Finding my way back

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!

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6 thoughts on “Finding my way back

  1. It breaks my heart to read this. A dedicated, excellent, educator going through this and receiving no support whatsoever! I can’t imagine living this Hell on a daily basis…how one would find the courage to get out of bed and go back into that environment willingly.
    I have not worked as a full-time teacher, but as a substitute in various school districts. A substitute teacher is a target for this type of abuse…but one can pick and choose which schools and classrooms to avoid.
    The worst experience I ever had, was when I was still green, and subbing in a district with only a few schools. I did not know that the middle school had a notorious reputation and that most subs wouldn’t go there. It was located near a men’s state prison and many of the students were there because their families had relocated there to be near their inmate husbands/fathers.
    These kids had no respect for authority…especially women. Huge, frightening and belligerent…I had to keep my back to the whiteboard in the classroom.
    Students shoved their books off the desk when asked to open them. If they didn’t have a book and I placed one on their desk…I was told to fuck off and the book was shoved off or thrown. Students walked out of the classroom. Calls to security brought no results.
    The day I stopped going to that school was the day I was physically assaulted…pelted with rocks on the basketball courts by the P.E. class I had taken out there. The instructions from their teacher were, “Take them to the courts. They do not need to play basketball, but must remain in the area. Take the Walkie-Talkie in the event of problems.” Well…I was not going to do that for 6 periods. I thought these kids would rather play than do nothing, so I took out some basketballs and tried to organize them to do some simple warm-up drills with the promise that they could then play a game without my interference.
    As I stepped over to one group to explain the drill, I was hit on the back of the head with a rock. As I stepped over to the group the rock had come from, I was clipped on the back of the ear by one from the other group. As I activated the Walkie-Talkie, I was hit 3 more times. I told them they were excused…and walked back to the classroom by myself…got my things…went to the principals office and told him why I was leaving. I went home and cried…and yes, I had nightmares too! I heard from the teacher later saying the students were going to write me letter of apology. Yeah right! That never happened and would not have solved anything anyway. I blame her for not leaving a proper Lesson Plan and coaching her students to be cooperative. Maybe she just knew that they were gangsters and hoodlums and has given up. I don’t know…but you can bet I never went back.
    It took me a long time to regain the confidence it takes to walk into an unknown situation as a substitute teacher. It’s still not something I look forward to.

    Sky

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sky,

      Thank you for sharing your story. Unfortunately it is all to common one. I’m sorry that you had to experience that.

      I wrote my story to share so others are aware that it does happen. Sad, but true. And there is light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

      Like

  2. Hi –
    I am moved nearly to tears reading what you’ve had to endure. I don’t know what region of the country you’re in, but I was a substitute teacher in a high-poverty, high-crime, high-transient population school district in Southern California (south of South Central LA). As a male teacher, I did not face the same sexual taunts that you describe, but I was threatened with bodily harm more than once. I left SoCal in 1995 for a semi-rural district in Washington State. I’ve taught here for 18 years, and it’s been incredible. Not without its problems, mind you, but I feel I’m really able to make an impact. I don’t know what the solution is for kids in the big city schools where there is no support, but I do know it has to come from the top down, so we can do what we were born to do: teach. Best of luck to you. 🙂

    Like

    1. Thank you! I am in SoCal. I don’t know the solution either, but I agree, it does need to come from the top down and finding a way to include the community into the equation. A part of me wonders if NCLB has something to do with it, as school districts don’t want to be labeled Persistently Dangerous under the law. I have always been an advocate for my students that needed support. I think teachers need advocates as well.

      You do make a difference!

      Like

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