Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What I Wish My Teacher Knew & Mandated Reporting

By now most of you who have even the most fleeting of relationships with social media have probably seen the "Finish this sentence: What I wish my teacher knew..." assignment that went viral a while back.

First let me put aside the book controversy: the teacher who created the assignment is publishing a book of the finished sentences. That doesn't feel right to me, but I don't know enough about i (permissions received, etc) to broadcast a real opinion yet.

I'm curious about the groundwork laid before this assignment, and if other people really thought this through and laid their own groundwork before giving it out thinking "Oh this is great I'm using it tomorrow!" Because that question is a land mine. The value of it is immense, no doubt. But you are going to learn things that you are going to have to, going to be required by law to, deal with.

So the questions I have for people who have used this assignment: Were you ready for that? Did you prepare your students for that? Because if you just had them fill it out and hand it in with no disclaimer, you are seriously putting their trust in you at risk. You are opening the door to their most painful secret, and potentially will be forced to share it beyond the walls of your classroom. Do they know that before they begin writing?

I start addressing the issue of mandated reporting from Day 1 of the semester. I give out this getting to know you sheet:

And then my patter and explanation while they are working on it opens the discussion. For instance, when we get to "One thing you should know about me," I tell them "Now don't tell me that your parents lock you in a basement all summer chained to the wall, because then I have to deal with that." They laugh, then ask "Really?", and I go into my spiel about how it would be against the law for me to keep it to myself, and give a few other examples. When they get to "My favorite (legal) things to do in my free time," they all laugh. I laugh too, but then say "But seriously, if you tell me that you like to sell drugs to elementary kids and beat them up when they don't have enough money, I have to do something about that." And so on and so forth. And then I work in little reminders on the topic throughout the year.

I do not do this to discourage them from talking to me - in fact, I do this because I encourage them to come to me when they need someone to talk to, and because so many of them take me up on it. I just want them to know from the outset that there are certain topics of conversation that will absolutely not be kept confidential.

Not only that, I think it actually increases the number of students who privately approach me for help. One, that bit of honesty I give them up front builds trust. Two, some of them desperately need real help and just don't know how to get to it - when I tell them that if they tell me certain things I have to get other people involved, they come to me when they need other people involved. I can't begin to count the number of students who have come to me and confessed they've been thinking about or have attempted suicide - that is an immediate hand-off. I know that, they know that, they are coming to me to make that happen.

My advice: if you invite this kind of information, please, do know what you may be getting yourself into. And do take care to make sure your students know what they may be getting themselves into.

I've shared one of the ways I do it - how do the rest of you address the issue of mandated reporting with your students?


  1. I'm a FACS teacher from California and I do a similar activity but preface it the way you do. In fact, I tell the kids my nickname is "The Big Snitch" and that opens the discussion of reporting vs snitching. Great post!

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  2. Hi Allysa,
    "The Big Snitch" - I love it! Great way to explain our role in protecting them.
    Thanks for reading!

  3. Thanks for this idea. A growth mindset is such a correct the sentence online challenge for some children and this will help enormously.