Monday, February 11, 2013

From the Cradle to the Classroom

"All of us, from the cradle to the grave are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figure(s)"- John Bowlby 1998 

The day the towers fell I was a twenty- four year old preschool teacher on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We were told to keep away from the windows, to keep the children indoors and wait for their parents to arrive. In my classroom all of the parents who worked in the Trade Center were late that day, or had a meeting somewhere else. A father was missing for several hours as he wandered the streets of Manhattan in shock.

I walked home to my nest of friends, feasting on provisions (primarily cheese). We sat around our apartment on West 108th street and watched the television in disbelief at the havoc and horror of what was occurring downtown. We could smell the ash, our eyes were thick with it. Few cell phone calls made it out, the ones that made it in were treasured. Returning to work for several months after I operated in a state of mild panic. I struggled with a very large question, "How can I provide a secure base for the children in my care, when I myself do not feel safe?" When I knew for certain I was not? This day, made me a New Yorker perhaps more than any other single moment spent in that great city. Family was forged, survival a common thread... grief and loss in the air, and in our blood. As days, months and years passed equilibrium returned. I began to feel effective again, constant. A stable provider of quality Early Childhood Care. And now, many years later I find myself shell shocked on very different ground, but asking the same question, "How can I provide a safe base for the children in my care when I am not in fact safe, at all?"

I made it to last Friday feeling triumphant in my beginning re mastery of my classroom. Gentleness with self, awareness of others all falling into place once more. Seeing again who my children are and the best way to get them where they need to go. And then Friday happened. One of my assistant teachers was out sick, and no substitute was sent in to replace her. I was short staffed. I felt the anxiety and panic begin to quicken my pulse, my words were sharper, my patience scattered. Hyper vigilance, cortisol over riding other brain functions as I attempted to remember to breathe, to stay focused, and calm. You see, I cannot teach the way I used to. I cannot be the teacher with eight arms, and eight voices reaching every child at once when needed. I am just one. Delegating as best I can. A child reached up, or rather jumped upon my back from behind. He squeezed my neck and pulled me to the ground. 

What has ensued since, a series of frustrating communications with workers comp ( a very special kind of hell), a very sore neck, mid and lower back pain, raging head aches, and fear. Doubt. Anxiety about returning to work tomorrow. In my experiences thus far very little is done on the part of the school district to keep the teachers safe, protected, supported to do their work. Will I be an exception now? Will the absence of my aids be covered so that I am not short staffed? Will measures be taken to protect me from bodily harm by impulsive Autistic students?

 This is one of those moments when I would like to quit. To say "No More." I want to put my own safety first. I want to stay in my bed tomorrow watching Alias, eating chocolate and lying on the heating pad my mother loaned me. I do not want to put myself in harms way by teaching in my own classroom.  But I will. I will stay away from the windows. I will pretend I have eyes in the back of my head, and I will ask for the support that all teachers, not just special education teachers deserve. It is important to feel safe, to be safe, to provide safety. From the cradle to the classroom, this is a non negotiable right, the safety to learn, to be protected in order to thrive, to grow, and to provide the highest quality education possible. Tomorrow however, I am going to show up. And this will need to be enough. 

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