TRIGGER WARNING: This blog contains content that may be upsetting to some people.
I was just thinking back to my days at school and how ignorant teachers could be at times. So, I thought I would tell a few of the stories of ignorant teachers that I came across.
A comment that was in my year 3 school report (age 8):
‘Leanne needs to have a greater appreciation of how much the other students put themselves out to work with her when she chooses not to talk to them. When she is capable of saying, “Thank you.” to someone who helps her but chooses not to respond, even minimally, in this way she is not giving her fair share to developing relationships with her peers.’
This comment wasn’t signed by any teachers like the others were, so whoever wrote this one obviously didn’t want anyone to know it was them.
Year 4 (age 9):
One day after lunch, I had finished eating before the friend that I was with did, so I decided to wait for her in the corridor. After a little while, I got a bit bored and noticed some musical instruments and decided to pick up a shaker to play with to pass the time. The next thing I knew, a teacher (and quite a strict teacher) came down the stairs and said, “What on earth do you think you are doing?! Put that down!” I listened to her and put it down. Then, she stared at me with a look almost deathly and shouted, “Why are you here?! Which way are you going?!” I just stood there with my eyes glued to the ground; eye contact was impossible for me. I tried so hard to say, “I’m just waiting for my friend” but no matter how hard I tried, the words just wouldn’t come out. Then, she shouted again, “Look at me when I’m talking to you! Which way are you going?!” My anxiety was so high by this point. All I could do was stand there and stare at the ground whilst I could feel my entire body boiling up with all the anxiety.
I just could not respond to her no matter how hard I tried. The words just felt stuck, and trying to find my voice was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Again, she shouted, “I’ll ask you one last time! Which way are you going?!” I pointed to the right, to where the door was that leaded to the cloakroom. Then she said, “No, I’d like you to tell me which way you’re going! Pointing is rude!”
Finally, she walked away and said, “That was very rude of you not to answer me.”
Year 4 (age 9):
One day when our usual teacher was off, we had a substitute teacher. Unfortunately, this was a day that my whiteboard pen ran out. I spent the whole lesson hoping she wouldn’t pick on me to answer a question because I knew if she did, she wouldn’t know that I wasn’t able to talk and I wouldn’t even be able to write down that I couldn’t talk. I just spent the whole lesson trying not to bring any attention to myself whatsoever and I spent the entire lesson looking down to avoid catching her eye.
Eventually though, she did pick on me. I knew I couldn’t respond with my whiteboard because of the fact that the pen had run out, and I knew the answer to the question, but no matter how hard I tried, the words just wouldn’t come out.
“We haven’t got all day you know!” She said angrily. I knew I then had to hint that my pen had run out. I picked up my whiteboard and then the pen and began to try and write on it to show her that the pen wasn’t working. “Oh for goodness sake! You’re not a baby! Just say it!”
I looked around the classroom hoping that someone would help me out and would tell her that I couldn’t talk. It seemed like forever before eventually, someone said, “she doesn’t talk.” The teacher let out a massive sigh and brought a whiteboard pen over to me and slammed it on the desk. I knew for a fact that she thought that the fact that I didn’t talk was absolutely ridiculous and that she thought that I just had to get over myself; except she couldn’t see how much anxiety really was building up inside of me.
I picked up my pen whilst my whole body was shaking, my heart was beating faster than ever before and my body felt like it was burning up, hotter than it had ever been before. I wrote down the answer and the teacher said, “thank you. That is correct. See it wasn’t so hard after all now was it?” I just looked at her very blankly, still feeling more anxious than ever and she walked to the front of the classroom to ask the next person a question.
Year 6 (age 11):
In Year 6, the headmistress put me and another girl in charge of putting the music on each morning for the assembly. This made me feel quite important and I loved going into the hall each morning before everyone else and choosing the music each day.
However, this meant that I would have to miss being in the classroom for the register each day so the teacher said that I would have to go into the classroom before the hall each day so I could let her know I was there. One day, I went into the classroom and she wasn’t there. I spent a good 5 or so minutes pacing around the classroom, hoping that she would come back so that she would see me, but she didn’t. I could usually communicate perfectly fine to any of the other kids using a whiteboard at this point, but communicating with teachers was virtually impossible. I tried so hard to write down a note to leave on the teacher’s desk, but no matter how hard I tried, I just could not write anything. It was like my entire body completely froze each time I tried.
After spending what seemed like an eternity in the classroom just hoping that the teacher would come back but didn’t, I ended up going into the hall which ended up feeling like the worst mistake of my life. When she and the class came into the hall, I could instantly see the look of anger on her face. “Right! You didn’t come to see me to tell me you were in!” she shouted, right in front of an entire assembly of people. I didn’t know what I felt worse about, the fact that she was shouting at me for something that I couldn’t help, or the fact that my anxiety levels were beyond extremely high because I had about 200 people looking at me at once. “Go to the office right now and let them know that you’re here! I’ve already sent the register in! And one more thing, you will not be doing the music anymore, someone else will do it from now on seeing as you clearly can’t be trusted to come and tell me you’re in everyday!”
I walked from the back of the hall, to the front exit whilst I had 200 people still staring at me at once, the whole time. I was shaking like you wouldn’t believe, and to say that I had burnt up hotter than ever before would be an understatement. When I got to the office door, I thought to myself, Oh no! How am I going to tell the secretary what I want to say if I can’t talk? What’s she going to think when I just stand there and don’t say anything? She’s going to think I’m a right idiot! I’d suddenly realised that I was probably going to have to talk to her to tell her what I wanted to say, “I was told to come here to tell you I was in today because I wasn’t there when the register was marked.” I tried so hard to say, but the sound was completely trapped inside. I couldn’t get the words to come out, so all I could do was walk into the secretary’s office and look at the secretary and hope they knew what I needed. “It’s alright. I’ve got you marked down as present today.” What was the point in that then? I thought, angrily.
I went back into the hall to sit right at the back of the hall with the rest of the year 6’s. So many emotions were going round and round and round my head at this point. I felt angry, frustrated, anxious, embarrassed, upset, annoyed, confused and completely alone in what I was going through. Why doesn’t a single person seem to understand me or help me?! I screamed silently inside my head. Then, out of nowhere, I began to be unable to breathe properly and I began to hyperventilate right at the back of the hall. I didn’t know at the time, but this was my very first panic attack; I was just 11 years old. I tried so hard to stop it, but no matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t stop and I didn’t have a clue what was going on. All at once, all the bad things that I had to face from suffering with Selective Mutism just came to my mind all at once. I was sick to death of suffering from this. All I wanted to do was to just talk. Was that so much to ask for?! Just a tiny simple thing, yet I seemed to be the only one in the world that was unable to talk in certain situations. No one seemed to understand just how difficult it really was. It seemed to me that no one cared and no one ever would. It was like fighting a losing battle.
However, it didn’t stop there. When I got back to the classroom, the teacher called me up to the front of the class. “Why didn’t you come to tell me you were in today?” She asked. I just shrugged my shoulders as if to say, “I don’t know.” It was the only thing I could do. I wasn’t able to respond verbally so in that moment, shrugging my shoulders was my immediate reaction. “Don’t shrug at me! That’s rude! How are you going to manage when you go to High School if you’re late or something and you won’t tell them? What if there’s a fire and they don’t know you’re there?” Thanks for pointing that one out and making me feel even worse! Again, I just shrugged. “Oh for goodness sake, write it down on your whiteboard.” I went to my desk to collect my whiteboard and then went back up to the desk. Trying to avoid the question, I tried to take off the lid of the pen as slowly as I possibly could in the hope that she’d get fed up and tell me to go and sit back down again, but she didn’t. “C’mon! I’m waiting for an answer!” My heart started thudding in my chest. Why do I find it so hard just to write something down? Grow up, Leanne just write it down! I thought to myself. Yet even getting annoyed at myself didn’t seem to be working this time. I just stared at her very blankly; hardly able to breathe steadily hoping and praying that the ground would just come up and swallow me into it.
After getting fed up of me not responding, she then turned to the rest of the class. Oh no. Please do not humiliate me all over again! Once was bad enough! “Would someone please like to tell Leanne what she would do if she was late for school and didn’t make it to registration?” I stood at the front of the classroom, staring at the floor, hoping that no one would answer her. Please! Please! Please! No one answer! Then a boy put his hand up, “she could write it down on a piece of paper or a whiteboard and show it to the secretary in the office.” “Thank you.” She said “See, it wasn’t so hard after all now was it?” Still staring at the ground, with my face as red as tomato, and my heart beating faster than a drum, I shook my head.
The reason why I am sharing these stories is because it highlights how little many teachers understand. If all of the teachers had understood that it wasn’t my choice to be silent and that I was actually finding it impossible to talk and most importantly that I often found any kind of communication difficult, then none of these things would have ever happened, or at least it would’ve made them less likely to have happened. It is so important that all teachers are aware about Selective Mutism and understand that it is not a choice in any way whatsoever so that people who have Selective Mutism are not subjected to humiliation like I was many times. There are so many more stories that I could share, but I decided to just share these ones. It needs to be compulsory for all teachers to be made aware of Selective Mutism.