Have you ever wondered what a highly sensitive child in the classroom looks like from the other side, through the eyes of a teacher? Well, wonder no more. I talked to Miranda*, a teacher in the USA who teaches in secondary education (juniors and seniors) and is herself the mother of a highly sensitive 7 year old boy.
HSK: How does being the mother of a HSC help you with highly sensitive children in your classroom?
Miranda: Now that I am aware of the types of sensitivities children may have, it is easier to spot a child who is overwhelmed by noise, emotions (of their own, or in others), real or imagined pressure to succeed, judgements from others… If I can see the issue as a sensitivity, I will definitely approach the child differently. If I make a mistake with how I approach the child or the situation, I make sure to sincerely apologise and explain what I should have done.
HSK: Do you feel you are able to recognise if a child is highly sensitive in your class?
Miranda: At times, but not all the time. There are so many variations, and with the added complications of dealing with teenagers’ emotions and hormones, it isn’t always easy to spot. I’m finding that more students come to talk to me about their issues now that I am aware of how to talk and empathise with highly sensitive kids. Whether I am conscious of it or not, I am approaching many situations differently than I would have years ago, and kids are picking up on the fact that they can talk to me or go to me for comfort
HSK: How did you learn about the concept of highly sensitive?
Miranda: I was very frustrated with how my son seemed to have more issues adapting and trying new things compared to his peers. I felt like I wasn’t being the mom he needed, but that I also didn’t know what sort of mom that was. I was up late one night, feeling upset over something that happened, and I started to Google random qualities of his. The Highly Sensitive website kept popping up in all my searches, so I started doing the test and research. It fit him perfectly.
HSK: How do you help HSCs in your classroom?
Miranda: I offer more breaks- getting a drink, reading in the hall…. I also am much more private when I am giving feedback on assignments. If a student confides in me, I make sure to avoid judgemental comments/words. If it is a situation I am mandated to report, I am upfront about the rules I have to follow. If the kid is upset, I give them the chance to tell the guidance counselor themselves (usually the person I am required to report my concerns to), or write it in a letter that I offer to deliver. I do my best to give them choices over their situation, whether it be academic or personal.
HSK:What tips do you have for parents when communicating with teachers about their HSCs?
Miranda: Please try to understand that teachers have an overwhelming responsibility to all their students. Right now for example, I have 127 students. Of that number, I have 13 special ed kids, 6 with 504 plans (medical intervention plans that can impact academics), 14 that regularly self-harm, 3 in foster care, 5 with at least one parent in jail or prison, and one who lives on his own. These are the kids I have legal obligations for to document every detail of their time in class. I also have two kids at home, one of whom is a HS boy who is very aware of my stress levels, and needs a lot of my attention. I willingly took on this profession, as well as motherhood, but most people simply do not see the big picture of a teacher’s daily life.
Teachers love when a parent offers to help out- either by bringing muffins to share with all teachers once a month, or coming in to help with class parties or field trips. Supportive parents will be heard long before the constant complainers will. Sorry to be so blunt, but it is a fact.
Sometimes, there are certain protocols or procedures that we legally need to follow, and parents berate us for not making special changes for their child. Public education these days is very complicated, and teachers (for the most part) truly care about their students, and they want to provide the best learning environment possible. We see parents all the time who actually do coddle and baby their children unnecessarily, so if that is the knee-jerk response you see, try waiting a while to see if anything changes. There have been times a parent catches me at a bad time, and wants to give me important information about their kid. I listen, but may seem distracted or uninterested. The conversation remains with me though, and I begin to pick up on what the parent was talking about, and it really sinks in. Just because immediate change doesn’t occur does not mean you were not heard and understood.
That being said- if you encounter someone who truly disregards your opinions and concerns, it may help to approach the situation in a different way. Try explaining how frustrating it was before you understood what a highly sensitive person really was. You can explain how food is a struggle, or tags, or smells…. And how after realising there are ways to approach the situation differently, it really improved your relationship.
If you still don’t get anywhere, try talking to the counselor if your school has one. Remember, public education is not for everyone. Don’t be afraid to look elsewhere if your child’s needs are not being met.
HSK: Do you have any comments or experiences you would like to share about teaching HSCs?
Miranda: They are fantastic at analyzing literature! I’ve had some HS kids who just blow me away with their ability to empathise with a character in a text. They are also able to see issues going on with their classmates, and they will often let a teacher know if they are concerned for their friend. They also are more mature about many issues, and will often avoid “drama” with their peers.
*Not her real name
If you’re a teacher (wherever you are in the world, teaching at whatever level of the education system) and would like to share your observations or experience about highly sensitive children in the classroom, I would love to hear from you.