Teaching through trauma

I have spent the last four years working at elementary schools in various capacities. I have known, for awhile, that education is the career for me. It just took me some time to take the leap and go back to school to earn a second degree.

School was a safe place for me. Growing up, when life was crazy, chaotic, and traumatic, school represented a place where I could go and be free. Loved.

Throughout my schooling, there were a few individuals who saved me. The teachers who saw who I was, and encouraged me to do my best. The teachers who embraced me and made me feel loved and supported. The ones who saw beyond the messy hair or messed up clothes. The ones who didn’t care that my parents didn’t show to parent/teacher conferences and told me I was smart anyway.

Those teachers are very much behind the reason that I wanted to become a teacher myself.

You see, I used to examine: How did become resilient?

Over time, I determined that it was the support–the lifelines–that teachers and other select people gave me throughout critical periods of my development and healing.

I am a psychologically based person. I like to look at why people act the way they do. Why they fail or succeed.

And then I like to think I can make a positive difference.

My classroom is about love and relationships. Yes, there are academics and expectations. But I try, as much as I can, to love my students and let them know that they are lovable.

But, finding a balance can be hard.

In school, we are warned about the reality of teaching. It is not all idealism. Horrible things happen to children.

I knew this going in.

But experiencing it? Experiencing it is hard.

It is hard not to remember the little girl that I was, when I hug a crying little girl in my own classroom. It is hard not to remember the embarrassment that I felt as I returned a bag of socks to school. A bag of socks that a nice, giving teacher had gifted to me when she realized I didn’t have enough at home. My mother, however? She did not think it was nice. She thought it was embarrassing and she was angry at me for saying something.

We were fine. That was what the world needed to think.

This year, I have a sweet, sweet, troubled soul in my room. This poor little girl was not only born with a scary and life threatening health condition that will haunt her her entire life, she was also born into a life full of trauma. A mother and stepfather who did drugs and are mentally unstable. Somehow, after living through 7 foster family placements, this little girl ended up living, along with another sibling, with her stepfather. Alone.

Unfortunately, this stepfather is a scary guy. Mentally paranoid and unstable. Neglectful. Physically abusive. And, as I discovered last week…sexually abusive.

Calls were made. The sheriff came and forensic interviewing took place.

The little girl came to my classroom one morning, before she was taken by the police, to tell me that they were running, and it would probably be her last day. She was smiling, trying to be brave. I asked her how she felt and…she broke.

She clung to me, burying her head in my shoulder, sobbing. I couldn’t keep my tears back.

Life is so unfair. This sweet 8 year old girl should be held and loved the way I was holding and loving her….everyday and at home. She shouldn’t be teased for hygiene or worry about when to eat or what dirty clothes to wear today.

It isn’t fair.

And, it is also hard for the teacher.

We are supposed to strike a balance. We are supposed to care, but realize how limited our control is and not allow it to affect us after we leave the school.

For me? That isn’t realistic. I take it home. I think about it. I cry about it. I feel sick about it.

I would–gladly–take this sweet girl home and foster her so that she could receive the love and care she deserves.

It is hard to sit back and not be able to do what needs to be done. It is so very, very hard. When I know the difference that support and love made in my life, it is hard to not want to take over and make her life so much better.

But, I can’t. It is out of  my control.

Will she come back Monday? I don’t know. We had two days off school and, during those two days, the sheriff came to their house. I don’t know what happened after that.

All I can do is love her while she is with me. All I can do is love all of them while they are with me.

All I can do is hope that that is enough.

2 thoughts on “Teaching through trauma

  1. throwntogetherness October 9, 2017 / 2:31 pm

    Wow, that is pretty rough. It is hard to stay soft and available and feel the pain and hurt and not to close up and switch off to it. You sound like the kind of person who can do that, but I hope you can also find time to rest from the worries and recharge so you have the energy to be you and be compassionate and present in the classroom!


  2. worrylessjourney October 9, 2017 / 5:51 pm

    It is all you can do. One of the hardest things to learn is that we can’t fix everything. Know that you have done everything you could.


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