Teach Teachers to Recognize Abuse
In the Jefferson County Public School district teachers are required to watch videos on recognizing suicidal thoughts and depression in teenagers at the beginning of each school year. They are given resources that can be handed out to classes in attempts to help those who need it. As a part of their job, teachers are contractually obligated to take these things seriously. If a student was to kill themselves or have serious harm caused to them after they reached out for help from a teacher they trust, the teacher would also be at fault for the students actions. Not every student is brave enough to ask for help, and equally serious forms of abuse such as emotional and verbal abuse are often times unreported. In 2011 emotional or verbal abuse only reportedly accounted for .06% of abuse cases that year (New Directions in Child Abuse and Neglect Research, page 41). Researchers have agreed that this number is primarily underreported because there is no clear definition of what this form of abuse looks like, educators, unable to create a strict set of policies that can help victims. At any rate, teachers are no more equipped to recognize emotional or verbal abuse then students. Countless students float along during their 12 years of obligatory education without having someone recognize the power manipulated words hold; countless students will never receive the help they need because teachers are uneducated on ways to recognize subtler forms of abuse. In general, the public education system does very little to recognize and rescue those students who are victim to any forms of abuse. The most that is done for a few ‘lucky’ students is being sent to the counselor to talk about home-life and the situation that has them down , and often times this is done after students have A) expressed a desire to commit suicide, or B) sent out a cry for help by allowing peers or teachers to see visible self-harm or patterned bruises that point towards physical abuse. Because there are laws surrounding physical abuse and neglect, JCPS carefully addresses the problems and take the time to ensure that children are not being left in situations that are detrimental to their health. The way that JCPS chooses to address abuse shows biases, putting one form of abuse above another. JCPS has only created band-aid solutions for a deep rooted problem that needs well thought-out healing steps.
Statistically, emotional abuse occurs more frequently than any other type of abuse. It is more likely to go unnoticed because it exhibits psychological signs instead of physical. So if teachers are only trained to recognize the signs of both sexual abuse and physical abuse, they have still been trained to recognize less forms of abuse then just being trained to recognize emotional abuse alone. That leaves the school system with a huge percentage of kids going unnoticed. In a verbocentric culture, one could only imagine that schools could understand the weight of words and the ways that they can be used to manipulate people. It doesn’t make sense to overlook the most frequently occurring type of abuse. Overlooking it means creating a surplus of emotionally unstable, and easily hurt adults. Long term emotionally abused children suffer similar side effects to physical abuse.
Teaching is one of the few professions that can truly change a child’s life. Teachers are more likely to notice subtle changes in behavior and changes in appearance than doctors and dentists because they get to have conversations with few restrictions. Teachers get to spend a lot of time hearing what students have to say as well as observing students body language. Because teachers spend so much time with students, they have the largest scope of impact on youth aside from parents who are not required to actively participate in their child’s life. Parents of emotionally and verbally abused minors often times do not realize that they are having a negative impact on their child’s growth and development. The long term effects of verbal and emotional abuse create adults that have difficulty making decisions, fear that they are inherently wrong, doubt their ability to communicate, and believe in “things will be better when”, statements(Healthyplace.com). These thought processes will change the outcome of a person’s future, preventing them from being the person 12 years of schooling gave them the tools to be. If the entire goal of the public education system is to produce adults who are able to handle day to day life without barriers then JCPS is continually failing to meet that standard. Emotional and verbal abuse create unstable youth that eventually grow to be the unstable adults that the Jefferson Country Public School System is releasing into society.
If school is supposed to be one of those places that people feel supported, but 41 percent of females and 45 percent of males disagree schools really only have the trust of just over half of the students. Out of that half of students only a small percent is going to be brave or pro-active enough to tell a teacher or counselor if there is a noticeable change in a friend’s behavior or if something is going wrong. And even out of that small group of students there is an even smaller percentage of reported abuse that are actually going to be looked into extensively by the school. It is more painful on the students’ lives to have reported abuse, begin to get help, and then be put on the backburner because the school doesn’t know how to proceed
By teaching teachers to recognize youth who are being emotionally or verbally abused a catalyst for change is created. Often time’s students who are emotionally abused feel helpless and as if they deserve it – a thought process that prohibits student from reaching their full potential. By having one person, a teacher, who takes the time to tell them that the behaviors falling under the category of emotional and verbal abuse are not normal, they can change a person’s entire outlook on life. From my own personal experience, it is surprisingly easy to forget about the things that have been said or done as a result of emotional and verbal abuse when I know that I have at least one teacher who believes in me. That’s not to say its that way for everyone, or that it makes everything better; the self-loathing and self-doubt are still there, but those things are different when you have someone who will remind you or your value and potential. Making students feel as though they are not alone is a small step towards empowering students and assisting them in overcoming abuse. By teaching teachers to proceed carefully and with good intentions, they will be given the power to change more students lives then a vice principal, counselor, or CPS worker ever could.
Teachers are already required to complete a number of professional development house throughout the year in a focused area. While there really is no time to train teachers extensively, individual schools should be stressing the impact of physical touch and kind words on verbally and emotionally abused students. Schools should not only be teaching teachers to recognize abuse, but also be implementing policies that will help empower students in need. For the next year only, I propose that the professional development content focuses in on working with kids who are unable to leave abusive or neglectful situations in their homes. By requiring teachers to take just 3-6 hours of professional development time to learn about verbal and emotional abuse teachers who have already been in the career for a while will become equipped with the tools they need to help children in that situation. Training should include teaching teachers to be mentors to students who otherwise do not have postive influnences within their own home. Teachers should also be trained on is the importance of touch to a child’s emotional development. This training would have a very low cost impact since professional development is something that JCPS is already paying for and in the long term, could benefit the schools that the teacher training takes place in. Covering these topics within schools will not only make whole schools a better place for people to be in, but will also make cause classroom relationships to be better allowing more students to achieve at higher levels.
If time was spent training teachers on how to recognize and respond to verbal and emotionally abused students in their classrooms and colleges addressed the complexity of children’s mental development and emotions in their teacher education programs teachers would be better prepared to help students who find themselves in that situation. Because there are no laws that protect youth who are being mentally abused, having teachers trained on this is vital to helping children in need. With no other protections ,JCPS teachers are provided the opportunity to be a hero and allow students to feel safe and have a break from the negative influence of their home life. It is reported that one third of all children in schools come home to situations that unreasonably exhibit rage, violence and despair. “Children who come to school from extreme turmoil—and an estimated one-third of all children do—especially need to learn social skills. When we teach these things, we affirm for these children that there are alternatives to rage, violence, and despair.” While the entirety of this one third of children may not be abused, each and every one of them can benefit from teachers who know how to have a mentoring relationship with students. Implementing a training that shows teachers how to have positive and appropriate relationships with students will allow students to trust their educators more and accept more educational opportunities moving forward.
This type of training will also make receiving educational opportunities easier for emotionally and verbally abused children. Children that are abused have trouble sleeping, poor dietary habits, an excessive amount of stomach issues and headaches. This is just the beginning of health issues that are created due to the increased amount of stress on a child from an abusive household. By having teachers trained to recognize this abuse, teachers are able to be more understanding and work with kids who have these health issues. If trained teachers have mentoring relationships with students, teachers can assist in relieving some of this stress and providing the child with a safe worry-free space.
One of the things that teachers should be trained on is the importance of touch to a child’s emotional development. One principal in the Evergreen School District invites teachers to a schoolwide policy on hugging. He says “Hug regularly. Hug everyone who likes to be hugged. Hug in plain sight. And if anyone questions you’re doing it, I’ll back you 100 percent.” (Sharon Bancroft ).Teachers are warned of students or parents claiming sexual misconduct and issues of liability, and often times this fear leads them to distance their physical stance away from students causing them to appear closed off. If JCPS teachers were trained to see that touch is important to a child’s growth and development more students would be able to receive the affection that they may not see at home. Psychology Today says touch, such as hugging or a pat on the back, can increase the emotions of gratitude, happiness and love. Touch is too important to the wellbeing of a child, especially a neglected or abused one, to be banned in the only public space that they might welcome it. Training teachers to dispel the media-portrayed idea that a tap on the shoulder can be turned into a case for sexual assault would allow them to be more attentive to the unmet need of abused students. For people that feel unloved and unwelcome in most spaces having body language that reflects caring can give students a place that they belong. This is not a solution for the problem at hand, but is instead a way to reverse the effects and allow students to get to a place where they fill comfortable enough that teachers can carry out real solutions. Trust is a huge reason why this solution would be effective in addressing the problem. Young people who are emotionally abused are typically less trusting of others and their intentions. If teachers were able to recognize this abuse and address it without breaking the trust of a student, students just might trust them enough to believe what it is they have to say. They might believe the teacher telling them they are intelligent, kind, compassionate, worthy, etc. before even considering that other adults and positions of authority are authentic when they say the same thing. Body language and touch are two of the things that people recognize first. By actually establishing a connection with students though this, teachers become something other than the authority figure that hides away after 2:20, teachers become human beings capable of being empathetic/sympathetic of the situation a verbally and emotionally abused child finds themselves in.
Emotional and verbal abuse go unrecognized because they exhibit no physical signs. It is vital that schools take the opportunity to help kids who are verbally or emotionally abused by implementing training on emotional development within teacher education programs as well as creating professional development that provides solutions that will aid verbally and emotionally abused students. These programs will teach teachers to cater to the needs of emotionally and verbally abused students and prevent them from slipping through the cracks of the educational system. If teachers had this kind of training, JCPS would be providing more students with the help they need to become the producitive member of society the public education system aims for them to be. With very little cost and promising long term effects, educating teachers on this subject should be a priority of JCPS.
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