Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How Do I Explain ...

I can't even begin to describe what I've been through with one of my emotionally disturbed students over the past few days. For now, I will only say that she ended up having to be physically contained by a guard, and she was brought to the 42nd precinct. I'll try to describe the incident in more detail later. I survived the incident with no physical injuries. The emotional injuries, however, will linger for a while. The thing about emotional pain is that you can't see it; you can't show it to other people for sympathy. There's no bruise or broken bone to prompt "what happened" or "are you okay?" Emotional pain is easy to tuck away and ignore until one day it comes back to haunt you in ways you never expected.

This particular student has not been getting the counseling she needs and deserves. Her pain is only getting worse, and she is taking it out on me. When I became a special education teacher, I was not prepared for the amount of verbal abuse I would be subjected to from emotionally disturbed kids. There are always deep reasons for their behavior, but it is sometimes hard to keep that in mind when they are screaming at me and threatening me. I've been thinking lately that I'd rather take a punch in the face over emotional abuse any day.

As it turns out, I was in an accident after school, and I have to remember to be careful what I wish for. I've begun working with children with autism after school. Yesterday evening, I was working with a four-year-old girl, and she accidentally knocked over her art easel. An edge slammed right in my eye, so now I have a bruised, swollen eye with a deep cut under my eyebrow. Funny how for the past few years, I've been working in two high school buildings in the South Bronx that are considered dangerous, yet I've never been physically injured. Then a sweet, four-year-old girl on the Upper West Side comes along and takes me down.

It may sound bizarre, but now that my physical appearance matches what I've been feeling inside, I feel better. People can see that something is wrong. Strangers on the subway and at the deli have been giving me sympathy. "Ooooh. What happened to your eye? Are you okay? I'm so glad you're going to be okay." The fact is, I really haven't been okay for about a year now, but no one other than the friends I vent to about my job have noticed.

Watching the news, I wonder about the emotional pain of soldiers returning from Iraq. We know there is suffering when we see a soldier return with physical injuries, but we so easily overlook the emotional suffering that inevitably results from witnessing violence, death, and injustice. Violence. Death. Injustice. Too many of my students have witnessed these things right here at home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i know how you feel. i used to teach ED kids near DC and the names i was called....and by 6 year olds....wow. in 4 years of teaching (i've gone back to grad school to study how to make sytemic changes to help these kids and to prevent other kids from developing their same issues), i only got hit by 1 student, and it was my own fault -- i got in between 2 fighting 5th graders. the 6-footer who was throwing the punch noticed too late that i was in the way, and the look on his face when he realized he was going to hit his teacher was priceless. i miss my kids so much, though. good luck, and really treasure the little victories they earn.

8:14 PM  

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