The Tough Stuff

Every year, our school district requires at least 2 hours of online training in suicide awareness and prevention.  I activated the video and half-heartedly listened. I teach elementary kids, so I thought that suicide was a pretty far-fetched possibility.  

When opening up blogging to students, we not only open up a platform for creative expression, we also open a safe place for self expression.  To make the blog a safe place, it’s important for students to have freedom of choice in what and how they write. Then we, as their teachers, must be prepared to respond appropriately.

When a student wrote a moving poem about depression, something about it made me feel uneasy.  

Look at me in the eyes
I hide behind this smile
This is not the real me
This is a disguise
Look me in the eyes

I had a private discussion with the student and shared the post with his mother.  He admitted he was feeling depressed, so she made an appointment for him to see a doctor.

Not long after this post, I was home on the weekend checking blog posts when I found a disturbing one from another student in my class.  This one was in the form of a letter to her friends and to me with the title, “If I’m no longer here…”

What do you do on a Sunday?  I did not feel comfortable waiting until Monday.  After I could not get an answer from her mother’s cell phone, I contacted the school counselor who contacted authorities who went to the student’s home.  My dear young student was taken to the hospital.  She was released, but the incident was a wake up call to her parents.  We met with the counselor on Monday and made a plan of action for getting her the help she needed.

In the online video, the presenter said, “If you are taking home your students’ journals to read, take their emergency cards, too.”  I would have disregarded this message as over-reacting.  But sadly, now I understand. Kids face depression and consider suicide at a much younger age these days.  Reading blog posts, like reading journals, can reveal some tough stuff.  Be sure you are prepared with parent contact numbers.

I can’t imagine how afraid my student and her family were when the police arrived. Her parents were unaware of her blog post. I wish it could have been handled a different way, but suicide threats are not to be taken lightly.  We have these tiny hearts in our hands every day.  We must be prepared to handle them with care.

My students stay with me through 6th grade, so I had the pleasure of teaching this student again this year. She created a powerful Animoto video about her struggles when she was writing about her One Little Word.  I’ve gotten permission from her to share it publicly:

About the Author
Margaret Simon lives on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana. Margaret has a Masters degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards. She received the Donald Graves Award for teaching writing from NCTE in 2014. Her young readers novel, Blessen, was published by Border Press in April, 2012. She blogs regularly at http://reflectionsontheteche.wordpress.com.

4 comments

  1. Jennifer Laffin

    This is a brave story all teachers need to read. Thank goodness (a million times) that you are an attentive, responsive, caring teacher. I don’t know what I would have done.

  2. Judy Eaton

    Your student was lucky that you were able to read her post and get the help that was needed. I have been in a similar situation with a student and it is really scary. It looks like she has come a long way, while still realizing that it is a lifelong journey.
    Thanks.
    Judy

  3. Linda Rief

    Margaret, this is such a moving and beautiful video. I saw it on twitter. How lucky this young woman is to have a teacher who really listens and gives her voice. I am going to show this to my 8th graders along with a passage from Wonder. I have several kids going through some serious issues in their lives. I am also so pleased you received the Don Graves writing award. He was such a good friend and mentor to me for many years. He would be delighted with the work you are doing with kids and writers.

  4. Elliott

    Oh my gosh, I cried during the video! It was amazing, this Blog was amazing, and that’s such a miracle that the girl didn’t die.
    It was honestly, one of the most moving things I’ve ever watched in my life :3

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