When I began serving in my current posting in 2008, it was my good fortune to encounter one of the most interesting and stimulating group of students I’d yet to teach at that point. I’ll admit that I liked these kids because they reminded me of my friends and myself at their age. Perhaps every teacher likes students like him-or herself. Don’t we, as humans, seek people like ourselves for our society?
One of the members of this group was Malik, whom I recognized immediately as an excellent student, a fellow lover of words and a writer, and a young man with a great deal of potential–and this in a social milieu–his friends–with aggregated potential to spare. Like many young people his age, Malik was and probably remains an aficionado of video games. Like one of his peers who has also kept in touch with me via social media, I believe Malik harbored a desire to write video games. That said, he ended up, while a student in this school, writing a version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible called B-Witches.
In fact, it appears that dramatic writing may be Malik’s forte. In fact, as I write this, I feel a slight twinge of guilt that I’ve yet to find the time (owing mostly to the hectic business of the first six weeks to two months of the school year) for an copyeditor’s look at a one-act play Malik has written called Leonel Paradiso: Archangel Attorney.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of kids struggling with a variety of clinical mental illnesses. (Indeed, from 1990 to 1996 I worked on the adolescent unit of one of New England’s oldest and most venerable psychiatric hospitals.) One of the most frustrating aspects of working as a teacher is the paucity of information I receive in students’ IEPs on their mental health. I’m obviously not a psychiatrist, but six years in the company of some very talented psychiatrists and psychologists provided me with some experience in recognizing psychiatric symptoms. That said, I was aware that Malik, even as a student here, suffered from bipolar disorder because he told me so. Twenty-six years of protecting the confidentiality of patients, clients, and students prevents me from giving Malik’s full name.
But you’ll find it on the blog Malik has started called Mental Health Diary, in which he relates his experience living with this illness. If you are a teacher who works with struggling learners, I submit to you that you are also dealing, from time to time, with children, whether diagnosed or not, who contend with clinical mental illnesses. I don’t know about you, but I am grateful to Malik for giving me a privileged glimpse into his experience living with a serious mental illness. His insights, and his gifts as a writer, can benefit all of us who work with children.