... decided to get serious and think about why anyone involved in education should watch "13 Reasons Why"
I don't know if you know at the moment, but I'm off work! I've definitely kept it quiet, I haven't been going on Insta every day boasting about my mobility scooter or whinging about how 4 weeks of lugging my bulk around on my hands has given me traps that Tom Hardy displays in any of his "I'm a total badass hardman and therefore need to take off my top at any opportunity to display my incredible physique"films. (No complaints here about those images, I salute you TH and may you continue to read bedtime stories in the new 50 shades of cbeebies genre that you have created that the mummies are eating up and I'm watching just for fun!).
Anyway, because of my current hiatus from work, its making it a bit hard to write about one of the primary foci of this blog; teaching. When I realised that I was about to spend the next 5 weeks minimum with my legs akimbo in a RESTful position, the second thing I did was to put out a FB status about binge watch recommendations (the first was to put out a post at peak time to try and illicit sympathy and likes, don't hate the player).
Everyone always has their shows that they enjoy and that they like to champion but one title that I hadn't watched and that kept on springing up time and again was "13 Reasons Why". Now I'm a bit annoying that I don't really like to watch things in the heat of a moment, for example I love sports, but hate them live, and would much prefer to find out the score of a basketball game and then watch it on catch up. I actually don't mind a spoiler. I know, I'm a boring participant. As it kept popping up on my news feed with articles, memes and smug watchers updating their completion status, I found that there was something abut TRW that didn't make me want to find out anything about it, but just watch, patiently and diligently to them end.
I think I engaged because of the topic of teen high school angst and its association with mental health and suicide that hit me immediately from the get go, making uncomfortable but gripping viewing. It could be the fact that one of the reasons I think that I manage to be a good teacher and an approachable member of staff, is that it is important for me to remain relevant. This could be partial Peter Pan Syndrome, but half my job in the classroom is done when I can find some common ground, or a jumping off point to get them to engage. It can be a simple as knowing the latest Snaphat filter ( that I would use with my other immature teacher friends anyway) or know who was voted off in X Factor (a show I detest, but a quick scan on FB will always alert me to which talentless raw chick eating pleb exited the competition that week). I don't necessarily need to be fully absorbed, but I definitely needed to stay at least one step ahead of the rabble. But is was all a bit different with TRW. I was fully emersed, and I had completed 13 hours of episodes within a 24 hour period.
There are a few things that 13 Reasons Why threw up and that I want to discuss, one blog wont do it justice and too be honest would be too much. Thoughts such as:
- How does today's society enable children to get their feelings out immediately via hashtagging and live streaming,
- Social media -24 hours of harassment?
- Do shows like this romanticise activities such as self harming and suicide?
- If 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5-16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder - that is around three children in every class, Why is it so damn hard to get them the right help?
- As a professional, why are the waiting lists for these services so long, or worse, why don't my kids, who are crying out for help, and who desperately need it, reach the thresholds to been seen?
- Who should be responsible for getting the help? School? Parents? Health professionals
- Schools in deprived areas, or with falling numbers have less money coming in, so are the first in school cuts that are made, such as counsellor, the ones that need to stay?
For this blog however I want to think about something really simple, the impact and identification on people working with Children and Young People.
This binge watch started as something to wile the time away, but quickly started me thinking about my day job. At the age of 30, I have been working in education for 9 years, across a multitude of disciplines. I started as a Teaching Assistant in a hard inner city school, where I quickly became the schools Behaviour specialist because of how I could work with the most disaffected, moved to a nice county school where I was in charge of the Key Stage 3 pastoral care, before moving to a town to train as an ICT Teacher whilst there I become a head of house before moving on to become a SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator for those who aren't in the know) , Deputy Safeguarding officer and currently sitting on the Senior Leadership Team in a rural school. Though I have done a rapid fire up the greasy pole of school life, there has always been one constant in my life, and that has been my interaction with pupils.
Over those 9 years, I have been in many a difficult meeting, had awkward parental liaisons, performed home visits, badgered external agencies, all usually has transpired from a heartbreaking interaction with a pupil.
Now I'm no counsellor, but no training course or extra letters after your name can prepare you for a face to face conversation with a teenager who feels like their whole world is ending, because no matter what may not feel like a big deal to me or an adult is their entire world. If they catch me in the right mood, I may even be able to put my size 6's into their schools long enough to empathise that; no they may not be losing the roof over their head, but so-and-so not talking to them and having to be in their next lesson is a big effing deal. The courage that they may need to build up to face a lesson, a break time, or even going home after school is immeasurable. My biggest issues sometimes in school is knowing what is going on in a pupils' home life and not being able to share it with staff, but having them tear their hair out and think that they are being vile, where I am just impressed that they managed to get out of bed that morning and come it, inspite of the chaos they are causing.
And these are just my temporarily feeling down cohort, those of which when I see them after the weekend, all will be fine, as they are back friends with so and so . There's an even more difficult category to deal with, These are the ones who feel they are being bullied or have sustained mental health issues. I was going to er on the side of caution when I used the term "feel" in relation to bullying, because I genuinely believe that identifying bullyingis a bloody tough call for a number of reasons, and I don't to sound flippant on the subject, but I do think that feeling bullies is enough to evoke sever emotions.
Those with sustained mental health needs are the ones that scare me the most. I find myself as a practitioner constantly covering my ass. Making sure that any concerns I have are correctly recorded, reported and followed up. It is teacher 101 to have your safeguarding hat on at all times, but as a advanced practitioner, you only need to hear about a few serious case review details of cases such as Baby P and Victoria Climbié to make sure you always hand in your piece of the jigsaw to make sure the full story is always present. And that is possibly why I felt so uncomfortable with Mr Potter's character. In fact any of the school staff. The teenagers watching the show would have a different focus to me, no doubt any parents watching would also be drawn to something different entirely. But I was drawn to the teachers. The signs that would be put in their path on the daily, but cant always be spotted until after the fact when you're juggling a class full of disengaged hormone ravaged teenagers. The comments that a pupil has made that leaves a niggly feeling in the back of your head, but something has just kicked off, or you have a staff meeting to attend, or just a lesson to teach, so you will have to deal with it later, but will inevitably forget.
I have been in the situation more than once in my career where hindsight has been a magnificent beast, and if only I had looked a bit closer or listen a bit harder, situations may have ended slightly different. Whether that be a pupil that didn't transfer to a new school for a fresh start, or a teenage pregnancy. I could no way have prevented anything, but I could have been that extra ear, that early identifier.
I can literally feel the guilt of those teachers in TRW. Now nothing nearly as intense as the it's story line have occurred in my teaching career thankfully. But whose to say it wont?
The climate is ever changing, but the resources to support it, unfortunately, is not. Teaching is often a reactive profession, something that never sits easy with me. I have never professed to be the cleverest of individuals, but what I lack in E=mc2, I make up for in common sense and heads up thinking. It doesn't take Einstein to predict what will become common place as normal behaviour if we don't start putting this topic higher up in our hierarchy of needs.
As the stresses of life on our teenagers exponentially travels off the chart with their perfect insta filters and their immediate google answers and their crack addict need for social media likes, we will be raising and educating children struck down by social anxieties. Children who on paper, should not be experiencing these emotions. If we cannot nail this support now, we do not have a cat in hell's chance of helping those with more complex needs. This will not come from a scheme of work, or the maintenance to keep mean girl graffiti free toilet walls, or even a school policy. It really needs to come from the big dogs in the government. And if they don't get it, or even want to get it, I challenge them to come to a school and day in day out deal with a child whose heart is breaking and have decided that the only release is from the edge of a compass or more.
But, until that happens, and I commend all those that try to raise the profile of Teen Mental Health, Always talk and Always report, no matter how small and insignificant you think it is.