a teacher’s perspective

His eyes flashed.

“I won’t.”

“Alex*, put it down. Please,” I added, glancing nervously at the many small children buzzing and flying and sword-fighting and princess-playing all around the room.


“Alex . . .” But it was too late. The plastic shopping cart was in the air, flying towards a ballerina with a baton. Crash! The girl and a Lego tower behind her crumpled into a heap. “Whaaaa!!!”

Alex, 7, was running from the room.

[The next day, after a visit with the principal and half-day suspension]

“I’m hungry.”

“Good, eat your lunch.”

“I don’t want this.”

“Well, that’s what your parents packed. It looks good to me!”

“No, it’s not. It’s yucky. I won’t eat it.”

“Why don’t you just try it? I thought you liked peanut butter and jelly.”


“Well, I don’t have anything else to give you. If you eat your sandwich, we can get ice cream.”


“Well, then, I guess you’ll miss recess. You have to eat before you can play.”

“Nooooooo!” Suddenly, Alex was on his feet in his chair, dumping the contents of his lunchbox onto the floor. Hot tears streamed down his bright red face. “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t!” he screamed.

The teacher’s aide, my hero, swooped in and carried Alex, kicking and screaming, back to the classroom. The other children began to whimper.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay,” I told them, my eyes following Alex. “Just eat.”


Students in the playroom with the ill-fated shopping cart.


I am not Adam Lanza’s mother, but I have been a teacher. I know what it means to deal with difficult children.

I’ve seen kids hit, bite, scratch, and throw things at other kids (and teachers). I’ve seen kids who won’t sit still, won’t obey, won’t stop talking, won’t follow directions; kids who stand on desks and tear decorations off classroom walls because they’re mad.

I’ve seen kids who, without their medication, cry at the drop of a hat. Everything is misery.

According to the CDC, 8.4 percent of children ages three to 17 in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. Other common disorders include anxiety, disruptive behavior, affective (mood), and pervasive development disorders like autism and Asperger’s syndrome. And these disorders don’t just affect kids in the U.S. I was a teacher in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Are any of the cases I saw as extreme as Adam Lanza’s or Michael’s, the star of Liza Long’s article, “‘I am Adam Lanza’s Mother’: A Mom’s Perspective on the Mental Illness Conversation in America”? Absolutely not. I can only imagine what it would be like to have a 13-year-old wield a knife. But I’ve seen enough to know that she’s right: Mental illness is not something that should be ignored. Parents need better options for their children.

But . . . Also . . .

What is it with the rising numbers of mental illness amongst kids in the past few years? The CDC states ADHD counts have increased by nearly one-quarter in the last decade. Are we as a nation really getting sicker and sicker? Or is it . . . something else?

After all, Alex was a sweet kid with very real problems, but sometimes, I swear, that kid just needed to be smacked.

*Name changed to protect the innocent—namely, me

And on that note, Happy Holidays everyone! ;)


4 thoughts

  1. I don’t pretend to know why or whether we are all getting sicker. Maybe diagnosing and statistics are working together. I don’t what all is to blame, but I am fairly certain we are hanging on by our fingernails. Mostly, I know those of us who have a mentally ill child do not get the help we need. In a big way I am lucky to have more money and education then most. But, when it comes right down to it no one can lessen the hell mental illness brings to a family. Between being told that your child has to commit a crime or make multiple suicide attempts before you get help makes one consider doing those things themselves. I firmly believe government can help but we must first be willing to pay social workers, increase their numbers so they don’t have such huge work loads, pay special ed teachers what they are worth. These people work very hard. May of them have master’s degrees and are paid less then 40 thousand dollars a year. They feel called to do this work. I could go on but I am discouraged just thinking about it tonight.

    • Terri,

      I am so sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comment! I am not a parent yet, but, from what I’ve seen and experienced as a teacher, parenting is hard enough with normal kids, let alone kids with mental illness. I can, therefore, imagine that you are right: being told that nothing can be done until it is, essentially, too late would be enough to send even the most “with it” parents to the brink. I agree that social workers and special ed teachers need to be paid more. The burnout rate is high for a reason… It’s a discouraging situation, I agree. And, most discouraging of all, I don’t see its end.

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