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Critical Incident Report - Bipolar Teachers

As teenagers venture through their short-lived high school careers, it is inevitable that at some point of their learning experience, they will encounter one or more distinguishable moments that will stimulate concern, discomfort, distress, trouble, stress, or a combination of these feelings, whether it happens inside or outside the classroom. Usually, the most memorable instances are those that involve an authoritative figure, such as a staff member acting out of the ordinary. Un-surprisingly, students are often the first to recognize a sense of peculiarity whenever such an event occurs. For instance, a teacher dealing with a personal crisis at home or with family may become less patient with his/her students and be quick to anger or experience dramatic mood swings, thereby jeopardizing the respect aspect they may have built over the semester.

During my high school years, there were many instances when I felt concerned or troubled after noticing a teacher acting strangely. In grade ten, our teacher informed the class that she had been diagnosed with a case of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes big mood swings, switching from periods of very high energy to periods of sadness. Our teacher was incredibly open to her students and would sometimes discuss her person matters with us, sometimes without even noticing. In addition, she had also indicated to us that she was on medication and that her husband of 25 years of marriage had recently filed for divorce. Throughout the semester, she was very inconsistent with her attitude towards her students. Sometimes the way she marked one student varied from the way she marked another. In fact, she deliberately failed a student who had missed a fair number of classes due to surgery without of-fering any form of academic assistant to help guide her through that rough time period. When the vice-principal had come to audit her teaching capability, she treated us with kindness and profes-sionalism, almost as if she were a whole different person. Although I do not blame her for her awkward behaviour, especially since she had very little control over it, it would have been best for her to take the semester off rather than come to work feeling miserable. This incident was significant to me because I did not know what to expect every time I showed up to her class. I constantly shied away from asking simple questions to clarify challenging subjects because I feared the response I would receive. Although I did fairly well that semester, I did not reach my full potential nor did I succeed to the level I had planned, especially when she was not performing to her fullest potential either. Furthermore, she showed very little etiquette in the classroom, something I had never been exposed to prior to that course.

According to the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession, the teacher showed a lack of Commitment to Students and Student Learning, Leadership in Learning Communities, and Professional Practice. By showing a lack of Commitment to Students and Student Learning, none of the students could reach their full learning potential. Students were constantly confused regarding the teacher's overall expectations when handing in an assignment or the length an answer had to be in an essay-style test question. One student even failed the course because there was no moral or academic support to aide their personal issue. Usually when a teacher lacks to fulfill this particular Standard of Practice, they are lacking heart. If I were in this teacher's position, I would not allow my personal life to dictate how I treat my students. To help aid the student who had undergone surgery, I would have first called home to get a notion of their overall health or condition. If they were too ill to continue with the course, I would recommend that they safely drop the course before any deadline and receive no credit rather than a failing credit, which is typically recorded onto one's transcript for future prospect. However, if the student chose to continue, I would make a set of class notes which the student could take home, read through, remain on task, and not fall behind. Thirdly, I would accommodate the student by allotting extra time to hand in assignments and tests. In fact, to make matters easier on the parents, I would email the student's assignments; that way they would not have to take time off their busy schedules.

Furthermore, since those inflicted with bipolar disorder have a hard time maintaining a constant mood, I would suggest having students work in small groups rather than individually when performing a science experiment. Conducting classes in this fashion would allow the students to discuss matters amongst themselves and solve problems collectively without constantly disturbing the teacher, especially when the teacher has a low tolerance to disturbances. Allowing students to work in groups promotes Leadership in Learning Communities because it creates a collaborative, safe, and supportive learning environment within the classroom. In fact, it further elevates the teacher's status within the classroom as it distinguishes them as a moderator. This mode of handling the class is important to me because it allows students to be more independent, self-reliant, and self-motivated - three skills that are central to learning. Finally, to deal with the inconsistency issue regarding the way students were assessed and evaluated would be to create a rubric for each assignment; rubrics often help clarify the expectations for an assignment. In fact, it serves as a useful guide that describes what excellent work entails and allows the student to set concrete targets for achievement. Therefore, when a mark is returned, students will be less confused regarding the mark received, and in turn, fewer questions will be asked based on the marking scheme.

As an aspiring teacher and a current student, I know how vital it is to have a teacher who is consistent in their attitude towards each student and the way they assess and evaluate academic achievement. If I knew of a student who was being treated unfairly due to their teacher's medical condition, the first thing I would suggest to the afflicted student would be to remain warm and friendly rather than overreact and provoke the teacher all the more. If I were the teacher, I would not tell my students of my medical condition, but rather take a leave of absence until I properly tweaked the amount of medication needed to control the condition. This way, any side effects experienced would be manageable, rather than come as a surprise while teaching or on duty.