I have a vivid memory of standing with the teachers one day at recess in the first grade. There was a young girl named Carla who was typically known for fighting and being abrasive. Mean. I was scared of her with good reason. They watched her scuffle with the other kids and instead of stepping in, one of them passively said to the other, “…Well…her father just died“. At 6, this little gal had lost her dad. And came right back to school. Though my father would have never been considered Hands On, I couldn’t imagine what must be going on in their home. I didn’t know how she was suffering. I knew she had at least three siblings in that school alone, and, even back then, I felt she should have been somewhere being cared for at that moment. Not being gossiped about quietly. And being labeled with no regard for who heard. The benefit, though, as we stayed in school together for several years, was that I wasn’t scared of her anymore. I understood her.
I took this with me into teaching many years later. I have had colleagues who stood firm that, ‘we don’t have time to know everyone’s personal history‘. And I have had those who believe, with me, that it is the first thing we should know. Understand the trauma, understand the person. You can not care for or educate a child if you do not know their trauma. Plain and simple.
Indeed there are time constraints. And, as adults, we have learned that we are mocked if we do not follow the toxic adage to never, never lead with your troubles. The horror of someone’s baggage and all that. If you have ever looked down on another for exposing their damage, consider, instead, that they were asking you for help. They were reaching out to you. They were trying to connect. Not become the subject of cruel gossip or jokes. Sometimes it is not about “drama”…it’s about true pain. We share our pasts in hope that others will know how to better love and care for us. Not so we may be punished for being vulnerable. We wouldn’t want that for our children. And these children, just as often, bring with them the same incredible weight as many adults. Weight of abuses, neglect and hurt they bear masked in that God given innocence and resilience. Only they are not yet developed enough emotionally to reach out in the ways an adult might. A child can’t ask you to care for them. A child can’t ask for healing through connection. They can’t yet ask for compassion or to be heard. Perhaps not by definition, but my job is to be that bridge and offer to help carry some of that weight. And to see them for who they are, not for what has happened to them. Trauma informed teaching is a benefit to everyone. Not a hindrance. And there absolutely is time.
I will admit I have struggled a lot, particularly with my youngest daughter, with what to include on school introduction forms. What is ‘too much’ to say at conferences. What information needs to be shared by email as far as what’s happening at home and what can be left out. I have struggled because of careless teachers like those I knew long ago, and I have struggled because of the shame I have felt in sharing my burdens as an adult. In being defined by my own hurt and perceived as damaged because I shared ‘too much’ or had times when there was simply no strength to function. But I always come back to what I believe. If I want my daughter’s whole person to be cared for, I must let her teachers know exactly what that means to us and trust it will not be abused. In this act, I feel I can advocate for acceptance of who she is, rather than perpetuate shame for it. That’s what I would want for myself so that is what I want for my children.
It is true that we can only act and react from a place of our own experience. That is our very life reference material. Children and young adults are no different. They hurt as we do, they seek healing as we do. If we are lucky in life, we find those bridges. But for our children, it is our responsibility to be that bridge. Time or no time. Faulty ideals of ‘oversharing’ aside. Change their reference experience. Allow your own experience to be changed for the better. This is growth.
We are all delicately rooted, but whether in education, healing or connection, we remain a whole person. If we intend to be cared for, we can not cherry pick the pretty parts to share of ourselves. If we intend to care for someone else, we invest time in understanding them as a whole. Our burdens and trauma, while they do not define us, do complete the story of who we are in being accepted as individuals and whole people. There is no shame. It’s all very much Need To Know. Pretty or not, this is life and understanding one another. That’s what I would want for my children. So that is what I want for myself.