“The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.” If it had not been clear before, this point makes it clear the teacher is working with real people and not educational widgets. While we, as teachers, are measured on student performance on standardized tests, our true obligation is to help our students become happy, healthy, self-actualized people.
One of the teachers I have observed has sought to be a maternal figure for her students. While part of this reflects her personality, she also stated that she wants to be an adult that students felt they could turn to in times of need. In her first year of teaching, she has already dealt with a student who was suffering abuse. The teacher recognized an abrupt change in behavior: a previous outgoing student had become very quiet, prone to angry outbursts, and no longer completed assignments. The teacher used a poor test score as the reason to meet with the student and inquire about the changes. This student is from a culture that expects males to be authoritarian figures in the family. He and his older brother were being raised by a single mother and were separated from older male family members. The older brother had decided it was time to take on that role and the relationship with the student had become physically and emotionally abusive. As required by the district policy, she then turned this information over to the school counselor (fwps_reporting-policy).
As a high school teacher that has more than 120 students, it is easy for these kinds of issues to get overlooked. The list of what teachers need to be aware of and focus on is extensive. When you combine this with the fact that adolescence is fraught with personality changes and drama, it becomes easy to excuse some of the abuse identifiers as “teenager drama.”
As teachers, we also sometimes forget how difficult life is for our students. They are managing academics, extra-curricular activities, family, friends, and the “what do I want to be when I grow up” question. Being the victim of abuse and neglect not only makes some of these areas much harder to deal with, it can remove the student’s ability to deal with them at all. It’s hard to worry about your homework if you are worried a physical beating is waiting for you.
How can teachers do a better job with this? I think it starts with classroom management. Part of classroom management is building relationships with students, which makes it easier to identify when signals of abuse exist or start to manifest. Further, an effective classroom management strategy tells the students they are important and you do not want to waste their time. When you tell them they are important, you are also telling them you care about them. And that message is the one that opens the door for students to come to you in times of need.