What Teachers Wish Parents Knew About Children and Mental Illness

February 29, 2012 Angela McClanahan

There are two sides to every coin, right?

Having offered up my list of what I, as a parent, wish educators knew about childhood psychiatric illness, it seems only fair to play devil's advocate.

My experience as a teacher is admittedly limited--I am a substitute. I don't usually have to come up with lesson plans to accommodate 20-30 children. I'm not under pressure to crank out awesome test scores with limited time and resources. Generally, I am in and out the same day and collect a paycheck regardless of what happens.

That doesn't mean I don't take my job seriously. I want to teach my classes. I want to learn from my classes, too. I don't know how much I've actually taught so far, but for me, this year has been highly educational.

So--what do teachers want parents to know about children and psychiatric illness?

1. They don't teach us about this stuff in college. Unless an education student selects a special education emphasis, teacher education students are required to take one semester's worth of child psychology as it pertains to the general classroom. There is little (if any) specific direction regarding various childhood mental illnesses and/or how to teach children who have them.

2. We'd love to learn all about your child's diagnosis--if we had the time. Most teachers, believe it or not, have families and children and lives outside the classroom. In spite of that, most do spend time at home grading papers, developing lesson plans, and completing continuing education hours. They take their work home with them, but there's often little time left to research one or two children.

3. We can't choose to teach either your child or the rest of the class. The amount of time a teacher must spend redirecting, assisting and corralling one child is time taken away from teaching 20-30 other children. Teachers want your child to learn--but simply can't sacrifice the majority for the few.

4. There is only so much we can do. Teachers don't just teach. They are counselors, therapists, food-providers, supply-lenders, personal hygiene helpers, and personal organizers. That said, they are limited by law as to what they can/can't do for a mentally ill child. They cannot "just hold him down til he relaxes," or "just give him his meds during the field trip," or "just make him stay inside if he can't handle himself at recess." They are also responsible for the safety of every other child in their classroom--if one child threatens the safety of the rest, they are obligated to take action.

Of course, if public education were better funded, and more funds allocated to special education, it's likely none of the above would be an issue. If psychiatric illness wasn't so difficult to prove "disabling," more mentally ill kids could get individual assistance during the school day by way of an IEP.

Gee whiz--it sure doesn't seem like such a huge request, does it?

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2012, February 29). What Teachers Wish Parents Knew About Children and Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 25 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

Leave a reply