I first met Kaitlyn when she was in my Period 5 Grade 11/12 Early Childhood Services class. I didn’t know.
As a teacher of a grade 11/12 class you are always driven by curriculum and meeting course outcomes. Sure the class was discussion and project based, but I didn’t get to fully know my students on a personal level, as well as I would have liked to.
The pressure to cover the curriculum while maintaining a high standard is difficult given the students diversity of knowledge and individual needs. Nevertheless, it didn’t take me to long to realize, how driven Kaitlyn was.
She was an exceptionally gifted student who was eager to learn, attentive and willing to participate in every in-class discussion, no matter what topic.
But, I still didn’t know.
Throughout the years we have all taken training to recognize the warning signs of student distress, but it’s still very difficult to determine and identify. Ironically, it just so happened I was starting to pilot the Respect in School Program with my Grade 9 Personal Development and Career Planning classes that same year, so I became even more aware of the warning signs, but at that time, Kaitlyn seemed fine.
I will never forget the day, I always had some students stay behind for a few minutes to talk about the subject area or ask questions, but this day was different. One of several projects were due to be passed in and the always pleasant and welcoming smile on one particular young ladies face was gone, she looked empty, emotionless and distraught.
It was clear that for the first time all semester she wasn’t going to be able to finish a project on time, but it went a lot deeper than that.
The weight of the world seemed to be on this young perfectionists shoulders. As the rest of the student body rushed to get out of the building at end of day, the quiet soft-spoken, shy young lady opened up about being overwhelmed and the pressure she felt at school and work. Fighting back tears she apologized countless times for not being able to pass in her assignment.
The assignment didn’t have very much meaning to me in that moment. The due date took a back seat to life that day. We quietly spoke about finding balance in our hectic day-to-day lives.
In that moment, I gained a better appreciation for the pressure of what we teachers categorize as high flyers go through. I hadn’t witnessed it at the Grade 9 and 10 levels, but the pressure to be the best and to attain the highest marks possible can sometimes be unattainable for these students when obstacles arise in their lives.
What sets the high flyers apart from other students is their inner drive, willingness to please, unwavering confidence and intrinsic motivation. However, that unwavering confidence and inner drive often turns into self-doubt when confronted with anxiety, stress and the pressure to perform becomes overwhelming.
The high flyers increasingly internalize everything due in large part to their self-concept and an unwanted desire and self-perceptive notion to show weakness by asking for help. What makes these students so successful is often what creates their worst nightmare, the feeling of failure.
We often think, oh they can handle it or we don’t necessarily observe the subtle changes in those students as we would in others.
Over that brief conversation things started to fall into place, but I still didn’t know.
Fast-forward to the following year, Kaitlyn who now was in Grade 12, was a peer tutor in my Grade 10 Personal Develop and Career Planning class. Our discussion about finding balance seemed to be still resonating. However, something was different about her, the quiet shy girl, that I taught the year before was morphing into an outwardly confident person eager to share her personal experiences to help those around her.
Our first topic in PDCP was self-concept; I wanted both my peer tutors to complete the assignment so they could share their perspective with the class.
The assignment read;
Describe yourself and your personal self-concept. Look at all the notes and discussions from class over the past week.
From first glance, it’s simple to view me as an introvert. My body language is quite often closed off, and I rarely speak unless spoken to first. My identity can be perceived as someone very reserved, quiet and shy. I can’t deny that these things are true, but I’d like to think that I’m much more than that.
I identify myself as a musician, as a writer, as an actress, as a friend. I love being with the people I’m close with, laughing and making memories to last a lifetime. You probably wouldn’t imagine it but, I’m incredibly passionate about being onstage, whether it’s with a script in hand or a guitar by my side.
I value each day I get to spend with those I love, and although I may not be incredibly vocal about my inner most thoughts and feelings, I find my own ways to express them. A lot of people have their own ideas about who I am, but I always like to tell people that everyone has a story of their lives.
My story is just a little bit complicated and unique, but I couldn’t be more proud of how it’s going. I believe in living your life to the fullest, and I’d like to think, I’m making that happen.
By Kaitlyn M. September 2016
I was blown away by both peer tutors responses that day, the class sat dead silent when they read their passages.
But I still didn’t know.
I take a lot of pride in getting to know my students and creating a safe and welcoming atmosphere in my classes. I always try to ensure that every student feels comfortable and accepted when they share their opinions.
Later that semester, a Grade 9 student who had been battling an eating disorder wanted to share her story with all the Grade 10 PDCP classes. As I sat watching one of the most powerful student presentations I had ever seen, for some reason I noticed Kaitlyn pay even more attention than usual.
Over the next few weeks Kaitlyn, the Grade 9 student and I, met to discuss the possibility of taking the presentation to our feeder schools. I had never seen Kaitlyn more passionate and inspired than that moment, she wanted to share her own unique experience.
I started to understand, but I still didn’t know.
It was decided that a video would be better suited and that we could share it with students coming into PDCP for the years to come. Words can’t express how proud I am of Kaitlyn. Teaching is more than just curriculum and reaching outcomes. Teaching is being able to identify, recognize and report the symptoms. I didn’t know, but I am more aware than ever before.