I am not a teacher. I am more like someone who stumbled into a classroom one day and they were so desperate they gave me a title and what they pretended was a salary. And I was young, dumb, and desperate enough that I took it. Teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world. My point is that I am not cut out to be a teacher, but for one year I held that title. I learned so much.
Did you know that teachers have to sit through a seminar on CPR and the Heimlich maneuver and how to perform it every year?
That makes good sense but it was news to me. Not saying it can’t happen but as a teacher of high school kids, the chances of choking have taken a nosedive. Again, better safe than sorry, and I see the benefit of having teachers learn this life-saving skill. My issue is what they miss.
I haven’t done a lot exciting in my life. But for a small rural farm town, my past is very colorful. One of the stipulations to me being a teacher was to always wear long sleeves. This measure was twofold. If asked, I explained it was because my large forearm tattoo went against the dress code. But that was only part of it. See on my other forearm are some reminders of darker times in my life. Times when I was looking for a way out, times when I took a knife to my own skin to forget. So long sleeves kept the scars hidden.
Once I started teaching, I was able to pick out several kids showing signs that I recognized. And I was the only one who saw them.
- Not the guidance counselor
- Not the school nurse
- Not the other teachers
- Not the administration
Now I don’t know how things work at other schools. But an IT person who got drafted to teach giving the administration a crash course on what to look for in the students they oversee is not standard.
From my experience, most people who should know, don’t. Teachers don’t know the clues. Nurses don’t know what self-harm cuts look like. Even doctors who see the evidence do not make the connection. And this is something as important to inform our teachers about as CPR. This could change a life or save one.
Here is an abbreviated version of what I explained to the guidance counselor at my own school.
It isn’t always the quiet kids
All the books, movies, and tv shows make it seem like the quiet loner kids are the only ones who have tragic backstories, dark thoughts, and scarred arms. That isn’t always how it goes. It is so easy to pretend. Having an active social life, being on a team, or being in a relationship is not a promise that that person is ok. Don’t discount someone from suffering because they are popular.
Notice behavior changes
It doesn’t have to be that the kid is teary all the time. They could get angry easier. They might stop turning assignments in or showing up. An A student drops to a C or a steady C student has grades that go off a cliff.
Pay attention to wardrobe choices
If a child who wears t-shirts starts wearing long sleeves in the summer, it might be worth noting. Or if a kid who gets written up each year for wearing shorts that resemble a bathing suit starts wearing jeans all year round, it might be worth noting. If someone starts wearing lots of bracelets, a thick bracer, or a sweatband consistently, it might be worth noting.
Notice shallow cuts or burns on the arms and legs
Once is an accident. The lighter slipped or the oven was open. The kid got pushed into a briar bush or got nicked helping their dad over the weekend. But cuts heal and shouldn’t look the same after a week as they did when they first happened.
Realize what is possible
The cat will never scratch in straight lines in the same place everytime. A bunch of raw cuts in an isolated area without one or two affecting other areas is not probable unless deliberate. Natural cuts are not straight, spaced, or condensed to a certain area that is easily consealed.
Do your best not to corner the kid
Sometimes you have to take drastic action. Sometimes time is limited. But if you can, prove that they can trust you and that you will listen and support them. Don’t start talking to them about something they work so hard to keep hidden out of the blue and expect them not to panic.
Do not act surprised, shocked, disgusted
If they reveal they have been self-harming, you do not get to judge why.
Don’t act like their revelation shocks you or that you are weirded out by it. Let them know you are there for them, that you will listen, and try to discourage the act without making it out as something that is wrong. No one gets to self-harm without a reason and they aren’t doing this lightly.
People who self-harm get good at hiding it because it scares people. The general public doesn’t know how to handle it. All we want is someone to understand and help us find a way out.
That means that people who are most likely to have that opportunity, our healthcare workers, and our teachers, should be trained and able to identify some of the signs that someone is engaging in self-harm. Not only that but they should be able to talk about it with knowledge and compassion. It is time to start including that in our teacher training.
Thanks for reading Y’all