Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’


I have been a teacher for almost 30 years (wait, what?!).  I have been to a thousand team meetings at least. I have reviewed test results, planned IEP’s, talked about progress, planned for the summer. In 90% of those meetings, the feelings of the parents are understandable, reasonable and touching.

Even in the few cases where I have felt that parents were being unreasonable or illogical, I could almost always empathize with them.  After all, nearly every parent is acting out of love.  Nearly every one is motivated by a desire to protect and support and provide for her child.  I understand this motivation, and I feel enormous sympathy for parents of children who are struggling to fit in, to succeed, to learn, to grow and thrive.  I almost always find a way to reach out to those parents, to offer my help and support and to let them see that I am truly on their team.

But once in a while, once in a very rare while, there is a parent who’s motivations are too bizarre to earn my support.

I never refer to parents as “crazy”; that is just too easy an out, too glib a comment in nearly every case.  In 99% of cases, I just don’t think that parents are “crazy” .

But every once in a while, like once every 20 years, I meet a parent who is clearly and unquestionably mentally ill. And perhaps so angry and so disturbed that he or she is acting in a way that is very nearly evil.

I have a meeting with a mother like that tomorrow.  And I am feeling sick at the thought of being enclosed in a room with her for two hours (or more).

And I wonder why I feel such angst?

This woman is not a physical threat; she will not hit or kick or throw rotten tomatoes at us.  She will not curse or rant or storm out of the room.

So why do I feel actual fear?

Because this woman is cold to the point of iciness.  She is rude and loud, talking over every expert, speaking in a tone that is loud and forceful and absolutely unyielding. Her eye contact is challenging and her facial expression is a permanent grimace.

She is, in a word, rude.

So why is that so scary?

I guess its because for those of us who are sane and civil, it is a shock when someone breaks the rules of common courtesy.  We fumble around, we blush, we try to remain calm.  And I wonder why.

I would love to have the internal fortitude to challenge this woman, to treat her as if she were a child in my class. I would love to say, “Excuse me. You are being rude. You may not talk over others. You may not interrupt.”

I wish I could challenge her anger, and ask her “Why aren’t you happy that your child has made a good transition into my classroom? Why can’t you celebrate her success?”   I would like to ask her, “When was the last time that you told your child that you were happy for her?”

I wish that we could call a spade a spade, and that we could identify the mentally ill person in this family; the mom wants us to believe that it is her child who is unwell, but I am sure that it is the mother who needs the psychiatric help.

I wish that the rules of civility would allow me to be uncivil.  Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so afraid to go to an educational meeting.

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