Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I teach grade 8 Health and Career Education. Today we had the lesson on child abuse. It might be one of the hardest lessons I've ever taught.
I tried to be gentle, but matter of fact. I gave notes on the board outlining the different kinds of abuse. The room was silent behind me. I told them the long term effects of child abuse. I watched their faces as we discussed what, exactly, crosses the line into abuse. My heart hurt while the child in the front row turned silent, doodling on her paper obsessively.
A girl stated "I've heard that most abusers are people who were abused themselves as kids. If a person grew up like that, and knew that they might do it to their own kid, wouldn't they be scared? Shouldn't they, like, not have kids?"And I tried to not show that she had tapped into my own personal greatest fear.
I smiled, and said "If you tell someone you trust, like a teacher, that you are being abused, they will help you." I didn't tell them that in my experience, the system chews up the children and spits them out, bruised, battered, and right back where they started. Only now with a pissed off abuser.
I outlined the signs of abuse, and tried to not look too deeply into their eyes as they realized that it's not a secret. It's so close to being out there, public, known to everyone.
When they talked about what kind of sick person can hurt a child, parents who get pleasure from touching a small child's body, and how it is totally impossible to understand such people, I kept quiet. I did not yell out that it could be anyone. Like a minister. That these monsters are excellent at hiding and fooling everyone around them.
"If that happened to me, I would have to kill myself," one girl declared as we discussed incest. I bit my tongue. I didn't tell her that yes, she might consider that, but really it is possible to move on. To get past the horror, and live. She continued, saying "I bet it would wreck your whole life."
I spoke up. "No. It doesn't wreck your whole life. It certainly hurts you, but you are strong, and you make it through, and then you hopefully become better than the person who did that to you."
Then I gave them a time killing assignment, and sat down, knees shaking. Hoping against hope that this will be the group that defies statistics, and never ever experiences today's lesson first hand.


MaryP said...

This was a powerful post, and very wel-written. Wouldn't it be wonderful if that lesson were simply unnecessary?

What a difficult lesson for you to give. You've never thought of telling your history? Perhaps disguised as "someone you knew"?

sky said...

I'm not sure we chew them up and spit them out. However I do think the system fails them sometimes, due to lack of funding, resources, and social workers. In any given case there are often 5-7 different agencies involved, but social workers always wear the failures, and the other agencies are never held responsible. Many of these kids are the product of generations of abuse, and things are not able to improve overnight. Throw in parents who have done nothing but convince their children to lie about the abuse, and certainly never to tell the social worker anything, and a few addiction issues and you have a case that is impossible to manage. But yet we are held accountable just the same. It gets frustrating after a while to wear the responsibility of society's and the system's failures, which then leads to rapid turnover and frequent burnout of social workers, which in turn lends to an even more dysfunctional system, without enough workers to do the job. It's such thankless work, it's a wonder anyone signs up, but yet we are here.

I do thank you for covering such a difficult topic with the children and hope that the message to them about the system was not as negative. Getting them to cooperate is hard enough, without external forces negating the system.

AverageMom said...

MaryP: I have thought about it. It's really, really discouraged, but that has never stopped me! The reason I don't tell, at least until I know a child quite well, is because I don't have the ability to keep my composure. I am not strong enough to tell my story, and still be "the teacher".
Sky: The system fails them, not people. Not necessarily social workers. I think it's mainly the passing around, from one agency to another, and the lack of parental support, that finally does them in. It's a really long, tough life for so many of these kids, as you know!I think in my lesson I kept my own opinions inside, and sent out a message of "Tell!" because I do believe that it is important for them to do that. I just wish it were easier after they do.

Lisa said...

I was here - Lisa from PHill

wendy said...

wow, I bet that was the hardest lesson you'll teach, Good for you for teaching such an important lesson.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story. As a new teacher, this topic is one of my greatest fears. I thank you for your insight.