How should a teacher react?

Since I will be a teacher someday, (I am going into Elementary Ed with a minor in Special Ed.) I think about my students who may be bipolar. What do you think would be the best approach if I noticed a student who shows signs of being bipolar? Who should I talk to first, parent, counselor, principal etc?

I’m so glad that you’re going into Elementary Education with a minor in Special Education. There is a great need for Special Education instructors in our schools today. It’s great that you’re thinking about the best ways to meet your students’ needs before you’re in the classroom. I am also going to school to become an Elementary teacher.

It is always best to keep an open line of communication between yourself and the parent(s). Communication is one of the most essential things to have when you are teaching so that the parent(s) will partner with you in the education of their child. Inform the parent(s) that you would like to work with them to find a solution.

I would also pull a counselor into the classroom to observe the behavior that you’re seeing and get a second opinion. Depending on the relationship that you have with parents, you may or may not want to inform them that you are enlisting the help of a counselor.

Principals always like to know what’s going on especially when it deals with parent relations because if the parent(s) becomes unhappy they will likely go to the principal. Bring the principal into the loop whenever you feel it is necessary. You can never do this too early. The principal is your main supporter because if there needs to be an Individualized Education Plan created for this child it would be great to have your principal in on the discussion.

Hopefully the parent(s) contacts a professional and the child gets the help that they need. Regardless you and the staff at the school should continue to find a solution for the child, keeping the parent informed along the way and document everything!! (It’s very important that everything you do be documented so that if anything negative happens and you are personally attacked though a law suit or any action where you’ll need to defend yourself, you’ll have the documents to prove what was said and done. This is especially important if the child doesn’t do what is necessary to get their child the help they need and several years later they would like to blame you.) If the parent(s) unfortunately do not seek help and the child is still having difficult times in class have a parent teacher conference and include both the principle and counselor.

5 thoughts on “How should a teacher react?

  1. Having been an educator and administrator in a public schools system for 30 years, I know that Jen’s response to your question is a very tactful and supportive message that clearly says….tread carefully! Most school systems are careful to NOT make diagnoses or to mention specific disabilities before the issue is raised by the parent or determined through testing. Also, diagnoses are really supposed to be made by professionals qualified to analyze the test results. The process and procedures for identification of special needs is carefully outlined both in the federal law and in state/local education systems. Sometimes teachers, trying to help and not thinking about the process, jump over the “chain of command,” so to speak. Sometimes that can place the school in a difficult situation. The teacher’s role is to observe, document, and refer the child to the school’s multidisciplinary team for evaluation. When this team first meets with the parents, and the behavior and/or academic problems are discussed, the term “possible bipolar disorder” would, in all likelihood, never be mentioned by the team members. The child would be probably be recommended for testing and a psychological evaluation. Whatever the tests reveal would form the basis of the IEP. The term “bipolar” might show up on the psychological; it might not. Now, that said, the teacher can certainly document student behaviors using accurate terms/descriptors to help the parent and MDT in the evaluation process. I agree that the guidance counselor should be consulted and often the principal will already know about a child who has issues because there is often a “history.” There should be student records that you may be able to access for information. Just be aware that teachers do have to follow local and federal guidelines with regard to their students and what you discuss with parents should be carefully presented. If you are unsure, always check with your principal beforehand. Your students will certainly benefit from your knowledge and experience with BPD in how you treat them.

  2. Wonderful advice Jen – especially about documentation. I keep preaching to my students that they need to be data collectors (not in a judgemental way or as evidence for the prosecution – but to note things such as extreme mood changes that couold indicate problems in medication). Thanks for your willingnes to share your experience and expertise. Best wishes as you pursue your teaching certificate!
    Prof Post

  3. First of all… this whole website is very helpful, so thank you!
    I am double majoring in special/elementary education and websites like these are great information holders for us future teachers. I agree with your first point regarding communication, it is very important. It is a sticky situation though and drastic measures should be avoided I think. I think it is important to remember that the diagnosis of the student is a process, not something that happens overnight. I am learning that in my field experience placements, it is a total team effort between the parents, teachers, aides, specialists and the student. Communication also is key with the principal, you have raised some really great points here Jen. In the placement I am in for this fall semester, the teachers and aides keep very detailed progress reports on each one of the seven students in the class. The child is the first priority and I think it is so important to remember that throughout this process. As a future educator, I hope that I can be a helpful contributor in getting the student the services and assistance they may need. And I think that getting them that solid help they need starts with great communication between the team of people who are working to give that student the best education experience possible.
    Thank you,
    Hannah Sprague

  4. I think that this was a great question to ask. I am also going to school and doing a double major in both elementary education and special education. Special education teachers are in huge demand these days. I agree that parent communication is very important. The parents should know what is going on with there child in school. Also, whether their child is having a good or bad day at school. Having a good relationship with the parents or guardians is a great thing. Another thing that brought a good point was making sure the principal is aware of what is going on because like the article stated it is most likely for the parent to go to them if there is any problems. This article was very helpful and the website is also!

  5. As an aspiring teacher, this website is extremely helpful! I agree with you about communication is the most important thing when teaching. I liked how you stressed the fact that teachers should document everything. I really liked your thoughts about bringing in a counselor and principal. It is always good to have a team to get different opinions on things. I wish you the best of luck and thanks for the wonderful advice!

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