Monday, October 19, 2015

Making Mistakes & Mental Health

This incident happened a while ago, but despite the fact that the child involved does not seem to be irrevocably harmed by the experience, it bothered me enough that I have to write about it, to help me process what occurred and what steps I need to take to ensure it doesn't happen again.

The apologetics before the story: I'd like to think that my class environment is a safe and happy place to be. I believe I'm getting better, year by year, at modifying and accommodating my lessons so that students can find success. I also try to watch carefully to ensure that no students fall between the cracks, especially the quiet ones. This school year, I had noticed that a Grade 3 student in one of my classes was not participating during my library lessons. We were doing a task on the interactive white board (IWB) and when I invited her up to try, she shook her head and refused. I offered her the chance to go up with a friend, but she declined. I checked in with my school's ESL teacher to see if the activity was too advanced for this particular student and the ESL teacher said that the job was reasonable and possible for her to understand and do. Her refusal was not because of limited English. The ESL teacher said that if it occurred again, just send the student to the ESL room so that she could talk with the child in her first language to discover what was going on. The next class, the student again refused to try the task. I coaxed. I had another student do the precise action I wanted and then erased it for her to do. Again, she shook her head no. I told her to go see the ESL teacher. The student refused to move. This was getting frustrating and so I did something stupid. Instead of letting it go, I escalated it. I thought she was just being obstinate. I gave her a choice - to go to the ESL teacher, do the job, or go to the office. She didn't move from the carpet. What?! I sent another student to report the act of defiance to the principal. He came down and tried to escort the student out of the library but she wouldn't take his hand. Disobeying the principal? Something told me to stop the lesson and allow them time for book exchange, to end the drama. As the children spread out to search for books, my principal whispered to me something along the lines of "I'm not going to drag her physically to the office. Look at her - she's terrified". He was right. What I initially interpreted as stubbornness was actually an anxiety attack.

I felt horrible and guilty. I should have known better. I have family members who have anxiety disorders and I should have noticed the signs. I apologized to my principal for acting like a new teacher who had no clue about classroom management. He accepted the apology and said that the experience at least put this particular child on our radar. The ESL teacher spoke to the child later on that day and told me that the reason she did not want to go up to the IWB was because she was afraid that her classmates would laugh at her. It may not seem reasonable, but it stressed her out, and this article mentions that behavioral changes such as stubbornness may actually be a reaction to stress. My pushing added to that stress. I think I apologized to the child herself, after the ESL teacher had her apologize to me. I still feel bad and would gladly apologize again, but she's gotten over it - she still says hi to me with a big smile when I see her in the hallway. I think this blog post is another way for me to say sorry for my actions.

Here's the "call to action". Even though I have direct experience with dealing with loved ones who have anxiety, I still didn't recognize the signs in a student. Teachers need to learn more about mental health and wellness. There needs to be more support. Today is the Canadian federal election official voting day. Keeping in mind that all news outlets have their own biases, here is a list of where the four main political parties stand and their policies. Take a look at Social Issues. My voting patterns are all over the map - in the past, I've voted Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Reform, and even the Family Life Coalition. Without revealing whom I voted for, I'll tell you that this time, I voted for the party that has pledged money towards mental health innovation for children and youth and support to community mental health associations. Vote. Make your voice heard.


  1. A brave and important post Diana. Thanks for sharing your observations, insights and, yes, your mistakes.

  2. Genuine apologies speak volumes to your character. Making things right is the right thing to do - as hard as it is for us when we mess up. That little girl now knows who you are. Well done you!