What are we made of? What makes one child grow up to be reasonably functioning, and self-sufficient, and what makes another grow up to be a complete wreck?
By some fortuitous chance (or provincial chance, if you must) each and every teaching job I have had, save some subbing in an upscale high school, has been with kids that we can call "At Risk." "High Risk," even. These are kids who live in poverty and have lived the lives that little punk ghetto wannabes in suburbia think that they wish they were doing. Some of these kids would, in the same breath, tell me about how their cousin "got jacked up, with a knife, and Mrs. Clarateaches, the cops came," and then go on to tell me about their favorite show on the Disney channel. (Rochester, NY- during student teaching). Somehow, these sprouts would come bouncing into my room ready to play, even if they had spent more than two hours that morning kneeling on a concrete floor of their basement as a punishment for God-knows-what (south of Chicago, 2005).
Some of the kids fared worse. My selectively mute Angel-Girl from the Chicago area school faced countless issues, and simply decided to rarely speak. The world could do whatever it wanted to, but it couldn't make her speak unless she absolutely wanted to.
So, you do what you're trained to do, make the reports to the school nurse, social worker, DCFS, and carry on with your day. Have a panic attack on the way home from school and wonder what the hell you are doing in a place that is showing you just how hard it had to have been for your own teachers to make calls about your own fractured life, so many years ago. Then go back and do it all over again. The story ends happily, right? The magical wonderful ways of the Teacher sweep in and save the day, DCFS does their job, and the credits roll. It's all over- right? RIGHT?
Gobs of books and movies have been made about teachers and students and rotten home lives and how just a little hope and encouragement can boost students out of a bad situation. Everyone passes the test, wins the game, goes on to "Just Say No," and the screen fades to black. The collective public sighs a huge sigh of relief, and thanks their lucky stars that all is well. What happens next, though?
External resiliency factors are not to be taken lightly, of course. Supportive adults, community, religious organizations- these are all important in the lives of high risk children. What about the internal resiliency, though? What makes two kids in the same neighborhood, under the same single-mother-working-two-jobs, abusive-rotating-door-of-boyfriends, drugs-and-crime-everywhere circumstances grow up to have two completely different lives? What about the kids in suburbia with the facade going on- two parents, middle-class income, and unspeakable crimes going on behind closed doors- where do they end up? Especially when they are in the same classroom, have the same external resiliency factors, and are given the same opportunities?
The collective society has handed down such a twisted, convaluted message. On one hand, victims have an excuse to perpetuate the cycle of violence in their own lives, because after all, they had horrible things happen to them; and on the other hand, don't ever talk about these things happening. It's just too sad, gross, and terrible, and no one can do anything about it anyways, so can we just change the subject? Please? You can be as disturbed as you want to be, but it's okay, because you're on the Springer show, and it's fun to laugh and be scandalized. Don't worry, we'll add to the insurance kitty; go ahead and take all kinds of drugs. You are the victim, after all. It's easy to cluck our tongues and shake our heads in sorrow when we hear of children on the news suffering acts of crime that would bring an adult to their knees, but then what?
I hold my own baby girl and rock and nurse her to sleep for her nap. In her warm clothes, in her warm house. While I watch her fall asleep, I continue to be haunted by the ghosts of former students. What is my Angel Child doing now, two years later? Is her abusive step-father still in her life? What about my other ones- what are they thinking of when they fall asleep at night? Dear God, did I do enough for them, or did I do enough for me to just get through my day?