I am not the most emotional person. You can attribute it to my being an INTJ, my stoic Swedish genes, the wall I built around myself through childhood and adolescence - whatever it is, it takes a lot to get me worked up. But once I reach that breaking point where I can't ignore the emotions bottling up inside, watch out cause it's going to get messy. I don't deal with my emotions well and I try to remove myself from volatile situations I can't handle. This is one of the many reasons I quit teaching. There were way to many emotions flying around. It was like static electricity and was constantly getting zapped.
One of the sophomore girls was transfered into one of my classes, she was being dropped a level because everyone, her parents, teachers, guidance counselor, thought it was a good idea for her to take a bit of a breather from her honors classes. She needed a break from her academic work load because she had been raped - by her boyfriend, in her own bed - when her parents were away. At least that's the version I heard third or fourth hand, and I wasn't going to ask her about the particulars. My heart went out to this poor girl. She was only fifteen years-old, a smart girl, great student, cheerleader, but understandably depressed. She was able to coast effortlessly through my class, she did the work, answered the questions; but the light had gone out of her eyes. You could see she was inherently sad and carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, but trying not to show it. I was not legitimately supposed to know about her circumstances, so there wasn't much for me to do. It made me want to cry every time I looked at her to feel so helpless and angry.
I took the responsibility of convincing one of the ninth graders in my lower-level class to move up a level. He was a decent student, worked hard. It just took him a little longer than some of the more average-level kids. Though often the work he turned in was better, since he actually took the time to think about the assignment and do it correctly. Once he moved up a level, still in one of my classes, he had a difficult time adjusting. Not to the class work, to the other kids, some who saw him as the perfect target for their taunting and jokes. This kid, I'll call him Alex, was so sweet, and he took their jokes to heart. It tore me up because I felt responsible for convincing him to change classes. It may have been the right thing for him to do academically, but socially, it was torture. I think one of the reasons he'd been in the level he was, was to remove himself from these kids. He was hiding out. I suppose it could be that I did the right thing in pushing him into the correct level, making him face his demons. But it felt like I'd taken a kid who was terrified of the water and shoved him into a pool, and was just standing there, watching him fight to keep his head above water.
Alex was talking with me one day after class, it was right before mid-terms and the kid was down in the dumps. The bell had rung and he just continued sitting at his desk after all the other kids had left. I asked him how he was doing and he just shook his head.
"I'm just really sick of it," he told me.
My third sense was tingling.
"Are you stressed about your mid-term? I'm sure you'll do fine," I told him, which was the truth.
"No, it's not really that," he said. "Some days I just feel like . . . " and he put his hand to his head as if it were a gun and he was pulling the trigger, and made an exploding noise.
"Alex, it's pretty serious if you're talking about suicide. Are you sure you're okay? I can write you a pass to the guidance counselor," I offered.
"No, that's okay. I'll be alright," he sighs.
"Well, I'm going to mention this to your guidance counselor anyway. Is there anything I can help with? Let me write you a pass to your next class," I say. "You're going to be late."
He takes the pass and heads to his next class. I already have a room full of new students laughing and talking in front of me and don't even have time to process what has just happened or how immediate my course of action should be. I can't talk with his counselor now, it will have to wait until after school. I didn't really think he was serious, but even when a kid is joking about suicide, it's not good.
Alex and I sat down with his guidance counselor a few days later, which was rather uneventful. We let him know that there was help available to him if he wanted or needed it. But he never brought it up again. I'm sure Alex turned out just fine, but he shook me up.
There was nothing in my training about how to deal with a potentially suicidal student or a rape victim. I was not emotionally prepared to handle it. It was not what I had signed up for.