This is a long overdue thank you note.
In grammar school we were the ones whose desk you placed next to yours. You did it because we didn’t behave, we were annoying other kids, we couldn’t sit still or we talked too much. You placed our desk next to yours, or right in front of yours and it was supposed to be some sort of punishment. But here’s the truth. We loved it.
We loved getting to sit next to an adult who wasn’t frightening--who cared about us. We loved having you lean over and tell us things—about your dog, or your kids. We felt important. We felt like we mattered. We always knew where your keys were when you lost them because we watched your every move. We liked you. But we knew better than trust any adult too much, so we watched everything.
You may not have even known what we were living through, but our behavior made you pay attention, and we desperately needed your attention. And instead of getting angry at us for our behavior you found creative ways to help us. You found ways for us to be helpful—shelving books in the library, or helping putting away the gym equipment and take a few extra shots at the basket or soccer shots into the goal.
You often got us out of the classroom and into settings with more adults—the office with the principal and the secretaries where we could help copy or sort or run errands. Or working in the cafeteria with the lunch ladies. Many of these things were used as carrot—as an offering if we behaved—and it totally worked. The chance to be around caring adults, to feel competent and be seen as a ‘good kid’ was something we craved more than anything. It was wonderful to feel trusted in a world that felt like it lacked trust entirely. Some of us were good at academics and some of us weren’t, but most of all it felt good to be in a world of cause and effect—a world of predictability, where you knew what was going to happen next.
And in middle school and high school we were the ones you pulled in on projects or you let us hang out in your classroom before or after school. You let us do homework in your classroom while you were getting your class prep done not knowing how important it was to have a quiet place to do homework—where there wasn’t shouting or violence, or drugs or alcohol. You were our go-to person and we knew that you kept your eye on us. You offered us hall passes to go to our next class and we knew we could go to you if things got really bad. And for most of us-- we never did go to you. But we thought about it, we imagined it, and we knew you would help. And knowing there is help is sometimes enough to get you through. Most of us didn’t go to you because we never wanted to admit it was really bad. And even if we did, we didn’t want to get our parents in trouble.
All those small moments over many years—like some magical relay race where each teacher passes the baton to the next—you may never know what a difference you made—but we hope you do. You gave us the experience of safety, the experience of caring, and the ability to believe in ourselves. We know it was extra work for you—that you gave up your free period, or time after school with your own family. But the gifts you gave us were huge. You gave us the hope that there was a bigger and better world than the one we were living in. And you gave us the confidence and skills to go after that bigger and better world when we met it later. It may not have been obvious how much you were helping us then, but if you saw us now, you would know.
The Trauma Kids
© 2016 Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD