicidal?
Mental health professionals identify the following as possible indicators.
a change in eating habits that leads to a marked weight gain or loss - sleeping in class
withdrawal from friends
rebellious behavior, sudden drop in grades, cutting class - the start or increase of drinking and drugging - preoccupation with death and dying
overly sensitive to rejection
poor thinking or concentration
reduced ability to function in activities - loss of interest in school work, extracurricular activities, hobbies.
talking about killing one's self
talking as if no one cares
preparing for the end by giving away belongings, writing goodbye letters.
As a result of the intervention, I discovered that Sonya truly enjoyed writing and had aspirations of becoming a writer. Her short story won a prize and her attitude improved. Well, it didn't really improve, but she scowled a little less frequently. She was still a teenager, after all.
I am glad, through my principal's insistence, that I didn't let Sonya's signal go unacknowledged. Take a look at your class. Is there a student sending you a message?
Children seldom behave in the nice, obedient way one would wish. There's a good reason for that, although it's hard to appreciate it when they are challenging you in class. Here are my thoughts on this phenomenon, taken from my book, Private Lessons: A Book of Meditations for Teachers.
It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.
You think you know a lot of things; and you probably do. The tricky part is that some of what you know to be true is false. At one time medical science "knew" that using leeches for blood-letting was a good cure. At one time, teachers "knew" that rote memorization was the best technique for learning. At one time, everybody "knew" that the world was flat.
At some level, your students know that some of what you are teaching them is not true. And much of what may be truth now won't remain true tomorrow.
Today's lesson: The truth is born in inquiring minds.