My mother was a teacher for more than thirty years, teaching every grade from kindergarten to college. After “retiring”, she was a long-term substitute teacher for a few more. My mother loved teaching, and it was for her the way it is for Law Enforcement Officers…she was what she did for a living. There was not a minute of a day that she was not a teacher. I grew up with her. I know this!
In listening to my mother talk about her teaching experiences, and in seeing her and several classes of her elementary students interact, I observed how the “old school” ways work best. “Old school” is comprised of mutual caring and admiration, willingness to learn from each other, and encouraging everyone to be a part of the group, to do the best they can, to help each other succeed, and to support, not compete with, classmates or the teacher!
During activity preparation, or when things didn’t go by the rules, there were lectures. These lectures were often on values, kindness, safety, and like topics. My mother valued each individual student, knew their abilities, encouraged them to both succeed and feel good about themselves, and raised the class level two years in each calendar school year.
If I were to ask my mother, “Why do we need to worry about the kids?”, she would have answered that they need to be protected because they cannot protect themselves, that they are our responsibility until, and even after, they are of adult age, and that these are their formative years. They need us whether they know or accept it. It is our job to be the adults and keep them safe. She didn’t just say the words, she lived them for her entire life.
Mom would cite examples of individual students that she was able to help. One, in high school, was nearing graduation but couldn’t read even enough to get his driver’s license. Their after school tutoring sessions allowed him to function as an adult and progress to reach his goal. Mom would refer sympathetically to children who didn’t have lunch, lunch money or supplies on a regular basis. She filled these needs with her own time and money, so that these children didn’t have to seem different or be lacking anything.
One of the “tough kids” in an elementary class wrote Mom from junior high to tell her that specific things she taught him had allowed him to be a successful student, and leader. There were many such letters of gratitude. Basically, the gratitude reflected the students’ caring for the teacher who treated them with caring, respect, and high expectations.
A favorite story of Mom’s was meeting one of her early students years later as the State Patrol Officer who helped her renew her driver’s license. Both were equally happy to have met again all those years later, when he recognized her. Her many stories illustrated the foundations of worthwhile lives in the making, and how values instilled at an early age last a lifetime. Mom helped kids everywhere, in scouting, in the neighborhood, and in the family, feel safe, secure and happy. She was the one they would come to to be understood. Her life was the best illustration of how to worry about and how to help the kids.
Never having been a teacher, I learned a lot from listening to Mom’s years of experience. She influenced me in how to help kids succeed. Still, she and I were both acutely aware that many children not only did not have opportunities anywhere, but that they were also in danger.
In having my own conversations about PTSD over the years, I have crossed paths with adults who were abused as children. A few of these people have become good friends. The commonalities between them are sometimes astounding.
Along with the obvious abusive situations they survived, are the “don’t feel sorry for me” attitudes, the strength of will and character, the depth of thought and understanding, and the level of kindness they show. Many times in talking about one, I could be talking about the others. I am hoping that in the future, their likenesses, patterns, and solutions will be encouraging and useful to others who are healing, as I write about their experiences. The common attributes I describe came to these individuals through a lot of contemplation and mental sorting.
By nature, these friends were always inquisitive, which got each of them into something between mischief and real trouble, on a regular basis. Thankfully, they were also quick-thinking, which kept situations from becoming worse. Often they sought out and found trouble as a response to the torment and frustrations of their home lives.
These are good people getting into bad circumstances at a young age. Instead of winning the science fair, which they easily could have, they were running the streets. They were rejected by the people in auathority, and not asked why they acted the way they did. No one reached out in kindness to try to understand the source of the problem in a way that was reassuring. Is it really that much more difficult to ask than to assume and accuse?
I remember Mom saying that she never read the character write-ups of her students from the year before. She gave them a chance to get out from under the past negatives through their current actions. She allowed her students to be themselves, and they developed from that point.
My friends had to spend a lot of time recovering from their scars and also from the ensuing negatives heaped upon them, time which could have been spent moving ahead in life, instead of climbing back up to zero. In retrospect, these adults felt, and sometimes still feel, less than whole, and less than everybody else. These people I greatly admire for their strength, determination, and survival skills feel less than others because of childhood abuse. Is that not reason enough to worry about the kids?
We are wasting lives when we don’t protect children. Children have the right to be safe, to become the people they are destined to be, to be free to live in peace. No one should have to live in terror or in shame, especially a child.
The experiences children survive brand them in ways for life. They make decisions from the point of the scars, their thinking during the abuse and afterward is skewed, nothing adds up or makes sense, and then they are judged as being different. Many of their chances are lost, at least for a time, before they even know what is happening. This cruel unfairness has to stop.
When children are safe, their lives can be wonderful and productive. The whole world is theirs to explore, and their discoveries are celebrated. When children are abused, every day is a new nightmare. They are blamed and scorned, and not taught to see the best in themselves. Their complete lack of security is unimaginable to most of us. We have the knowledge and the ability to let all children be children.
To my mother and her students, I am grateful to have had a lifetime of learning about learning and teaching and caring about others. They gave me a most useful education. Learning through good examples is the best way to learn.
I am honored to have been allowed to enter the hearts, souls and minds of adults who were willing to field any and all questions about the most painful time in their lives of childhood physical and sexual abuse so that I might learn and help find solutions for others. The individuals’ fielding of such intrusive questions is an act of bravery that I can never repay.
We have seen the potential that children have when encouraged and supported. We have seen the destruction that child abuse causes when, where and however it happens. We have the responsibility to protect the young. We have equal responsibility to understand and support the now adult victims of child abuse, because although we cannot restore to them the childhood they had stolen, we can afford them the chance to have some peace now. In that way we can still honor and help them. We can further honor all the victims when we worry about the kids and then take the necessary protective actions. With this in mind, what are we going to do?