It is never right to look the other way when something evil happens. Ever. But some professions require the worker to be proactive and to report criminal acts to the police. Teaching is one of these professions. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)(Jan. 1996 version), 42 U.S.C. 5101, requires that for states to receive funding some form of mandatory abuse reporting must be set in place. In Florida, this is stated in Fla Stat Ann § 39.301-39.307. Yet, teachers are still reluctant to do this and often do not face punishment for a failure to report crimes.
I used to hold teachers in high esteem. I honestly thought all those years I was being abused that I was just exceptionally good at hiding it. As an adult who has been a teacher at that big desk in the front of the room, I realize that no, those teachers knew something was wrong, and not only with me. They most likely saw clearly that there was abuse, neglect and poverty in the lives of me and at least a few of my classmates. And yet, they did nothing.
I would especially like to focus on the eight core teachers I had in the 6th and 7th grades at Coral Springs Middle School. Those two years, I had four core gifted teachers who would have students on a rotating schedule for a specific block of time each day. These teachers worked as a “team” to develop curriculum for the students. So, not only did one teacher ignore my plight and the troubles of other students, but four teachers both years who pow-wowed on a regular basis.
My mother was a coward. Still is. All it would have taken would have been one or two phone calls home to make some difference in my life. Enough to scare her. Instead I had to come up with the courage at 12 years old to begin confronting her for the welfare of my brother and me. If these teachers did not want to call home for fear of making my situation worse, one of them at least could have spoken to me frankly and honestly, letting me know that the 11 and 12 year old me wasn’t mature and bright enough to be fooling anyone about something so obvious, and just letting me know that they could at least be a moral support. This small thing would have made such a large difference to me.
I want to again emphasize that these were gifted teachers. Not only are they supposed to have some sort of extra training or certification , but I was not some kid to write off as just a piece of white trash, a waste of time when there were other bright kids in the room . I was one of those bright kids, as were my other ignored classmates. Bright though we were, I guess we just weren’t worth saving. At some point these teachers chose to just collect a paycheck- just teach the material and to hell with any obligation to report abuse or the humane obligation to at least give a child five minutes of counsel when they are clearly suffering.
With my impoverished appearance, I was frequently picked on and pushed around. A lot of these incidents occurred in front of teachers who took no action. I wish I had answers. I wish I knew exactly why someone who elected to work with children would for some reason not help a child in need. I just don’t get it.
As hard as those two years in school were, the worst thing was that I had to continue having class after class for years with the same people who witnessed or perpetrated those things in the 6th and 7th grade. The gifted classes grew smaller as the years went by (and the underprivileged steadily dropped out of the program) but there I was with the same people who remembered me as smelly, disheveled Tara, who was no longer smelly or disheveled but was still poor. My classmates lived in 5 bedroom homes in Parkland, and their parents were doctors, lawyers and successful business people. My mother refused to work, and when she finally did take a part-time job complained as though she was digging in a coal mine from sun up to sun down.
As utterly awkward as it was to be a teenager in a classroom with these privileged classmates, I was thankful to have secondhand exposure to a better life. It made the thought of getting into a good college and getting a good job seem attainable. It made the thought of not having to scrimp, scrounge, and steal for the rest of my life a possibility. Nothing in the classroom taught me this; it was the people in the classroom itself, just by being who they were, with their nice clothes and everyday stories of a life I was not experiencing. As lonely as it was, maybe it was worth it.