I work with teenagers who live in stress-induced environments and have experienced and faced traumatic events that no 13-18 year old should ever have to face.
Yesterday, I had several students who stayed after school to finish their argumentative essays on the Chrome-books. 15 minutes in, the fire alarm goes off. All students and staff evacuate the building. The fire department shows up. A water pipe busted and flooded part of the 200 hallway downstairs. Then the cops roll in. A drive by shooting. One of our kids walking home was robbed at gun point by a couple of older looking students.
One of MY kids was walking home with the kid who got shot, his friend. He was walking with him because he lacks the resources at home to finish his essay on “Trauma,” a reoccurring motif in the book Speak that they have been studying. He was going to his friend’s house to finish his essay.
Today, my student spoke with me and said: “Miss, I couldn’t sleep last night. Like what if he died? My friend was just telling them that it’s not good to rob someone. They threatened us by shooting at the ground first. Then they shot his leg when we didn’t move and took my friend’s backpack.”
I sat and listened and affirmed, and listened some more.
“It’s just crazy, Miss, because we did a research presentation on this and I’m writing about this. I had never experienced trauma before, but now I know what it is.” He can’t even look at me. His lips are moving, his eyes are staring off across the classroom.
On his research presentation 2 quarters ago, he and his classmates chose to do research on the causes of depression and anxiety in teens, how it leads to the high suicide rate, and come up with a preventative action plan.
Today, he thanked me for the research presentation project. Because in the the project, despite topics that would be considered “taboo,” my students learn how to protect themselves and to protect others. And now the main character’s trauma and redemptive story at the end make sense to him. My student said, “All we did was just do what was right and were just walking home. I’m just glad that my friend is okay, and that none of us got hurt.”
It breaks my heart to see my students hurting or to know if any of them got hurt or injured. Just last year one of my students was shot and killed. And yesterday, I was so angry I started crying. The injustice in this world is too much. Why do people hurt people? What real inner gain is there? When does it stop? There are reasons why I have my students study social injustices throughout the school year, especially when it is centered on what they have experienced, are experiencing, or could experience. My goal is to educate my students so that they aren’t blindsided when they come across situations or things, and so that they will know what to do because they’ve already educated themselves.
But still, it doesn’t erase the pain from them. The trauma. I wish I could take the pain away, the memories, and all the nightmares my students have at night. If there is anything I can say, it is that my students are some of the strongest people I know to survive what they encounter and experience. They are fighters.
And I love them.