This is me. This is my story.
When I was in first grade, teachers and my parents started to notice a change in me; I didn’t want to be anywhere but home, and I hated school for all it was. I was the weird kid that no one really understood and yet I was the one who had a ton of friends. There were instances that year where I would feel so sick to my stomach that I would request to go to the nurse. Sooner or later everyone decided I was faking it because I wanted to go home. But you know what? I wasn’t faking.
When I was in second grade, I had to make all new friends. Very few of the kids in my first grade class were in my same second grade class. But that was okay; I knew how to adapt and I knew how to be friendly. Those, I guess, are two traits that I’ve always had going for me. At least until I started to feel homesick. Then it was right back to people not believing that I felt sick to my stomach all the time. And still… I wasn’t faking.
Third and fourth grade passed in a blur, but I remember that fourth grade Math teacher. I actually think I learned a huge life lesson from him as I look back on his class today. But then, then all I saw was someone who was out to make my life horrible. He gave me my first (and my last) B on a report card. Everyone thought I was a perfectionist. And guess what? I may have been, but I was more than that.
In sixth grade, peers started to think we were old enough to date. I was part of this popular clique who thought it was a great idea to hang out with “boyfriends” and talk about our “love lives.” Oh how naïve children can be! By the end of that year, a boy had “broken my heart” so badly that I had even more problems than I had in any previous grade. I would be up all night crying my eyes out, begging not to have to go to school. Any time there was a test, I would get so nervous that my hands would turn clammy and my stomach would knot. Everyone still thought I was being a perfectionist. Truth? That wasn’t even the half of it.
By the end of that year I had started to see a therapist. She helped me work through my emotions and finally let everyone know that I was not some unhealthy, weak child. No, I was suffering from anxiety disorder. Talk about a shocker there. And yet: It’s not like there was a cure.
By seventh grade, my friends decided it would be cool to play sports. I did too, at least that first year. But as my grades rose above the others’, they started to look at me like I had five heads. Their solution was to cheat off of my tests and talk crap behind my back. Why? Because they thought it was the cool thing to do I guess…
In eighth grade, I still dealt with the drama, but even more than that was the teacher/field hockey coach who screamed in my face that I ran “slower than her grandmother, who was 90!” Needless to say, that sport dropped out of my playlist. It’s not like I had asthma or anything…
Also in eighth grade was the flight of the friendships. I literally had to make all new friends as my old ones thought it was cool to treat me like I was a leper just because they were jealous of my grades. The teachers’ solution? Just ignore that anything is wrong.
By my first day of ninth grade my anxiety was so bad that I knew things weren’t going to work out in my favor. On that first day, three main things occurred.
- The PE teacher called me out for trying to “skip out of” gym class activities. Why? I had broken my finger playing softball that summer and it was still in a cast. But apparently playing volleyball was still expected.
- The English teacher asked if we had any questions about our summer reading. I had a question about whether we were allowed to combine our own notes from the stories with those from spark notes. Her answer? I had better not be planning on cheating my way through her class because she could see right through me and I had another thing coming if I thought she was stupid enough to believe that I was innocent. The truth? Someone else mentioned spark notes to me and I just wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing by not including those notes in my essay.
- The school might not have been big, but that didn’t stop me from being late to the bus that afternoon. The bus driver’s reaction? I better learn to carry all five hundred pounds of my textbooks with me if I intended to ride her bus this year…
I had a complete anxiety attack the minute I got home. Things were never really looking my way, but that day had been beyond ridiculous. If the kids could gang up on me, and now the teachers too? I had zero hope of ever surviving my life in high school.
My parents’ solution was to speak to the counselors, have me tested out of grades and courses so that I could avoid those teachers who had bullied me into submission. The guidance counselor had a lovely reply; stay in your courses or leave. We won’t switch your courses and we won’t allow you to prove that you’re smart enough to skip a course.
My solution? Leave school and do it my own way.
Three years later I was in the top ten of a graduating class of seniors where I was technically only supposed to be a junior. A few months later? Instead of spending all of my hard earned money on a private institution where I had received almost full scholarships, I applied to an online school where I could work and pay my own tuition.
The result? I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in teaching like I had always dreamed but never thought possible. Less than a year later, I had a full-time teaching job and even a year after that, I had graduated with an MA in Physics education.
If you think I’m stupid, you have something else coming. But even more important than that, if you think that I don’t care about my students, you’ve lost your mind. If you think I don’t feel their pain when the boys give them cat calls in the hallway, think again. If you think I don’t know what it is to be embarrassed by a superior, a leader, a teacher, an administrator, you’re wrong.
What ashames me most now is that I’m part of a system that I never really believed in. I’m part of a school where these things are actually happening to students every day. No, our kids are not perfect. They are far from it. But the reality is, that’s how they are supposed to be. They’re kids. Yes, they want to learn. Yes, they want to be leaders (at least most of them). But many of them just don’t know how. And if any of them are anything like me, they just don’t have the confidence in themselves to call out their peers and deal with the repercussions.
That’s why we are supposed to be there; to support them, to guide them, and to gently correct them along the way. But what I have been hearing lately pains me. For not just one, but for many of my kids, they feel as though they have been yelled at over issues that are trivial compared to other things. Some feel as though they have been sexually bullied by peers who are even younger than themselves. I’ve heard from the little ones that language has suddenly become an issue, and even more than that, I’ve learned that those who used to trust us barely trust us anymore.
While I don’t know what all has changed and I don’t understand why we are all struggling to adjust, I just want it to be made clear that this school is struggling. The students are struggling because the teachers are struggling. And that is only true because they are trying to juggle the administration’s changing and the changing of some of the most important parts and people in their lives. And truthfully, it’s not administration’s fault by any means, but when everyone looks to them to be the leaders and things don’t work out… where would most kids want to point the blame? No, not just at administration or the teaching staff; our kids point it at themselves too. That alone should show you that we have kids who are unique and one-of-a-kind where I work. That should show you the good that is in them.
But until something changes, until someone up top starts screaming from the rafters, nothing is going to change. We’re stuck in a tornado where we cannot climb out. And my only feelings on the issue are not that I am struggling or that I have no communication with the other teachers anymore. It’s more that I’m scared; scared for the kids who have anxiety like me, scared for those who need to focus on their work and not all of this drama. I’m scared for the students who now believe they’ve done something wrong when all they’ve done is try to hide in the shadows so they don’t become a laughingstock to their peers.
My kids give me hope. My kids give me happiness. To know that none of them at work are suffering the way I did; that fact used to propel me through my job each and every day. But now… now I fear that some of them are feeling the stresses and anxieties that I used to feel (and am feeling right now too). I fear that I’m doing nothing to protect them from what should never have to happen to anyone else but me. It’s my duty to say something, my duty to let everyone be heard. I might not be able to change anything, but I sure can lend an ear. And, if anyone important is reading this… I just ask that you take the time to self-reflect some too. We’ve asked the kids to do it. Now let it be our turn. Just to make sure that we aren’t the field hockey coaches or English teachers of my past. Because if I can stop just one child from feeling the way that I felt growing up, then I’ve changed the world.