Today’s guest post is by Lindsay Bowley. She teaches 8th graders English and Georgia history, is an avid blogger and supporter of Wellspring Living. Check out her blog site here.
“Sarah!!” I remember sharply yelling her name as she scrambled down the hall to get to my door on time. Her locker was jammed, but did I stop to ask her why she was late? No. After a long day of fighting fires, I was at the brink of frustration, and I let her have it.
Her eyes flashed with anger. The gentle smile that was normally on her face quickly left and was replaced by a scowl. Under her breath, she called me a name I can’t mention.
How often have we as teachers responded to our students in a way that we later regret? Although a harmless mistake, it may have more devastating consequences than we realize.
My husband and I are very involved with Wellspring Living, and through some unique experiences with them, I have been able to learn a volume of information about what victims of abuse have to deal with, and this information has CHANGED the way I interact with my own students. I am shocked, saddened, and challenged by what I now know, and I really feel that EVERY educator needs to be aware of the following:
1. Abuse is much more prevalent than you or I realize. Statistics from the CDC show that six reports of child maltreatment are filed every minute. One out of every four girls and one out of every six boys (regardless of demographic) will be sexually abused before they turn 18, and usually by a family member or close friend. Of the 3 million reports of child abuse, 74% are a result of neglect. (www.childhelp.org)
These children sit in our classrooms on a daily basis.
2. “Trauma” has a broad definition. Often, we limit our definition of “trauma” to tragedies such as rape, physical abuse, or a near-death experience. What we don’t realize is verbal abuse, seeing a pet habitually maltreated, living with a family member who has an addiction, and even divorce can be traumatizing.
How many students do you know that have experienced one of these types of trauma?
3. Abuse is a brain issue. When trauma happens to a child, it alters the way the child’s brain processes and responds to threat. A traumatic experience can provide the organizational template for how the child views the world around him or her. The younger the child is at the onset of abuse, the worse its neurological impact.
4. Re-traumatization can happen easily. Since trauma impacts the brain, the child begins to associate anything even closely related to the trauma as a potential threat. Your harsh tone or body posture can actually re-traumatize the child causing them to respond by fighting, fleeing, or completely disengaging.
5. Victims of trauma have a hard time assessing risk. Often an abuse victim will make judgment calls with the maturity of someone far younger than them. This is sometimes why you may see teenage girls making terrible decisions even when the warning signs of DANGER are screaming all around them.
What can teachers do?
1. Check your bad mood at the door. Never bring your bad mood into the classroom. Students with little stability at home appreciate the kind face of a caring educator.
2. Stay away from one-size-fits-all discipline. Don’t discipline each child in the same way. Yes – follow your school’s discipline procedures, but use wisdom and discernment as you interact with each child. Your approach to correcting bad behavior can make a world of difference.
3. Get to know your students. Find out about their lives. Talk to the school counselor if you think you see an issue. Discover their interests and passions, and genuinely care about what they care about.
4. Be understanding and patient. Abuse victims sometimes act with poor judgment because of the impact abuse has made on their ability to make decisions. Be patient with these children. Don’t just write them off with a label of “that’s a bad kid”. You may be the only loving adult in the life of the child who frustrates you the most. Have patience with him or her.
5. Advocate for the student. Teachers love to vent about students, which can be a healthy way of troubleshooting how work with them. Venting can be also dangerous if it turns into repeated griping about the same student throughout the year. Advocate for your troublesome kids with their other teachers. Don’t let those you work with label that child. Kids are smart; they know how you view them, and they believe about themselves what you believe about them.
Can you think of a student right now who has been misunderstood for years? Do you know of a child that responds in ways that puzzle you? Share your stories here!