I've taught for 8 years now, which really isn't all that much compared to most of my colleagues, and already I've had a few experiences with suspected abuse. Most of the time it turned out to be nothing more than a rumor, lie, exaggeration, misunderstanding, whatever you want to call it. Recently, I've experienced "the real deal." Nothing prepared me for the emotional turmoil that you, the teacher of an abused child, experiences.
Let's start with a very brief rundown of the obvious information that I'm sure everyone reading this already knows. Child abuse is a blanket statement that covers a variety of abuses against children, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, and neglect, among others. Abuse against a child can be committed by virtually anyone: a family member, a friend, a schoolmate, a community member, or a total stranger. As an educator, I am a mandated reporter by law, as most teachers are. This means that I have a legal obligation to report any suspected signs of abuse against a child to the appropriate authorities or family services. I won't go into all the possible signs of abuse, but a very thorough list can be found over at Project Harmony's website by clicking HERE. If you notice any of the signs or have that gut feeling that one of your students is being abused, you need to contact someone (the school counselor, principal, or DCFS) right away. Once you've done your reporting and the ball gets rolling, you'll most likely experience a variety of emotions that are unique to you.
These are some of the feelings I've experienced since "the real deal":
I think it's very important to note that no two people experience a crisis in the same way. If you've had an abused student, you might see some similarities between your experience and my own, and you might not. This is not a guide for how to feel, it's simply my story and I hope that it can help other educators out there in some way. Please feel free to comment below with your own experiences so we can support each other. Check back later for Part Two, where I'll be sharing my coping strategies that helped me get through such an emotional period in my teaching career.
(Disclaimer: I'm not a psychologist. I don't claim to be an expert on how people deal with trauma. All I know is what I felt and how I coped. If you find yourself in a similar situation, please remember that there are plenty of more qualified individuals out there to help you process and cope than this lowly 6th grade teacher, although I am always more than happy to share my personal experiences with you. Thank you for reading.)