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We met for a conference today with a mom and a student. The student has, at least situationally speaking, anxiety that is paralyzing, and anxiety that brings the child to tears. She was sitting with her mom and a group of adults she had never met before, and we were all talking about her. This meeting could have been a case study in how we, as a society, should address and nurture matters of mental health the way we should, the way we need to; how we meet the needs of the whole child, something we don’t seem to talk about quite as much these days.
We were meeting to talk about how to help this child academically, and how she struggles. We were reviewing all sorts of evaluation results, and an IEP, a plan for this child educationally, everything that probably sounded like Chinese to a smart kid that knew she had issues and challenges, and was overly-sensitive, as many children with special needs are. When I say special needs, I don’t mean slow, as many people think of when they hear the phrase “special needs.” I simply mean this child was a unique being with very individual strengths and challenges. But, I digress. We were talking about all sorts of educational mumbo-jumbo that was quite obviously just making this child more anxious and teary-eyed.
So I interjected.
“Allow me to give a personal perspective,” I put myself out on a limb.
“I’ve been an educator for almost 27 years, but my first year teaching, back in 1991, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety, something I realized after the fact that I probably suffered from my entire life.”
I went on to share a little bit about my experience as a new teacher who suffered from anxiety. I shared with her how a combination of factors, from medication, to therapy, to exercise, all eventually helped me tremendously. While I didn’t go into a lot of personal detail, I also shared the fact that along with all those things just mentioned, exposing myself to situations that challenged my anxiety (I didn’t even get into the fact that I was a person who stuttered), and being successful, strengthened me and helped me overcome any severe anxiety I may have experienced at one time in my life.
The young lady listened to my words, I could tell, hanging to them like hope that perhaps she hadn’t had until this point, that if this adult could do it, it was possible for her to overcome her fears and anxiety as well. Both mom and daughter teared up, not because I had offered any magical miracle solution to how the child was suffering, but because, I believe, I made a human connection, stepping out of my own comfort zone in an attempt to enlarge someone else zone of comfort.
At the conclusion of the conference, I offered the encouragement to this young lady that with help, she could do this, and that it wouldn’t take until she was as old as I was for it to happen. To this, mom gave me a hug, which was certainly unexpected but always welcome. What totally blew me away was when this young lady who didn’t know me 45 minutes prior did the same, and gave me a hug unprompted in any way to do so.
What I did today was simple, but not always easy for us to do. If we, as educators, let down our guard, let students… and parents, for that matter, know that we are living, breathing, vulnerable, yet persevering human beings, we teach not only from what we know, but from who we are. That is not just a day’s work. It’s a gift.