Niemann: Teachers are at the heart of parenting villages

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I grew up in Africa. Whenever I come across a so-called African proverb, I am always intrigued as to whether it really comes from Africa. One such proverb, quintessentially African and full of truth and wisdom, is “It takes a village to raise a child.”

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This year marks my 35th year as a pediatrician, and looking back, I have never played a bigger role than that of a teacher as a member of the village.

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Some experts define stress as the gap between capacity and demand. Many teachers are very competent and there is nothing wrong with their abilities, but sadly the demands placed on teachers are unrealistically excessive as they come at a great price for our future. It may come as a surprise to the general public, but I’m pretty sure I’m not a doctor or a teacher. Especially physicians who work closely with teachers.

Next month, a significant number of teachers will be asked to complete a form known as the SNAP MTA IV form. This is one of many tools available to screen your child for her ADHD (attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity disorder).

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Fortunately in Canada, teachers don’t have to take lessons on how to use or carry a firearm. But our Southern neighbors see things differently depending on where they live in the United States. It is believed that teachers cannot call the police for help. You should be ready to protect your students like a mother hen protects her chicks, or like a grizzly mother protects her cubs.

Studies show an increase in depression, anxiety and ADHD in children and adolescents, and students at all grade levels report feeling stressed.
Studies show an increase in depression, anxiety and ADHD in children and adolescents, and students at all grade levels report feeling stressed. Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages /Getty Images/iStockphoto

It’s sad and extreme, but today I’m here to honor the teachers who call me and discuss their students. Two examples immediately come to mind. A principal called me and explained how worried he was about my patient student. She felt her student fall through her gap.So…what did she do? She asked her daughter to come to the school and volunteer by helping struggling students and providing additional tutoring free of charge out of kindness and compassion.

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Another teacher called me and the conversation started with her saying, Niemann, thank you for taking the call. I’m very worried that Johnny (not his real name) is a very capable student, but I’m afraid he’ll end up in prison if we don’t help him more.

Later I discovered that this teacher could ditch a lucrative career in “oil patches” and follow her heart and vocation to teach and shape lives. I admired her for her genuine compassion.

Talking about prisons, she reminded me of an American teacher named Guy Dowd. In the United States, teachers of the year will have the opportunity to go to the Oval Office to receive a reward from the President. Dowd won the award. He told the story that on December 24th, he was preparing dinner with his family when the phone rang. The call came from prison. It was one of his former students.

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At that particular prison, inmates were allowed one call around Christmas time. Did. The first time I heard that story, I cried.

In my long career looking after children and aiming to help them stay healthy in mind, soul and body, I have met teachers of all kinds. I have seen teachers with tend to be very caring and understanding in the classroom because they know how they feel in the classroom.

I’ve even met teachers who gave retaliation penalties. That’s where other students make fun of her ADHD kid, and if that kid “snaps” he gets punished, but the abusers (I call them bullies) Escape without consequences.

I have met saints, I have met exhausted and burnt out teachers. They all need compassion.

This month we pay tribute to the teachers who go to great lengths every day to become part of our village. Empowering physicians to manage children with autism, ADHD, and other developmental problems. These teachers know the government can’t truly pay them what they deserve.

They make our village a better place – not just for today, but for the future when our children grow up.

Dr. Nieman is a community pediatrician, author, and wellness coach. For more information, please visit

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Niemann: Teachers are at the heart of parenting villages

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