One of my students stole my jacket today to wear. I don’t think he was cold, even though it is very warm, but more for connection. I love this kid. He is a very genuine character. He also steals the clothing of one of my colleagues/friends. It’s cute, but …
I had to tell him no. And I had to tell him no after break and during a class so that it wouldn’t cause an uproar. And I had to explain that others might find it odd and call my integrity into question.
When I started teaching it wouldn’t have been an issue. No one would have cared. And through the years I have let kids wear my beanie, my gloves, they’ve stolen my shoes (I take them off in summer), they’ve taken my hair out, the list continues. And it’s not nasty, it’s their affection and their desire for real connection.
But, still …
Teachers need to protect themselves from vexatious claims. I remember one student told the Deputy Principal that she was my drug dealer. I was mortified. Such an untrue allegation. Obviously, the leadership laughed.
But I didn’t.
And the reason we need to protect ourselves is because we don’t all possess integrity.
I became a teacher because I wanted to change the world.
That still holds twenty three years in, but now I realise I change it one child at a time. And to do that, successfully, I need to be authentic.
I love my kids. Even the ones others find unlovable. And I tell them.
There is a Year 10 student who has been calling out that she loves me, “I love you”, every time she sees me, and has done so for the last twenty months. I yell the same back.
There are kids that come to me for a hug. They get the hug. One girl in Year 7 hugs me every time she sees me; I taught her mum way back when, and her need for connection is strong.
I will touch the kids’ back or arm when they are crying or upset, and especially when they are disclosing very sensitive information, usually in front of the Principal because someone has ‘hurt’ them. I try to have another adult present and the door open.
It’s a hard call. Harder when it is the boys who are upset. More in touch with their sensitivity, and unafraid of tears, they are as needy for affection and connection as the girls these days. I am obviously more distant physically with the boys.
I am always very conscious of child protection. Abused as a child myself I understand the ramifications. And I mean the long term consequences and impact for the victim. I am careful not to overstep the mark with my students, and am particularly sensitive to their reactions.
I have, as a mandatory notifier, referred three separate teachers for misconduct throughout my career. Each one has repulsed me. One ended up in court; the first one and the most heinous one.
I just don’t get any adult that can harm a child. As an adult, I have worked hard to minimise the impact of my own childhood on my life and decisions. I’m not always successful, but when it comes to my working life and the kids in my care, I would do anything to ensure their intellectual, emotional, spiritual, sexual and physical safety.
I have had chats regarding the way we all deserve to be treated, have made countless referrals to counsellors and outside agencies for support for kids, have been the mandatory notifier, have answered the phone at midnight when kids are suicidal or harming, have ended up in hospital with kids, in psych wards, at funerals.
Anything to ensure or maximise opportunities for safety.
Sometimes I fail.
Mostly though, I don’t.
I love my kids. And I hate it when they are hurting.
As adults though, we need to step up to nurture appropriate relationships with our kids, we need to connect with them, validate them, inspire them, and protect them.
It is time.
I will continue my work. I will continue to take the risk by being human more than automotan. I will continue to drain my spiritual and emotional energy. But saving our children has to be a collective effort.
It’s time to spend time. To minimise exposure to violence in the home. To enhance communication and connection. To really listen and pay attention. This generation, wrapped in cotton wool, is less resilient; they need us more because we have created that.
It’s time for us to step up.