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A teacher writes: 'This year was the worst of my life, sitting in my car at school and willing myself out.'

Content warning: this post deals with issues of family violence that some readers may find triggering. 

I am a teacher. I have been teaching at my current school for multiple years now. I have taught different ages, different cultures, different backgrounds. I have dealt with the dreaded NAPLAN, the helicopter parents, meetings that go over time by two hours. I’ve had numerous ‘Code Browns’ where students haven’t quite made it to the toilet.

It has brought me great joy to teach children and share my passions with them. I can deal with poo and reports, what I can’t deal with is kids coming from homes where family violence is as common to them as the Wiggles and fairy bread are to others.

I remember my first year on the job. I came in on my first day with rose coloured glasses, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I had illusions of grandeur, I wanted to be the “John Keating”/“Dead Poet’s Society” type teacher who inspired her students and focused on creating a rich learning environment enjoyed by all. The worse I was expecting was a missed sandwich now and again, maybe a forgotten diary.

I remember first learning about one of my students whose mum quite often went on drug benders, who would have abusive boyfriends stay over and beat her in front of my student. I was then expected to teach *Kane how to read and write. How could he possibly cope with ‘I before E’ when he knew what was waiting for him at home?

Mandatory reporting is a blessed thing. Kane got taken out of that situation and is now living with his dad. He comes to school each day with a smile on his face, ready to learn, a bright future ahead of him. Kane is a success story, but one not often repeated in others.

I started my second year, slightly less cocky but still optimistic in my profession. I was then introduced to *Ben. When Ben’s mother was pregnant with him and his other siblings, she was on every drug under the sun. Ben was born with Foetal Drug Syndrome. He was born a drug addict. It affected him from the very first day he was born. He lived with his mother and her many partners, surrounded by drugs, alcohol and misery. He was then sent to live with a different family member and attended my class.

family violence from a teacher's perspective
"The worse I was expecting was a missed sandwich now and again, maybe a forgotten diary." Image: Getty.
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I remember the first bruise I received from him. He came up to me and kicked me full force in the shin. A primary school aged child who was stunted in growth and weighed 20kgs wet decided it would be a good idea to kick his teacher.

I got kicked, I got spat on, I was sworn at, scratched, punched. I ended up having to wear long boots to school to protect my legs; long sleeves to protect my skin. Quite often if he didn’t get his way, he would lay on the ground, screaming his lungs out. That’s when he wasn’t going for the scissors. Or throwing books. Or lashing out at other children. I was expected to deal with this child, all the while still teaching my other dozens of students all about nouns and adverbs, place value and fractions.

That year was one of the worst years of my life. I would quite often sit in my car before school, willing myself to get out. I would go home at night after school and lay on my couch in the dark and cry. Panic attacks were common place. I didn’t want to go out anymore, I never saw my friends or my family.

I was later diagnosed with anxiety and depression and I took six months off from work to recover from the experience. A child who was a product of his environment, the product of a woman who abused him before he was even born, who used him as a welfare earner, who let him be abused by her partners.

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Despite the violence, I always felt sympathetic for Ben. What would he have been like if he had been born in a different family? A family that loved him, adored him, made him their whole world? He’ll never know and I will never know.

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My story isn’t uncommon. Not one teacher at my school has had a year where they haven’t had a student touched by family violence. Children that are treated as sex toys by sick, twisted human beings. Children who witness other family members being beaten or been the victim themselves. Kids that are half starved and dressed in tatty, smelly uniforms. Those kids that come to school with mould on their sandwich and the toes sticking out of their shoes. The ones who dread the school holidays because that means they have to spend time at home.

Not all of these defenceless victims can deal with these situations like Kane. Quite often these kids lash out at the ones who try to help them. They react with violence, the only thing they know how to do. Violence is all they know. They are expected to sit NAPLAN tests and learn about the Australian Government and everything to do with multiplication facts.

These same kids who come to school with a sore neck because “dad dragged me back to bed by my hair because I got up too early.” These same kids who got locked up in the backyard bungalow for the entire weekend so mum could have a weekend away with her boyfriend. The same kid who was sexually abused by her father and told not to tell anyone as it’s their “little secret”.

Family violence is the buzz word in the media at the moment. We know all about the statistics, the policies in place, the apparent horror of it all. It’s never talked about what the impact of family violence has on the most vulnerable of victims. It’s a ripple effect. It effects the children; it effects the people who spend 6 hours of the day with them, adult and child alike. More needs to be done.

Family violence shouldn’t be the norm, it shouldn’t be a common question around the staffroom lunch table of “who has a black eye today”. These kids deserve a life where they want to go home, a life where the worst that could happen to them is a lost sandwich or a missing diary.

* Names have been changed for the purposes of this story.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, please seek professionl help and contact 1800 RESPECT. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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