I wrote previously about my naivete in high school. I can remember talking to my best friend when we were in college and being shocked to find out so many of our classmates were having sex and drinking during high school. (How she was so aware and I was so clueless is astounding.)
Even twenty years later I remain pretty darn naive. I am aware of some horrible things in my students' lives over my fifteen years of teaching. My first year I had a boy whose mother had abandoned the family. Another student's mother had died not long after the girl's baby brother was born and the father was believed to be sexually abusing the daughters so the children were all removed from his custody. One girl's mother tried to commit suicide. One boy had a baby brother die. Another girl was raped multiple times by a family friend living with them temporarily. At least two girls had lost their fathers during their elementary school years. A couple of students were being raised by family members because their mothers were in mental institutions. Plenty of students fled their home countries out of danger to their families.
All of these things were explicitly told to me. They may have been shared by the families or read in a family history done by our school social worker or told to me by the child's previous teacher. In some way I was given notice of these traumas.
How many other traumas have I missed because I am too naive to believe these things happen? Have I had students who were abused and I missed the signs? Were there ones suffering from depression or other mental health challenges?
Children are amazingly strong and resilient. They overcome things that make me want to curl up and hide under the covers for days. I hope that I have given them the love, support, and safety they all need and deserve even if I was unaware of turmoil in their outside-of-school lives.
But the more I think about this the more I wonder. I'm familiar with statistics on abuse and mental health disorders. I know that some of our students face these problems. I know that some of the strangers I pass do as well. Which ones? Why them? How can we know? Only then can we do anything to help.
I don't want to become cynical instead of naive. Somewhere there must be a middle ground that allows me to carefully watch for concerns or signs of trouble while still believing in the inherent goodness of people...