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Like many retired folk, I have a part time job to supplement my pension. I was delighted to find a job for 3 hours a day, M-F, that wasn’t retail and didn’t mean working with food or on weekends. I work in a school, in a classroom. Full disclosure: I am not a credentialed teacher, just a mom/grandma with a big heart and lots of ideas who loves children enough to help out in a school. I say that because I am going to tell you what I am seeing in the school, what is going in the classroom. I see a lot of frustration and sadness; the teachers, the aides, the parents and the children. It’s not all bad and I really enjoy the children and the majority of them are happy, energetic kids. I live in a rural community, there is a field of cows across the street and a pasture with lambs right next to the playground. The town is small and the neighbors know each other well, some of the student’s grandparents attended this school. Some of the staff attended this school as children. Sounds like a scene out of a Rockwell painting doesn’t it?

This community is mostly low to middle income, working adults, some with advanced school degrees, many with just high school degrees, but they work and they work hard. They love their children fiercely and are really great parents making sure their kids are safe, healthy, and happy, involved in sports or other extracurricular activities. There are a few children in every classroom with some kind of life challenge, some have identified diagnosed conditions either mental or physical, some have as of yet undiagnosed conditions (something is not right and it is obvious to even the untrained that there is an issue), some are living in extreme poverty or stressful home conditions. For privacy and sensitivity concerns I am not going to identify and will even alter some of their story. Here’s what I am seeing and it hearts my heart because I know there really aren’t solutions that our culture is willing to admit and implement.

I see children who are between 6 and 14 that are having loud verbal tantrums in the classroom. Tantrums that other children cannot ignore and prevents them from continuing to work on their assignments while their classmate is screaming and yelling. These tantrums require immediate attention by the teacher or aide thus taking attention away from the other students. YOUR student. I recall my children telling me about children with behavior problems in their classrooms and how it affected their ability to pay attention to the classwork at hand. Most teachers and aides have very little dedicated training in handling distributive or emotionally upset children. They should, but they don’t. I don’t and neither do most of the aides. We do the best we can. Often these tantrums are brought on by something that appears to us on the surface to be simple and insignificant, obviously they are not insignificant to the child. There is probably something that has triggered the child and we do not have any background information. We do the best we can. I have seen children run around the campus screaming and yelling on 5 different occasions. While they were doing this I was responsible for 25-30 other children. I could not run after the child because I would have had to leave 25-30 children alone. What do you suggest? What would you want the responsible adult with a class full of children to do about the child running and screaming at the other end of the school playground? What do you want me to do with your child who is the one screaming and yelling? I called for help from other teachers and aides. We brought all the children back into class and we were able to help calm the upset child. Dealing with these situations took about 20 minutes to over an hour of class time. That’s time out of YOUR child’s classroom day that they were not learning. The situation was handled, yes, but at what cost? No one was harmed but what was the impact on everyone?

tantrum

I tell you these things because I hope to help all of us understand that this is going on, probably in your own child’s school, and that even if your child does not have any mental or physical problems, the impact of others that do affects YOUR child. It is not some other parent’s problem, or the school staff’s problem, or the other family’s problem. It is OUR problem because children with emotional issues affect the staff and classroom. The answer is not to send your child to private school because that is just sticking your head in the sand. Sure you can find a private school where they don’t have these problems but these children are still around in our communities. These children are going to grow up to be adults. These children may grow up to be people who are not capable of ever living independently, they may be incapable of being employed at living wage jobs thus will need to be recipients of social services for the rest of their lives, they may grow up to be addicts or criminals that will come into your neighborhood, they may grow up to be incarcerated for behavior that they simply cannot control. We can turn a blind eye now while they are children and pretend that they won’t affect our community. OR we can work together for adequate mental health services, increased school support staff at living wages and effective affordable addiction services. We can tell ourselves it’s not OUR problem because we are good parents but these children are not going away just because we ignore them.

“Every young person I see in prison, particularly those who are there for violent crimes, if we paid attention to the red flags and intervened earlier, [wouldn’t be there],” said Adam Foss, who served as assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston from 2008 to 2016.

The challenge, he said, is that “the treatment of children requires a village, and we don’t have a village. We have silos, and not all these silos are covered by insurance.” 

If screaming tantrums don’t concern you, perhaps you may be worried about your child being physically harmed by a fellow class mate. What if your child was in the path of chair that was thrown across the room? Yes, we have children who throw school property in classrooms during fits of rage. It isn’t just the school where I work, it is a problem in many places. When I read the article in the link below I was not surprised at all. I have seen it, both the violent outbursts and the teacher stress. Pulling your child out of public school will not make this problem go away. These children are going to become adults one day. Wouldn’t it be better to invest in them today rather than paying through taxes for their potential years in incarceration? Wouldn’t it be a better utilization of our time and tax money to address mental and behavioral issues in children BEFORE they become adults?

But they all agree that teachers and other classroom educators are under more stress. They are coping with complicated educational demands as well as more behavioral problems among children.

The behavior of some “very high needs” students is causing “huge disruptions to student learning,” said Adams.

The president of a bargaining unit that represents the board’s educational assistants and early childhood educators puts it more succinctly. “The violence is getting out of control,” Cheryl Cavell, president of the Student Support Professionals, said in an interview.

If you don’t care about ‘other people’s children’ consider that their parents may be your co-worker or employee. They are working next to you and they are constantly worried and stressed about their child. They may miss work days because of an issue with their child. We have had to call parents and tell them to leave work to come and get their disruptive child. That might be your employee who has to leave work. Maybe the person driving in the car next to you is exhausted because their child has been preventing them from getting restful sleep- they may unwittingly cause an accident. Not your problem though, right? Have you ever considered that you may have to raise your grandchild in your retirement? Instead of travelling during your golden years you could have a 10 year old to raise because their parents are addicts or in jail. I have a cousin who is raising her grandson because her daughter has an untreated mental diagnosis that was not addressed in her childhood. It’s too late in some cases.

Still don’t think it’s your problem? Several students vandalized our school and damaged property to the tune of thousands of dollars. These boys live in a home where the father physically abused their mother, their parents both use drugs. Our tax dollars went to replace the vandalized items. The future is not bright for juveniles who vandalize property and live in homes with drugs. We will all be paying for the cost of their lack of upbringing. OR we could intervene right now.

What do I suggest? Lower teacher/student ratios. Every problem in a classroom that I have seen could have been addressed better with lower ratios- YOUR child would benefit from a teacher who can spend time individually with YOUR child, instead of a few seconds they could get many minutes or quarters of an hour. Every classroom should have at least one aide. Special needs children would benefit tremendously with more one on one attention. If we want to mainstream all special needs children we will need a lot more staff. One adult in a classroom of 30+ cannot address the needs of all children, even the most excellent teachers could use help because that help translates to more time spent on YOUR child.

I suggest we also compel insurance companies to spend less on executive salaries and bonuses and more on long term mental health care for children and adults. What we have now is a rubber patch on a super tanker, it won’t last long. Mental health is no different than physical health. We all accept that children with cancer deserve all the help they can get but a child with a mental diagnosis? Hm, not OUR problem.

Many of the children I know of have parents who have had or now have an addiction problems. Addiction is another branch of the mental health tree. Parents with addictions need OUR help now so that they can raise their own children. If they cannot raise their children, who does? WE DO, in the form of social services and a child in foster care is not good for any of us, especially the child.

Before I finished writing this I watched Trevor Noah interview Eve Ewing. At 1:13 in the following video she talks about the disparity between poor and rich schools and how poor schools don’t give students the same quality of education. Not YOUR problem, I know, but are you sure it isn’t? Uneducated people make uneducated workers. Uneducated people don’t get good paying jobs which leads to other social problems which will affect you. You may not be able to find qualified people for your business. And crime again enters the picture because uneducated, unemployed people have to do something to survive.

“You can’t incentive poverty or struggle and these are the things kids are coming to school with.”  (starts at 5:45) Click link here:  http://www.cc.com/video-clips/va29l1/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-eve-l--ewing---breaking-down-structural-racism-with--ghosts-in-the-schoolyard-

children hugging

We can tell ourselves, ‘not my problem’ and ignore the problem or we can face the reality that children with issues grew up to be adults with issues. Adults with issues create problems in our community by not being able to care for themselves or becoming criminals. Every child deserves a fair chance at the starting gate of life. We can pay now to help these children, which will be expensive, but not as expensive as years in the prison system or years in and out of jobs and homelessness. Pay now or pay later, it costs us all.

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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