Opinion
Education Opinion

Good-bye, M.B.

By Tamara Fisher — September 10, 2008 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Good-bye, M.B… School has started once again, yet you are not here with us. We’ve re-convened after a summer of travel and relaxation, learning and camps, celebrations, … and mourning your death. The other kids come in with their backpacks over their shoulders and I think of you, the one who didn’t make it back…

Your easy grin, your brilliant curiosity, your penchant for deep questions and conversation, your friends who have carried on so admirably without you… I have found thoughts of each of these wandering in from the back of my mind at odd moments during this first week of school. Back when you were a little 3rd grader, talking as fast as you could think but faster than I could listen, I never imagined this moment.

I look at my little 3rd graders today and can’t bear to imagine it with any of them.

This is the painful part of teaching, when the ‘real world’ yanks our classroom doors open and sweeps in without warning to snatch away the future, when all our positive efforts seem to have been for naught, when learning comes from Life’s hard lessons.

Back in my undergraduate days, I remember my EdPsych professor posing a terrible question in class one day: “What will you do when one of your students dies?” She said if we taught for enough years, it would probably happen at some point. Of course, in our youthful eager idealism, it never seemed possible back then. We were going to be teachers to change the world, to make a difference, not to struggle with these agonizing questions.

But here are her questions again, battling in my mind. How do we support our students when something like this happens? How do we balance giving ourselves time and space to mourn yet still be strong and supportive for our students? What is a teacher’s role in the aftermath of tragedy?

Nowadays, particularly after 9-11, schools have plans in place for dealing with the variety of tragic (or even just challenging) situations that can befall us. And those plans do help – a lot.

But the pain is still there, and teachers are human, too.

And perhaps that’s part of what we can give our students at a time like this – letting them see a glimpse of our humanity, a peek into our “real-person-ness.” Maybe it’s like those moments when we see a student at the grocery store and he is blown away by the fact that we have lives outside of the school building. “You buy groceries, too?” Of course! And we also cry, too…

Life goes on, and learning goes on, and we must go on, too.

***** ***** *****

I actually wrote the above portion of today’s post a year ago – and have struggled ever since with whether or not to post it, whether or not to broach the broader not-yet-mentioned topic, and how to deftly, accurately, and sensitively talk about it…

September is Suicide Prevention month, and today, September 10th, is Suicide Prevention Day.

Some people tend to assume that suicide occurs less frequently among this group of bright kids who seem to have everything going for them. Other people tend to assume that it occurs more often among the gifted because the existential nature of a gifted person (including existential depression) can lend itself to some dark thinking.

But what does the research say about suicide and the gifted? It’s a mixed bag – and at this point in time the bag isn’t very full yet, so that’s a complicated and difficult question to answer (1, 2). There is some research (1, 2, 3) with – among other things – a conclusion that gifted students may be at more risk for suicide (the third link cites other studies that appear to have reached that conclusion). Yet one study (1) deduces there just isn’t enough accurate data available on this topic yet to draw precise conclusions. Some studies show that it occurs at about the same rate (not a significantly more or less frequent rate) as it does in average, same-aged peers (1, 2, 3). Finally, chapter 7 of “The Social and Emotional Lives of Gifted Kids” by Tracy Cross does a great job of covering the overall topic and its inconclusive research base.

Perhaps the most oft-cited authority on suicide and the gifted, though, is a research summary in “The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know?” by Maureen Neihart, Sally M. Reis, Nancy M. Robinson, Sidney M. Moon. These two quotations come from that text:

“Although it is a popular notion that gifted children are at risk for higher rates of depression and suicide than their average, no empirical data supports this belief, except for students who are creatively gifted in the visual arts and writing (see Neihart & Olenchak, this volume). Nor, however, is there good evidence that rates of depression and suicide are significantly lower among populations of gifted children.”

“It is not at all clear whether suicide is more or less common in gifted adolescents than other adolescents – the statistics simply are not available – although it is easy to develop rationales why the rates should be higher or lower.”

But even if the statistics don’t indicate it being any more or less of a problem for the gifted, it’s still a tragedy in each individual case - and in all cases of all ages and types of people. I wish that I remembered my students M.B. and R.V. for bigger reasons than how they died.

In part because of M.B.’s death last summer, a service-oriented student organization at our high school conducted a week-long series of suicide awareness events this past spring. One of my students, a friend of M.B.’s, was among the handful of kids who put in countless hours over many weeks to organize and run the awareness week. His dedication to the task as well as his assistance for his fellow students was impressively thorough. But having so much on his plate during that time, something had to give, and that something was his until-that-point 4.0 GPA. At first disappointed in himself for “failing” to maintain his perfect grades, he soon reached the most important conclusion: “Yeah, I got a B in Math… But I saved two lives.” I couldn’t have been more proud :o)

So… today’s post is in part my way of finally having the guts to put those above thoughts out there – and also about linking you up with what the somewhat-limited research says about suicide among the gifted. Most importantly, though, I want to leave you with some valuable resources to access should you want or need to learn the signs of someone considering suicide, should you be concerned that someone in your life is contemplating suicide, or should you – heaven forbid – need some tips for how to handle the aftermath.

Suicide Among Gifted Adolescents: How to Prevent It

An Overview: Understanding and Assessing Suicide in the Gifted

National Suicide Hotline 1-800-SUICIDE

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
or NSPL at MySpace

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

National Association for Mental Illness

Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Feel free to add your own resource ideas as well :o)

The opinions expressed in Unwrapping the Gifted are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP