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Sometimes being a teacher is hard. There are behavior problems to address, differentiation to help meet everyone’s needs, that parent phone call to return, another e-mail from the administrative office to answer, report cards to fill out, and so much more. Many teachers put in many more hours each week than many people in the public eye realize.
We often sacrifice time with our own families to spend time helping other people’s children. We teach, we coach, we tutor after school. We volunteer to run that extra program.
Many times we get home late, we don’t have time to exercise, and we’re often too tired to cook a nutritious meal. While all of these things may not be a well-known fact among those outside of the teaching profession – today I want to talk about something even less known…
How to Handle a Student Who Was Hurt at Home
If you’ve taught for any length of time, it will probably happen to you (unfortunately).
One day you’ll walk into your classroom and immediately be met by your principal. She’ll inform you that one of your students will not be in school today. You’ll be able to tell by her tone that something is terribly wrong.
Your student was sexually assaulted last night, and she’s currently in the hospital.
Did I mention this was a Kindergarten student?
Yes, your stomach probably just dropped – because mine did, even more than five years after the fact. 🙁
When that little girl comes back to school, you go out of your way to make sure she knows she is cared for. You make sure other adults know enough information without knowing too much to maintain her confidentiality. You do your best to make sure that even the most gentle touches don’t cause her extra fear and confusion. You ask your principal and counselor for help and advice. You do the best you can. You give her extra hugs any time she needs them.
Or what about the day a student comes to school with an obvious burn mark on her arm? Her story doesn’t make any sense. You let your principal know, and you obviously call in to notify the appropriate authorities – but what else can you do?
You love that sweet little girl and let her know how special she is to you. You inform her that you would do anything you can to help her.
The next day, she brings a curling iron to school and asks you to “hold onto it for awhile”. You show her where you’re putting it in the closet. You tell her you’ll return it whenever she wants it back. Was it the right thing to do? Perhaps not, but that little girl knew you wouldn’t hurt her with that curling iron like she had been hurt at home. (A week later, when the visiting relative leaves, she asks for the curling iron to return it home.)
Or what about the student who is simply out of sorts on random days throughout the year. You’ve told your principal about it, and you’ve got a paper trail a mile long. You continue to listen, but it’s not until the girl starts talking about her brother’s medications that she was given that it all makes sense.
So you call home and mention to dad that the little girl may have accidentally gotten into her brother’s meds. Dad acts concerned and informs you it will never happen again. Thankfully – it doesn’t. You question if that was the right move. Your phone call could have gotten her into more trouble, but thankfully it ended the situation – at least during the school day. But then you wonder, does it continue to occur on nights and weekends?
Or what about the child who steals food from the school’s cafeteria? It was only a half banana and a package of crackers. When you confront her and ask her to take them back, she starts crying, “How will I feed my baby brother tonight?” You let her keep the food in her pocket, and the next day you bring $50 worth of food to school for her to take home for the three younger siblings who don’t get the free school meals twice a day. You obviously have a conversation about how stealing is never right, but to ask for the help she needs instead.
Unfortunately, each of these situations is something I faced in my seven years in the classroom. I could go on for quite some time – as many other teachers could as well. But then it leads me to this…
How do you take care of you when your students are hurt?
Teachers are some of the most kind, gentle people I know. Day after day we give back to a job that can often be thankless and disrespected by the public as a whole. Yet we are the ones on the front lines for these kids. We are the ones making judgment calls about how to handle situations that occurred at home.
So how do we take care of ourselves? How do we ensure that we don’t burn out or become numb to it all?
Personally – I say talk it over! A good administrator will be worth their weight in gold and then some. If you can’t talk to your administrator about what is going on in your classroom, find a colleague. You obviously can’t say something that would break a student’s confidentiality, but you also shouldn’t keep it all bottled up inside.
If possible – talk to a minister or counselor. Let them know what you are seeing and the stress it is causing you. Reach out so you don’t burn out. Get help so you can come back each day and be energized and ready to help your students.
Find a way to relieve stress. Whether that’s a walk after school, some yoga, or using essential oils – unwinding and finding a way to handle that negative energy and stress will be beneficial.
If you are at your very best, you’ll be able to help your students to do their very best.
What tips do you have for handling situations where students are hurt at home – either for helping the student or helping yourself deal with it?