Good morning, everyone. It’s Mental Health Monday! Today I’m going to talk about something near and dear to my heart; How Bad Teachers Can Affect Your Child’s Mental Health.
If you followed me on Coffee & Kerfuffles, you’ll know that my family struggles from mental health issues, specifically depression and anxiety. Every parent hopes that their children will not have to struggle with mental health issues, myself included. However, Punky has always struggled with anxiety in his daily life. He’s the type of person who needs to have a strict routine, and a massive amount of support when there’s any change to that routine. When Punky was a toddler, he had extreme separation anxiety; I had to stay at his playgroup with him every day for six months before he was comfortable enough for me to leave him there for the three hour morning session.
The Bad Teacher
Last year, one of Punky’s teachers was extremely green; 22 years old, fresh out of college, and thrown into a classroom with 26 nine-year-olds. The beginning of the year was perfectly fine. Everyone was still finding their footing and becoming comfortable with each other. Punky was anxious, but I reassured him for weeks that everything was going well. This is where things turned sour.
As the year progressed, the teacher (unnamed for privacy), began to yell at the children regularly, forced them to stay silent and put their heads on their desks while they were working. The environment became extremely toxic. She favored the children who were able to learn the material quickly without asking too many questions.
Children like Punky who were struggling with the work were outcast. She didn’t answer their questions but instead gave critical feedback to these children. She was refusing to test them with the programs available to assess their skill level. It came to the point where this teacher was avoiding contact with the parents of these students. They were being left behind and she knew it.
I went up to the school several times to talk to her about my concerns. She always told me everything was fine. Even when Punky screamed and cried every morning not wanting to go to school, and always came home with an attitude at the end of the day. Every Parents Evening (parent-teacher conferences) we had, there was always a good report. Despite this, Punky refused to talk to me to tell me what was going on until almost the end of the year.
At bedtime every night, I ask the same basic questions as I always have before I sing his bedtime songs and tuck him in;
- Did you have a good day? What made it good/bad?
- How are you feeling? Is there anything bothering you that I can help you with?
- Are you worried about anything?
One of these evenings, he started crying and told me that he was depressed. I gently nudged for more information, and he told me that he felt stupid, like nobody wanted him around. He told me that he didn’t think I’d notice if he wasn’t here and that he wished he would just die already. He said he’d had thoughts of doing something to commit suicide but didn’t know-how.
This broke my heart into a trillion pieces. I thank every day that he didn’t know how to hurt himself.
I climbed into his twin-sized bed with him, wrapped my arms around him, and asked him where this came from. As he sobbed into my shoulder, he said that he feels loved and wanted at home, but at school, he feels like he’s just in the way. He felt like he couldn’t speak up in class at all, that he was the dumbest kid in the class because he needs extra help with reading and handwriting.
I cannot describe the rage that bubbled up inside of me at this moment. It’s a mix of a mama bear and a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.
As he continued to tell me how he felt, I reassured him that we DO want him here in our family and that he’s the biggest source of joy within our family. I told him how Mr. H and I tried for six months to get pregnant with him. I told him about the two years before we began trying, we’d walk hand in hand through the baby section of the stores dreaming about what our children would be like. I told Punky that no matter what happens, I’ve always got his back. I’m always going to advocate for him, fight the battles that he’s too young to fight, and make sure that he gets the help and care he needs.
As soon as he understood how much I love and cherish him, that I am always going to be his biggest supporter, he settled into bed. I read him a story of his choosing, tucked him in, sang his bedtime songs, gave him hugs and kisses, and sat on the floor by his bed, and rubbed his face until he fell asleep.
Contacting the School
The next day I contacted the school’s headteacher to set up a meeting with her. As we talked on the phone, she apologized profusely and promised she’d investigate the claims I’d made. I thanked her and hung up the phone, however, I was still deeply dissatisfied with her response. At pick up time, I stormed up to the school, took Punky into the classroom with me so he could see that I’m fighting for him, and demanded answers from his teacher.
I told her that I’m angry about how her behavior is affecting my child, I’m angry that she’s leaving him behind because she doesn’t see the value in helping children who are struggling. I told her that if she couldn’t support EVERY child in her classroom, she has no business being a teacher and that she should find another career path. I’m not proud that I yelled at this 22-year-old little girl and made her cry, but I am proud that I stood my ground for my child.
She went into the hallway and grabbed books off of the shelf; books that were “beyond his reading level” (so she thought – he was still being assigned books for the age ranges 5-6 at 9 years old). The books she gave us were age-appropriate. Do you know what happened? He read through every single one of those chapter books within a week and answered all the reading comprehension questions I gave him. I gave the books back to the teacher the next week, gave her the worksheets that Punky completed, and asked her to put them in her records for the school’s resource teacher to review.
After The Confrontation
The rest of the year went well (though it was only a few weeks until lockdown started). Punky was included more into the lessons, answering questions, and began playing with his classmates again instead of isolating himself on the playground. The end of the year report I received was less than stellar.
The teacher reported that he’s failing in every area and that she feels he could benefit from being held back a year. We worked throughout the lockdown until the end of the school year, and throughout summer break on his school subjects. He started the new school year caught up to his peers.
Throughout the day we have a little check-in about our emotions, anything that’s bothering us, and anything we’re worried about. This will be continued daily.
I spoke to our family doctor when the practice reopened and requested a mental health check for Punky. Dr. J then followed up with the school. The school had in their reports of Punky being overly stressed out, combative in class, would cover his ears, close his eyes, and growl when he became overwhelmed. The school never talked to me about this, even when asked specifically how he’s doing. They never reported this to the doctor either.
They did report to my GP (after I requested the mental health check) that this year Punky’s attitude has done a full 180. He participates and is happy in class. Punky has gotten star of the week, comes home with great reports in his homework packets. He is right on target with the rest of his peers and is excelling in math.
Punky is thriving, and every day his anxiety and depression lessen. The teacher that Punky has this year is a gem. She’s engaged with every student in her class, encourages them, gives them praise for their hard work, and explains the lessons in great detail. The year is young yet, but I’m so happy that he’s in her class.
We will be having an on-going and in-depth conversation in our home about how we’re feeling, what we’re worried or stressed about, and what we can do to change the situation. I urge every one of you who has a child who is experiencing depression and anxiety to have the same conversations.
Open Communication is Key
Your child spends 6.5 hours per day with school staff and other students. When they have a bad teacher, it affects everything;
- learning ability
- relationships with their peers
- their home life
My child’s experience with a bad teacher made his anxiety spiral and experience depression to the point of becoming suicidal. Please listen to your children and find out what is causing them to feel this way. It could be something as small as a bad teacher.
Open communication with your children and their school is key. If your children don’t feel able to speak to you about the small stuff, they definitely won’t open up about things as serious as mental health issues. You could just save their lives.