Red eyes

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(This post is mostly for high school teachers, though some middle school teachers will relate, and it’s definitely for newbies.)

“I am just tired,” Oliver will say. “I did not sleep well.”

“I was crying,” Jeannie may say.

You look at their red eyes. Maybe you catch a whiff of something smoky and herbal on their clothes. You watch their fingers fumble with the pages in their book.

“Turn to page 72,” you say, and you watch them start working their way from page 41 to 72, slowly, one page at time, bending some pages as they go. Friends may lean over to help.

After a minute or two, one of these bloodshot students may ask, “What page was that?”, struggling to articulate that “s” sound.

Unless smoke is curling out of your students pockets, though, I suggest you roll on with your lesson. You won’t gain by shutting down class. If you have morning classes, there’s a good chance all the contraband is at home. I’d recommend you pass a note on to the Dean’s office or administration. Get someone to come to you and step briefly out of the classroom to explain the situation. Tell them you don’t want class interrupted. Locker and backpack searches should be handled by security and people in authority who understand the rules and procedures. Do your best to distance yourself from searches and other happenings. You want to stay off the front lines of this problem. You will spend the year with these students. If you get one or more suspended or even arrested, you may have a long, gruesome and academically-challenging year. Kids hate snitches. You may not be able to stay out of the line-of-fire. But try your hardest to do so.

You just entered the “Between the Rock and the Hard Place” Zone. You don’t have a win here. You are trying to minimize losses. In a suggestive situation, where the clothes don’t smell and the pages are turning fast enough and well enough to pass for normal, I’d begin by walking by and giving quiet warnings.

“Your eyes are red. I am concerned about that,” you might say. “Is everything alright?”

It’s possible the kids told you the truth. A call home to ask why Oliver is not sleeping or Jeannie is crying would be a good move. Mention the red eyes. Listen to parents. See what you learn.

Talk to the social worker in your school. Share your suspicions. Make sure appointments are set up with that social worker. Check to make sure they happened.

I will go out on a limb here and suggest that if you are working at a zero-tolerance school, you might warn your class. At a neutral time, when nothing has raised any flags in the recent past, have a “theoretical” discussion. Remind them what will happen if a locker search does not come out clean. Ask them: “Do you want to leave your friends behind to go to an alternative high school?”

Good luck. Substance abuse clobbers adults who know better. Kids can get lost quickly.

Eduhonesty: Teachers naturally want to help. Unless you have special training other than your academic and education classes, though, you should pass this one on to the social workers and counselors. They will know about help and resources in your area. You don’t want to get in the middle of a substance abuse problem. It’s too easy to place yourself in a situation where you may have to violate a student confidence.

But you also want to follow up with the social worker to make certain this ball does not get dropped. In a busy urban school, when Oliver skips his appointments, he may not be tracked down. You want to be sure that a qualified adult is helping him, even if you sometimes have to walk him to that appointment.