Since when did classrooms and school campuses become battlefields for violence and misunderstanding. Gannett Publishing reports that since 1995 17 teachers, staff members and prinicipals have been killed from school violence. 17 seems like a low number with the amount of times we hear of another shooting. What that number does not include are the bystanders such as other students and/or the victims family members that are also harmed. If we looked at those numbers alongside educational professionals that number would shock us and it should.
When the latest happened this week my student pubs class talked in depth about it and we all agreed to feel somewhat sensitized to such tradgedies. To the point where we almost take a moment of a relief that just a few were killed and we move on. Or we say things like thank goodness it wasn't another Newtown. Those comments are right on, but when we look away and we don't address the sheer factor that this even happens at all what are we actually saying?
I have said it before and I will say it again…in almost every instance of school violence we see ritual signs of mental illness. The first reports are always, "He was a such a quiet and nice kid." Then slowly other reports metriculate that say, "We saw some signs." But by then the cameras have died off, it isn't the top five minutes of the news reports anymore.
And yet again the stigma of mental illness and its effects on society remain unaddressed. And more lives are shed because we sit back and think of what we could have done instead of what we should have done.
As a teacher I am well aware of what to look for in the classroom when it comes to violence. I am also well aware that the process isn't always easy or matter of fact. In fact, I think it is just the opposite. And sometimes we carry those stigma's against mental illness ourselves.
One would think that with my diagnosed and surviving 12 years with contamination OCD that I would get over the stigmas . Or that the struggles I have had with my # 2 that I would be way more comfortable in the conversations that need to take place.
But the truth of the matter I am not. I am a sufferer myself. I am the mother of a sufferer. I know it is no different than diabetes or cancer and that my stigmas are my own insecurities. But I have something that in many of these violent situations that don't exist. I have help. That means I have worked extensively with the health care community to get better and to live a normal and healthy life. I have went above and beyond that for my daughter.
It is easy to talk about when you have a supportive and caring environment that also houses the financial abilities to receive the help needed. That is not always the case. As well, in the classroom I am not a mom (though sometimes it feels like I am). I am a teacher. I can emphatize, sympathize and create support. But I am JUST A TEACHER. I cannot stand in place for professional medical help. In fact, for me to even discuss it as a health condition is inappropriate.
Now I am not saying every student who has undiagnosed issues or even truly diagnosed issues are going to go out and create a violent path of destruction. But I am saying if our society starts to let go of the stigma that surrounds the hush hush nature of such things that maybe just maybe we can stop that one situation.
The specific violence that happened at Virginia Tech has always touched my heart. Some of that is my love and admiration for Nikki Giovanni (an English Prof of the shooter) and her own reaction to the violent shooting. But what has always stuck in my mind is the the amount of warning flags thrown out.
One day I drug through email after email of concern that people were throwing out there for this shooter. People that said, "Something is not right" to the people who could react. And no one did. It could be because they thought nothing would come of it. Or maybe they even identified him as a non-native speaker frustrated with his new acquistion of language something that English teachers are trained to see and help navigate.
I honestly have no clue where the break down occured. But I do know that it was all very hush hush and it was attempted that they hide it. Well hiding it is stigma folks. That's how stigma drags itself out of the corners of the room. It does so through fear, shame, sometimes contempt or even disbelief that we could come in contact with things such as this.
But we need to talk about this. We need to recognize it. We need to shew it out of the corners and into the light and know that a mental illness is not a bad thing. It is no worse than a cold or a virus that if left untreated can progressively get worse.
But really I am just saying something that we have heard time and time again. To be politically correct we accept it on the surface because we know on the surface that mental illness is normal. But what we are fearful of are the conseqences of digging below the surface and just what lies there. And that is because of generation after generation of stigma or stories of mental illness that may not rest in fact or actually rest in untreated mental illness. So let it go and let's start talking about it NOW!
One of my favorite organizations supports this cause…Check them out! Bring Change To Mind