I was assaulted by a student this year. Twenty-two years in the classroom, and I never thought it would happen to me, but it did. Though it is an event that is in the realm of possibility when teaching secondary level education, even writing the words now it seems surreal. Yet, that is not what this blog is about. I want to focus on what students did right. What students do right on a daily basis. Most importantly, despite being attacked, what brought me back and why I’m staying.
It was the day before Halloween when it happened. What began as a routine cell phone confiscation landed me flat on my back, befuddled. I am a petite person, five foot two inches on a day I’m feeling especially confident. The student who assaulted me was an athlete and strong; my little body flew. My head bounced against the tile floor before my body finally landed several feet from where the incident occurred. I suffered a concussion, a lot of bruising, a stiff neck and my back will never be the same.
For the one student who exercised poor judgement that particular day in October, another 35 chose to act differently. As my assailant grabbed his phone and hit the door running, two students were on the phone to the office for emergency assistance. While two more students attended to me on the ground, one used their own jacket to prop up my head. The emergency training they had endured twice a year since Kindergarten was put into action like a well rehearsed performance.
It was scary. I already suffer from moderate anxiety as well, and it took me a few months of physical as well as emotional recovery before I could entertain the idea of returning. Short term memory loss plagued me, as well as sleeplessness. I could only take short trips from home. Mundane activities such as going to the grocery store were difficult, and I would only go during quiet hours.
The idea of a career change did cross my mind. If I could not go grocery shopping, how could I face the class where I had been assaulted? Self-doubt as an educator was ever present. “Where had I gone wrong?” filled my thought process more times than I can relay. Yet, I underestimated the one part of this job which keeps us coming back as educators, the students.
I received cards, emails, gifts, flowers and even stuffed animals from them. Staff and families sent well wishes. How could someone not feel the love? By January, there was nothing that would keep me from my classroom, yet, I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy.
I’ve had people, mostly outside of education, ask me how I could return? It is unfathomable to most, but teachers, they get it. There is only one reason, the kids. I could focus on the one student who assaulted me back in October, but instead I chose to focus on the many amazing students who did the right thing and who continue to do the right thing every day.
My classroom is my second home; it has been my single constant for over two decades and the thought of never returning wasn’t an option for this teacher. Teaching is in my blood, and every thought process I have. How could I not return?
I came back second semester, and yet I knew there were students in my class who had taken the side of my assailant. They were friends, and there was nothing I could do about it. I’m here to teach the students in my class on any given day, and I can not choose who they are; hence the journey began.
I won’t lie, the anxiety was a mighty force at first. Every day at lunch time, before the class started, my heart would beat faster, I’d get headaches, and my hands would tremble. What if it happened again? I knew chances were slim, but the idea was more prevalent than before. What if I spent the rest of the semester in a battle of wills, each day not knowing what was in store?
After all these years in the classroom, I felt like a new teacher again, and I knew it was not going to be an easy process, but I made myself. I have had people tell me how brave I am for returning, yet for me, I needed to get over the fear of being in my own classroom. I need to reconnect with the students who had reached out, and focus on those students who did want to learn.
Slowly, day by day, the assault became a distant memory for my students and myself. The same class I was assaulted and having panic attacks in has become one of my favorite classes today. Working past the assault, my classroom is now a world of innovation. It is controlled chaos, an explorer’s paradise and a place where risk is welcome and fostered. We are constantly in motion, in dialogue and creating. What looks like bedlam to some, is a symphony of learning to me.
Today, those same students like coming to my class. I say that because my biggest critics in October are the ones who tell me how much they like coming now that it is May. We’ve done more projects, experimental lessons, investigational exercises and technology than I ever have in the past. It makes for an exciting synergy in the room which I adore walking into on a daily basis.
As I reflect on the year, it seems only appropriate the class which gave me the most anxiety, is also the class which produced the most reward. It bothers me when adults complain about “kids these days.” The kids I see on a daily basis are tenacious, polite and globally minded. In my book, the kids are alright.
Debra Hake (@MsHake418) has been a teacher with Sweetwater Union High School District since 1996 where she currentlly teaches AP U.S. History and U.S. History 11. She lives in the San Diego area with her children Cameron (16), Megan (13) Brady (6) and partner Andrew. Her experience in the classroom has left her with the firm belief that attitude is everything.
Photographs by Jolyna Heng