When you hear PTSD, what comes to mind? For most of us, we think of a Veteran returning from deployment, having endured horrific experiences. However, rarely do we think of teachers. Yes, teachers, and I am one of them. It is not the teaching itself that caused my PTSD, but the continued attacks by some students and lack of support from administration.
Imagine being berated verbally, daily, by students. Being called a bitch, being told to fuck off, having teenage boys stand up and begin yelling directly in front of you, at you, with clenched fists, being told that they would be happy to show you what it’s like to be with a real man, being pushed and shoved, threatened by gang members, threatened to be turned in as a child pornographer, all because you ask students to do their work. Instead of trying to learn, groups of students are discussing how high they got last night, where they were going to get alcohol from for lunch, who has guns for sale, that they prefer using a baseball bat on someone instead of a gun because it hurts longer. Imagine having a 14 year old student, 6’5” tall, 225 lbs., tell you he knows that you drive a certain type of car and I need to watch my back. Picture fights breaking out in your class on a regular basis and security takes up to 20 minutes to respond, if they even do. Think of walking around the classroom trying to help students and you feel a hand under your dress grabbing you in your groin area, and then being told you should feel lucky. Imagine, being told that the reason you weren’t at work for two days was because you were in the mountains fucking the cop killer. How would you handle students dancing on desks, throwing things at you, laughing at you, cussing at you? What do you do when students bully and threaten other students who just want to learn, to the point of tears, right in front of you and having books and chairs thrown at you.
Now, imagine crying every night, having night mares every night, waking up screaming thinking you are under your desk begging for your life as a student tries to rape you. This leads to withdrawing from your life, pulling away from your family and friends, not going to sleep because you are afraid of the nightmares, hiding out at work, fearful of walking across campus, not knowing what was going to happen. Maybe the student who threatened to throw another teacher over the balcony is waiting for you. Imagine you get to a point that you can’t even go to the grocery store any longer because you’re afraid one of your students will be there. Picture desperately trying to hold it together and teach; redirecting negative behavior rather than teaching. Trying not to yell, or scream, or cry, while a student screams that you are a fucking bitch, that you need help, that if you don’t watch it, something bad is going to happen to you. And the only thing you can do is tell them their behavior is unacceptable and that you are going to write a low level referral. They laugh at you. Imagine going to the administration time and time again for assistance and support, and getting blank stares, because it must be something you are doing to bring this behavior out of these students and you must not have the classroom management skills necessary to engage students in learning.
A movie plot, I’m sure you are thinking by now. No, this was my life for a while. I reported, wrote referrals, asked for help, called home, called counselors, set up meetings, requested students to be moved, everything a teachers is supposed to do. The day I was sexually assaulted, (the groping incident), I went straight to the principal’s office and explained what had happened. The principal told me to report it to the vice principal and have her do an investigation. The investigation consisted of interviewing four students the next day. The students all denied any knowledge of the incident, and then proceeded terrorize me the rest of the year with their bullying, harassment, name calling, under handed threats of violence and flat out bad behavior. They knew they had the upper hand.
I once reached out to the district Positive Behavior Support Specialists for assistance and was told that if I continue go outside of the chain of command, that I wouldn’t receive any assistance at all. I received the message loud and clear, I must take the abuse that the students dished out to my other students and myself.
Living in fear on a daily basis I began to shut down, emotionally, mentally and physically. Depression set in, my immune system was stressed,anxiety reared it’s ugly head, tinnitus developed, as well as developing an eye twitch and muscle tension in my shoulders and neck.
I was fired from one of my positions as an academic coach, because I wasn’t supporting the teachers, I wasn’t able to bring myself to move around the campus for fear of retaliation from some of my students. I stayed in my classroom when I didn’t have classes, to hold onto any sense of safety I could muster before the end of the day and I could go home.
I transferred schools at the end of the year, with hopes that the new administration would understand my requests, to no avail. I was put in charge of two classes, both of which had more than a handful of students who had similar behaviors. Once again, I asked for assistance with these students, but nothing happened. At one point, the Behavior Specialist asked what was wrong with me. I was harassed, bullied and terrorized once again, not only by the students, but by other teachers as well as support personnel. I am not a weak person. I am a single mother that raised two girls and put them both through college. I own my own house and have rebuilt parts of it. I put myself through college, with two small children, and have recently completed my second master in Math. The last straw was when a fight broke out in my room and I received no help from security. I haven’t returned to the classroom in over a year now.
I went out on medical leave. My personal doctor informed me he would treat me for just this one appointment, but this was a work related issue and sent me on my way to file a Workers Compensation claim. It has been over a year now, Workers Comp was denied, attorneys were hired, union attorney has been involved. Four different doctors have confirmed that I have PTSD. One doctor even stated, that what I experienced is no different than what a war veteran experienced.
Through therapy and time, I have begun to heal. There are still scars though. Leaving the house is very difficult for me. I’ve altered my mundane errands to fit into a certain time frame if I have to go out alone. Being in public takes a lot of effort, and even then it’s filled with anxiety and hyper vigilance. The nightmares have ceased, but sleep is still not restful. I no longer receive a paycheck or benefits as I used all of the extended sick leave, even though I had been released to return to work. The school district wanted more documentation that I wasn’t a threat to myself or the students. The sad thing is, I was never a threat to myself or my students, certain students were a threat to us.
I was a great teacher. I was a master teacher to pre-service teachers. I was a mentor teacher for new teachers, just starting out. I was involved in various different committees, wrote grants, provided professional development, organized workshops and continued my education. I was in the process of earning a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and working on my Thesis for Secondary Mathematics Education. I was on state wide work groups, organizations and committees.
Currently, I am doing freelance and consulting work for various companies to make a living. I don’t know if I will ever return to the classroom, but I am still a teacher at heart. I am a teacher with PTSD. I am finding my way back to a life. It’s not a easy journey. I still have days that I can’t set foot outside, yet they are fewer and far between. I still have days that are unfocused and filled with overwhelming anxiety, but I’ve learned my triggers and can slowly alleviate those days. I have begun to regain my self-confidence. I am scarred, but not down!