I recently learned that you kicked out one of your students because she was exhibiting strange behavior. You told a thirteen-year old girl with visible sadness and markings of warning signs not to come to school. Since when do elementary schools have a policy that pushes out the mentally ill?
When I was fifteen, I rubbed Plath and Dickinson into my skin. Could not compare how I felt with the others around me. So, I wrote. Carved poems into my notebook. Carved letters and lines into my skin. No one taught me how to hurt myself. It was a language I gathered with each collected tear drop. Poetry wound up [in many ways] saving my life, but it also turned up the volume to my invisibility.
Freshman year of high school, I read my first poem to an auditorium full of 13-18 year olds. I don’t remember the title, but it was so dark, the lights lost their balance and afterwards, teachers started worrying for my safety. This was the moment I realized how powerful words can be. I carried a book of Lou Reed’s lyrics with me and reread all the poems by Plath that made my skin feel like it was finally getting nourishment. The school guidance counselor started making appointments with me. The bloodied hieroglyphics on my skin were getting noticed. I stopped hiding.
Even in my saddest state, no one ever asked me to leave. When I walked out on classes because I needed to retreat, to lose myself against trees or carve out my grey into park benches instead of myself, no one stopped me. When I missed over forty days of classes because I needed to medicine myself toward something more safe, I was welcomed back without judgement.
Now, I’m the teacher. And I notice every student in my classroom and help them to feel and be present. I would never close the door on someone trying to learn. Especially someone having a difficult time remaining with themselves.
There is a school in Elizabeth, New Jersey that recently asked a thirteen-year old learner not to come back. I think that if every school pushed out those having a difficult time with living, we’d no longer have to worry about over-crowded classrooms. We’d also have a shortage of teachers and (probably) administration.
Kicking people out is not the solution. Giving them a safe space to talk is.
It has taken me almost two decades to manage and understand my sad. I have finally located the root, so now I work everyday to create and find safe spaces to translate it.
Elizabeth, New Jersey, I am disappointed in your approach to mental illness and unwillingness to look at this young girl as a wake up call. It is difficult to be alive sometimes; punishing someone because they are having second thoughts about it will only perpetuate these behaviors, not help to solve them.