Another cutter

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I just found out I have another cutter. That makes two this year that I know about, although they are almost certainly not the only two. What is cutting? Cutters deliberately injure themselves by making scratches or cuts on themselves with a sharp object. Scissors work well, but a bent paperclip serves in a pinch.

Before I started teaching, I viewed cutting as a rare psychological ailment found mostly in textbooks. My view has changed. I’ve even reached the point where I now break cutters into two categories, scratchers and true cutters. Erasing the top layers of your skin or etching a ex-boyfriend’s name into an arm definitely cannot be ignored, but it’s not the same as gouging the word “death” into an actively bleeding arm. I’d also like to know the number of students afflicted with this need for painful self-expression. I’m certain the number is high. The following paragraph comes from the website for Focus on the Family (

Experts call cutting “the new anorexia” because, like an eating disorder, it is a self-destructive attempt to control painful thoughts and unexpressed emotions. Current research places the number of self-injurers at about 4 percent of the general population, and as many as 10 percent of American teenage girls. Cutting is the most common form of self-harm, but up to 75 percent of all cutters rely on diverse methods, such as burning, pulling hair or punching walls.

Cutters hide the cuts and scars with long sleeves and concealing clothing. They are often discovered when a close friend comes to a teacher or social worker for help.

Eduhonesty: Parents and teachers need to watch for long sleeves and pants in warm weather, an extreme need for privacy when changing clothes, and unexplained scratches, scars or bruises. If it’s hot outside and you haven’t seen an arm or a leg for weeks, cutting needs to be considered as an explanation. In a time when teen suicide is every school counselor’s nightmare, cutters need therapy and support.

This problem needs to be passed on to a mental health professional immediately.

I feel sad as I look out into the room at my cutters. How did they get so stressed? What can we do to help? Mega-testing certainly does not help. I am exempting one of these two from tests right now. I am taking extra credit work from the other. Both are far behind the regular student population and I am sure that adds to their burdens. As we eliminate self-contained special education classes, we might consider the effect of being plunged into a mainstream classroom where you will almost certainly find yourself at the bottom of the class.

As schools create and exacerbate self-esteem issues, I also wonder to what extent schools are contributing to any increase in the number of students who have chosen to take out their frustrations on their own bodies.