Sunday, January 6, 2008

Disturbing behavior

I've had a lot of bad days since I started teaching. Sometimes it's a bad day because the kids won't stop talking and fidgeting and interrupting and needling and I want to rip my hair out. Sometimes it's a bad day because they respond with blank stares and obvious confusion and I feel as though I haven't done my job as an educator. Sometimes it's a bad day because I'm just plain tired of denying them permission over and over again to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water and use crayons.

I've had bad days where I go home crying and bad days where I slink back to my office and pound the desk in frustration. But I've never had a bad day like Friday.

It started off with a really creepy dream in which I was helping my ESL first graders practice learning their colors when all of a sudden one of them looked straight at me and said, "We were glad when September 11 happened. When the planes flew into the buildings, we thought it was a good thing and we were celebrating."

Okay, what? First of all, she wasn't even born yet. Second of all, she doesn't speak English well enough to say all that to me. Third of all...there is no third of all, except to wonder why in the world my brain would even go there. Anyway, just as that happened, my alarm went off, and I was left with an eerie feeling to start off the day.

You may remember that Darryl is one of my favorite kids in kindergarten. On Friday, I found out from his teacher that Darryl's mother has taken out a restraining order on Darryl's father, who apparently tried to kill her. In front of Darryl.

Darryl has not yet received the mandatory counseling he's supposed to have been getting since the beginning of the school year. Darryl also hasn't been to school in two days.

And then, in one of my classes, I told Nathaniel I would have to send a letter home to his parents about his misbehavior, and he promptly burst into tears.

"I don't want to get a letter home!" he wailed. As you might imagine, this happens all the time, and so I wasn't exactly moved. But then he said something that struck me cold. The last time a letter got sent home, he said, his dad had choked him so hard that he couldn't breathe.

"He almost killed me," he said between terrified sobs. "I don't want to die! I don't want to die!"

There are few horrors in life that are quite like hearing a six-year-old cry at you that he doesn't want to die.

Nathaniel is a kid who doesn't always tell the truth, and he's a kid who acts out a lot in class and is prone to histrionics about it. But his regular teacher was absent, and so in the absence of more concrete information, I had to call the mandated reporter hotline and file a report.

Sometimes, this job will break your heart.

1 comment:

Geoff Brown said...

My heart goes out to you. Those signs of child abuse were pretty clear. However, sometimes a teacher doesn't know if a child is being abused -- and wonders how to raise the question with the child. There's an online role-playing course that lets teachers rehearse this agonizing conversation. It's at http://www.hownottotalk.com/abuse.
It has a free trial version and a CEU-credit version. It helps teachers avoid making mistakes like being too emotional, making unwarranted assumptions, etc. Which can drive the child back into silence, or cause problems for any future prosecutions.