I thought I had seen everything in my classroom. We are far away from the main campus, so we can pretty much do what we want. Food not allowed? No problem in my classroom. Children not allowed? If the moms want to learn English , they have to bring the children. Keeping them from disturbing the class requires endless patience and more than a little experimentation. But worth it. When you educate the mother you educate the whole family. Or so I tell them. I even have a mom that breastfeeds in the classroom.
But today there was something new. A new student , trying to keep her small child quiet, hit him. Of course there was no question I could not keep silent about this, but I froze, and in a split second tried to remember everything I knew about dealing with this on the employment level.
There was the neighbor who told a cryptic tale about someone–a “mandated reporter”–who had reported child abuse but some unnamed dreadful thing had happened as a result, and that person would never make such a report again. Then there was the day working in a public agency when I was sitting at my desk and suddenly became aware of one of the City’s Finest standing behind me. A co-worker had witnessed a client hitting a child and, slipping away from his desk, had gone to the administrator’s office and called the police. The mother had thought nothing of it at the time, but as the discussion progressed, it was revealed that she herself had been abused as a child and was now horrified to realize her own role in perpetuating the abuse.
So what did I actually witness in my class? Was it abuse? No. It was playful, but meant to control the child’s behavior. But why hit a child gently if they do not understand you can also hit hard? It was a pattern, and I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg without knowing how much was under the surface.
What was my own legal obligation? This state has a law about “mandated reporters”, that is, people who are required by law to report any child abuse they witness or risk losing their jobs. I don’t know if I am a mandated reporter, but probably not. Children are technically not permitted in the classroom, so technically I never see children as part of my job. But there are all kinds of people running around that building who are definitely mandated reporters, and this mom would eventually run afoul of them if she didn’t figure out another way to manage her child. I could help my student understand American culture and law without appearing to make any value judgments.
A class discussion ensued where I tried to get a basic Spanish vocabulary to talk about what was going on. What was the Spanish word for hit? How do I explain “illegal”? I could certainly explain the awkward situation it place me in to have something illegal go on in my classroom when children were not even permitted there in the first place. The student had to leave early, so as she left I asked the other students to help think of ways to help her. The other students tell me hitting children is common in Mexican classrooms. Mexican teachers will also pull the children’ hair.
But in my classroom, no one is going to hit any child, even symbolically.