Dear teachers (who saved my life)

Apples by Mike Ryan via Flickr

Dear Teachers,

I know some of you remember me. I was gifted and quiet, well behaved, used big words solemnly, like the bookworm I was and still am. When I first came to school at the age of 5, I cried easily, so much so that I earned a reputation as a crybaby. I don’t remember how you handled that. I remember cowering in the cloakroom, crying it out where no-one could see me, or waiting in the hallway till I calmed down. Even so, the school was a safer place to cry than home, even if I did not know to tell you why.

In the school yard, I avoided the rough games of my peers, and stayed with the trees and rocks behind the school, where it was quiet and beautiful. I would defend those places, even then, and went to the principal when some workmen were disturbing my play place, because I believed in your justice.

I believed in justice then and you did not fail me completely. Your school was a place, one place at least, where people were supposed to be fair.

Your school was a refuge to me. You could be counted on to listen to me and value me, a service I knew, later on, that I purchased with my intelligence and good behavour, as I saw it was not offered to everyone. I needed your help so desperately, I made sure to always be a good student, even when the other kids teased me for it.

For many years I was angry with you, my safe havens of foster parenthood, you who kept me safe during the day, that you could not have made me safe at night too. You never noticed the horrible harm being done to me at home, masked by my good behaviour at school, or if you did, nothing was done to rescue me from the monsters.

But really, you saved my life. By having a place, one place at least, where I could buy approval at not too high a price, where I was valued for being gifted, my words listened to and heard. You kept me from seeking attention from less benign sources, you gave me a place where I had worth, and I am so grateful.

I ask you, please, to look closer at the crybabies, the serious and studious ones, the little girls with too-solemn faces, the ones who are well behaved and not acting out. Sometimes we have horrible secrets to share, and do not even know we can seek help from you or that our parents would not be permitted to harm us if the right person knew about it.

Please be that right person for other children. I know we do not often give proof of the harm being done to us. We have no words for it, other than the ones the abusers give us. We have been tortured, sometimes from before we could talk, and the path to speaking of it is filled with monsters.

Please look closer, ask questions. I know you have many children to care about, but you could literally safe our lives. And if you cannot, please be kind to children like me. You are an oasis in a desert of pain and abandonment, and we need you desperately. You can save our lives. Some of you saved mine.

0 thoughts on “Dear teachers (who saved my life)”

  1. The people who are into home schooling feel that they can offer better quality teaching with individual attention and customize learning to their child’s learning style and interests, which may be true. They also criticize the school system as grooming people to accept external authority. I’m assuming the more religious folks just want their kids to be naïve about other religions, cultures and ways of thinking about the world. I think we learn a lot by being exposed to others.

    You’re very welcome, Rick. We’re all survivors, no matter our sex, gender or culture, and a lot of how we heal is for sure gender neutral. I’m coming from my own experience, and I’m a gay Wiccan woman, but most of what I think is true is true for all survivors of any gender or religion, and regardless of which caregiver or relative abused them. Good to meet you and may your healing and life always go better than expected.

  2. Agree entirely. Home schooling gives the opportunity for the tormenter & abuser to also become your 24/7 captor. Most importantly, it removes the opportunity for victim to have the psychological refuge that school can provide. Certainly from my experience the only way to survive the monster was to have such a refuge; it would be incredibly difficult (and far more psychologically damaging) if there was no geographic separation. Those passionate proponents of home schooling need to ask themselves a pertinent question: how does your child benefit from it? I suspect many answers to that question would ultimately be quite selfish and very much from the parents’ perspective. For me, my fond memories of school (and the few really good friends that I made – and still have!) allow me to look back at that period of my life and actually have some good memories. Without school, there would only be those memories from home. And I sure as hell would be unhappy if they were the only memories that I had from that period. School = Salvation (without the religious implications).

    And thank you SwordDanceWarrior for such a wonderful blog. Yes, I am male, but the majority of your thoughts and comments are gender-neutral. Thank you again and be strong.


  3. This is why, even though many of my friends are big fans of home schooling, I am not. My mom was a qualified school teacher. If she’d decided to home school us, I might not have survived. We need safe adults parents don’t choose in children’s lives, as a safety net for children of the abusive ones, and it is precisely the abusive ones who would not allow other safe adults access otherwise.

  4. Hi SwordDanceWarrior,

    In the process of trying to find and reconnect with a long-lost friend from school (who was kind to me when almost everyone else was indifferent) I stumbled upon your blog; specifically, this post. As I type this I am trying to hold back the tears as they well from my heart. My story involves family incest, forced backyard abortions, attempted murder and having to plead for my life with a gun at my head. It includes forced relocation, name changes and isolation. Most importantly, it includes the concept of the use of school as a psychological refuge. Your post is an incredible piece of writing made all the more poignant since I have recently been in contact with my Grade 6 teacher from 1979. After 35 years I decided to find him and explain to him how much he means to me and how, unknown to him, he saved my life and gave me a future. After our two-hour conversation by phone (without telling him my story – and, yes, he remembered me!) I sent him a long letter (together with a CD of photos etc.), hoping that he would understand and truly realise how significant a person he was (and still is) in my life.

    This was his response:

    “Hi Rick

    While still preparing for Tuesday’s Law exam I decided to take a quick break today and look at your material. Well the break certainly wasn’t quick!

    I was confronted with the most wonderful array of outstanding photos (will need to talk to you some time re: Botswana) by someone who could clearly hold their own as a professional photographer. You not only have outstanding kit (I suspect) but have also been blessed with a very good eye. Have now made a mental note not to ever again send you any of my efforts!!

    I gazed with little comprehension at complex formulae, design schemata and an impressive range of heavy duty looking equipment that does stuff beyond my mental capacity. The student has clearly exceeded the limitations of the teacher.
    I then read with a mixture of sadness, incredulity your gobsmacking life story. I can say with absolute candour I have never read anything like that before and am amazed you concealed it so well for so long. I had absolutely no idea there was anything amiss in your life in grade 6. You must have mastered the art of compartmentalising, turning off home and turning on school as you entered the school gate. Teachers are supposed to look out for that sort of thing, but received no training for it in my time.

    You clearly are a highly intelligent, fabulously articulate (I might have helped a tad there), creative person whose words taught me something today.
    I will endeavour to look you up some time in the future when I’m in Melbourne. I’m proud of you Rick and proud to have taught you. Well done indeed.

    Kind regards Alan

    PS You really still look the same just bigger!”

    So I just wanted to share that with you and say, quite sincerely & urgently, that if you have EVER had a school teacher in your life (or ANYONE else for that matter) who means a lot to you then find them and tell them. Soon, before it is too late! Because you may find a true friend that you never knew you had, or rekindle a long-lst (but not forgotten) friendship.

    And, Lyndel, if you happen to read this, now you understand why I’m trying to find Darielle.

    Thank you for listening. Rick.

  5. My teacher, Mrs. Alexander was my personal heroine in first grade. I don’t know if she knew to hug me hard every day, praise me for reading, butter my bread at lunch and deliver it with a kiss on the head. But she did these things and many, many others that made an incredible difference. Thank you for writing this lovely piece on the importance of school as a safe place….

  6. butterflysblog

    I once had a breakdown in my high school. It was the day I went to the county social services to tell them about my dad. The school’s method of following up after my breakdown was to have an idiot school psychologist, who was either a student intern or someone very new with her psych degree, ask me idiot questions DURING SCHOOL. They took me out of normal class which had the effect of otherizing me after I had already been otherized enough. Then she never really was able to connect with me, because I could tell she was uncomfortable. I couldn’t get comfortable with her since I knew she didn’t really want me to talk about my dad. Idiot.

  7. fellow survivor

    I have been reflecting in the last few weeks how important the predictable and steady school environment was to me. I could work out the rules, work out how to be “good”, was liked in the classroom for being courteous and co-operative. Even when I took that good classroom behaviour home I couldn’t predict how it would be responded to, and of course it didn’t “save” me from the horrors.

    I’m glad you had teachers who treated you well. I’m glad I did too.

  8. Heartbreaking. Every teacher should read this. When I was a kid they didn’t have a clue. I put part of my story in an essay I submitted to the best English teacher I ever had in high school. The topic he’d proposed was ‘Something Nasty in the Woodshed.’ At the time I just wanted to write a great story. I didn’t think about what I was revealing, or expect any response. My teacher did think it was a great, he gave me a great mark. He never discussed it with me, never took any action on it. I was 15 years old.

    1. You know, I did something similar. When asked to write about the scariest thing I’d ever experienced, I wrote about the time my father drunk-drove us back from the airport one time. I think it was a good story too. However in the story I lied and said it was my uncle, although that would have been fairly transparent. Same thing, no-one followed up with me.

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