Second period on October 31st, 2017 was just like any other ordinary second period on All Hallows Eve in my classroom full of 12th graders; a few students were in their Halloween costumes and others had the audacity to dress up as high school seniors. I was busy reading the temperature check data that was coming across my Google Sheet which included some formative data on a recent lesson I taught on the Cold War. As is always the case, before asking students to prove to me that they’ve retained important content, I always ask two questions: “How are you?” and “Why?” The “Why?” portion of the temperature check is always optional and I never draw attention to a student’s choice to not respond; it is entirely their choice.
“Oooh we got some folks in here wearing some pretty fly shoes!” I said at 8:39AM leaving the student nameless on purpose as always. I followed that up with a blanket statement of solidarity to express my disdain for Chemistry so that the many students in the room who were fresh off of their first period Chemistry exam felt supported (my wife is the Chemistry teacher so really, it was just to express my audacious belief that History is better than Chemistry). “Hey folks, don’t forget! Playoff soccer tonight! Be there!!” I do this for the playful stuff to show students that I care enough to read what they’re telling me. But some students are in no mood for play as I learned 11 seconds after 8:40AM when a student checked-in at a 2 with this for their why: “I’ve been struggling with depression for a long time and I hit my lowest point yesterday. Nothing I generally want to talk about. I had a long night and I’m thinking of talking to my parents about seeing someone.” The student scored a 12/14 on their (I will use gender-neutral pronouns so as not to remotely reveal the identity of the student) quiz and without having the audacity to ask how they were doing, I could have easily assumed they were doing just fine.
Immediately, I went into that mode that any teacher who has ever experienced a student in crisis knows all too well. My inner voice was frantic. “Alright, don’t show any change in demeanor or those 32 pairs of eyes looking at you will immediately know something is off… alright, think… think... DING!” I opened up my email and sent the student a message. “Hey, just saw your temperature check. At 8:43, raise your hand and ask to use the restroom. When you step out, stay there. I’ll be there in a minute.” I asked my entire class to check their emails as I had responded to a few students individually and then I stepped into my neighboring teacher’s classroom and asked if they could keep an eye on my students when I stepped out in a few minutes (we share a common door so this was pretty easy.) The teacher agreed. As I was now finishing up reading the rest of the temperature checks, the student’s hand went up and a minute later I was out in the hallway thanking the student for sharing and walking the student down to our counseling office where we’d support the student over the course of the rest of the day through the crisis. Two months later I would receive a letter from the student thanking me for saving their life that day.