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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Schools share blame for kid's mental problems

"School is a house of learning where teachers are mothers, fathers, and caregivers during the day and the community is responsible for the mental growth and safety of children." Tomi Johnson

Was Adam Lanza given the help he needed in school?  If he was dealing with autism and Asperger's syndrome and exhibited "weird" behaviors, was this the result of being beaten, ignored, or exploited by his teachers or caretakers?

I hate to admit it, but I saw some questionable things happen in both "regular" ed and special education classrooms while I was a substitute teacher. I saw kids being harassed, antagonized, wrestled, beaten, ridiculed, put in restraints and placed behind screens for no apparent reasons. When I questioned how they were treated, I was stared at and ignored.

When one child exhibited "weird" behavior in my classroom, I called in the principal who seemed unaware of his profile. After finding condoms and razor blades in his backpack, he was transferred to another middle school.

Since I was only a substitute, I did not have access to student files and didn't know the details of what or who I was dealing with. The only preparation I had to deal with children with autism and Asperger's syndrome was general substitute teacher training (four hours), one college psychology course, a Telecommunications degree, motherly instincts learned from raising three children of my own, and empathy for the disabled.

At the beginning of the year, I had a one week assignment in a classroom where I learned some of the  children AND teachers were autistic.  The lead teacher asked me to stay on longer because I was able to communicate successfully with the kids, but after seeing what was going on in there, I felt it was unsafe for me to continue.

What I noticed first was that the lead teacher didn't have a lesson plan or activities planned for the kids to do on the first day of school. Since I am creative, I grabbed into my bag of tricks - of stories, puzzles, word games, and brought some of my children's books, K'Nex toys, and board games to class. I was assigned to a girl who was focused on the animated character/heroine Kim Possible, but every time she brought out her Kim Possible key chain, the teacher scolded her. She was not allowed to read her Kim Possible book which was her security blanket.

The children in the classroom were very protective of each other.  When a teacher told one student to put a game away, another child came over to help. He was scolded by the teacher and then wrestled and beaten into a corner. Another child who was doing a game on the computer was reprimanded by another teacher who entered the classroom. When he became disturbed over the scolding, he laid on the floor and wet his pants. Not wanting to shame himself when getting up, he was covered and left on the floor in his own urine.

These kids need help, good professional help, and my opinion is that their regular teachers were not trained or did not have the patience to do a job which requires both experience, love, and endurance under difficult circumstances.  It takes a SPECIAL person to deal with the mentally ill. We're not doing enough to help these students or their teachers. All teachers need ongoing staff development and constant encouragement just like students.

I sat in the cafeteria one day and watched a teacher taking a red marker and slashing with unusual vigor through an English assignment which probably took the student hours to create on the computer. "He didn't follow directions," she said.  I wondered how that kid was going to feel when he got that paper back and how he would feel about his teacher.

We are all responsible for how we treat the least of these. 

We will all share the blame when another Adam Lanza shows up at school tomorrow.

Photo from Ms. Walton's 1st grade class website, Walls Elementary School.
©2012 Tomi Johnson. All rights reserved 

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