Here is the full transcript of Brittni Darras’ TEDx Talk: The fight against teen suicide begins in the classroom at TEDxMileHigh conference.
It was April, 2013, and I was one month away from completing my first year of teaching. I was at a barbecue when I got the call.
It was a number I didn’t recognize but something compelled me to answer it. My administrator was on the other end. This couldn’t be good. Administrators never call their teachers on Sundays. She told me that school follows a process when something happens to one of our students. The first step is informing that student’s current teachers.
In that moment, I could picture every single one of my students. I wondered which one is it, what happened, and most importantly, are they okay. She told me his name. She said there was an incident, he was taken to the hospital, and it didn’t look good.
I asked if there is anything I could do to help. Could I send flowers? Did he want visitors? I was 22 years old and I failed to understand the severity of the situation. It was too late. My 16 year-old student died by suicide. I was devastated.
No teacher, no parent, no human should ever have to attend a child’s funeral. I was also shocked. How could I have missed the signs? I had seen him almost every day for the past nine months and he seemed fine.
Over the next few years, I was more observant than ever, trying to make sure I didn’t miss those signs again. Were any of my students less talkative than usual? Had anyone withdrawn from their friend group? Did anyone seem sad?
It was March, 2016, almost three years after I lost my student to suicide, that I realized watching for signs alone isn’t enough. I was at a parent-teacher conference and a parent approached my table. Her daughter had been absent from my class for two weeks, and I didn’t know why until that night. My student was in a mental health hospital. She had not only planned to take her life but in the process of doing so when the police received an anonymous report saying that she might harm herself, she had deleted her social media accounts and left goodbye letters. She had prepared to leave the world.
If it wasn’t for that report, my student would not be alive today. But the police were able to break in, save her and bring her to the hospital. I was heart broken. This was the second time in three years that I had a student who is suicidal, and there were no signs. How could somebody who is so beautiful, intelligent, hardworking and friendly, want to take her own life? She seemed so happy.
But that’s what everyone says after it’s too late. In that moment, sitting across from her mom and tears in on both of our eyes, I knew I had to do something. So, I asked permission to write my student a letter, and her mom agreed to bring it to the hospital. I said a lot in this letter. I told her she has a contagious smile that brighthens the lives of those around her.
I told her I loved how she always put the needs of others first. And I had noticed that she always was willing to help someone else on their homework before starting her own. I told her the reason why I kept so many of her projects was because she was a perfectionist. She has gone above and beyond the minimum requirements and produced phenomenal results that I wanted to show to my future students. Finally, I told her I missed her, that our classroom wasn’t the same without her, and that I couldn’t wait for her to return to school.
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