Thursday, July 26, 2007

This requires a delicate hand ...

There are a lot of things I like a lot about teaching. Everyday is different, there's heaps of variety and when you have a good day teaching - it's a pretty freaking good day.

I've often wished that I could JUST teach though - if there were a way of removing all the OTHER job aspects that come with the territory ( social worker, cop, detective, warden, mediator, janitor, etc ).

I find myself put in a delicate situation today. I have a student in my English class - academically challenged, a bit of a slacker in previous years - but trying now, a nice enough guy. He's going through a bit of an 'emo' phase - which I've found mildly amusing. Up to this point anyway.

Y'see - he wrote a short story for a creative writing task that featured some fairly strong suicide themes. "Ooooooooooo - that ain't good" thought I. "Now what do I do?". Do I talk to this guy and see what's up ? I don't really feel qualified for that ! Do I refer him to someone else ? It's only a story after all - I don't want to waste people's time here. I didn't quite know what would be the right course of action. And if I do sitch this kid up like a kipper to the Chaplaincy team and it's nothing, what is this kid going to do ? I got stuck dithering essentially.

Then today while we were in the library for sustained silent reading - I noticed that he was reading a book about suicide - y'know, one of those 'social problem' texts like 'The Great Brain Robbery'. I got in touch with the Chaplain straight away and registered my concern about him as a potential suicide risk.

It's probably nothing and there's nothing to worry about - but I'm not going to risk it. Screw that - if I left it alone and it turns about this kid tops himself I hate to think what I'd feel like. It was bad enough a a few years back when a kid I had taught the previous year killed himself. I hadn't even seen the guy for two terms, and I just kept thinking "Was there something I could have done ? Was there something I should have seen? Was there any way I could have stopped it ?". I was pretty shook up, I can tell you.

All in all I'd rather not have to deal with this kind of stuff / responsibility really. Just let me teach you - you stupid bastards ! Is that so hard ?



Anonymous said...

Hard stuff alright. For what's it's worth, I would have made the same call though. Hope it all works out fine.


Jack Dee said...

yeah its a tricky one all right, but remember a problem shared is a problem halved.
One of the strongest predictors of self harm etc. is social isolation. Links to others, sports clubs and social groups, even informal ones will go a long way in keeping all of us safe(er) from the blues

Seraph said...

Thanks guys.

Turns out I was right to be concerned. The kid got called in today to see the Chaplain. Chaplain e-mailed me afterwards and said that the kid was pretty quick to say that he felt like he needed counselling, and that is now being organinsed for him.

Whew !

debbie said...

Sounds like it turned out that you did the right thing so well done! So often with these issues it is really awkward and is (rather shamefully) not covered at all in TCOL when you are almost definitely going to encounter a student who commits suicide or is seriously considering it in this profession in NZ. The scary thing is that given our suicide statistics in this country, teachers almost certainly should be trained in warning signs and what to do.

My personal opinion is that you always have to respond directly to the student in some way to viewing any kind of work on suicide or similiar issues. I mean the kid knows you're going to see it when they write it, so they must, on some level at least, be sending you a signal that this is something on their mind.

Unfortunately, as a teacher you are often the closest thing to a adult role model that they can trust (even though counselling isn't really the job we signed on for) and if we don't listen, there may not be anyone else in their life who does.

Since having a student I taught two years ago commit suicide last year and having to deal with a lot of the spin-off issues with her friends and other kids who knew her, I had to deal with this a lot more than I was at first comfortable with. The amazing thing to me is that all students seem to be really open when you ask them directly. They actually really like it when you show concern for them as an individual rather than just their grades. I alway ask students directly but one-on-one so other students aren't listening if I get a poem or story handed on about suicide or similiar. As long as your not accusing and listen to what they, they seem happy to talk about. I say something like "I noticed your story was about suicide. Is this something you have concerns about in your real life?" Even if you are massively over-reacting, they still seem to like that fact that you show that you care about them. Quite often it turns out that they have had someone they know who has killed themselves or attempted it.
You can tell them that writing about it can be one way of dealing with it but they also have other options like talking to counsellors, Youthline etc and you'd be happy to help them arrange it if they need it.

I find kids are responsive if you stress that you care about their well being and they have choices about what they want to do.

Of course, the only student I know who commited suicide never wrote stories about death or showed any signs of being unhappy, so you never know. You can only do your best and when you teach over 100 kids a day, you don't see everything.

- Debbie

Seraph said...

Fine words of advice there Debbie - thanks so much !