In the 80s social workers had a slightly bizarre dress code.
They could wear any colour they liked as long as it was the wrong shade of brown.
The uniform was adhered to so closely, I reckon it must have been either enforced or incentivised in some way. It was so apparent, that an eight year old me sussed it out over the two days it took to place me and my younger brother in foster care for the first time.
During the process, we met various strangers, all well meaning. Growing up in an abusive home had taught me to be wary of adults so I was surprised and bemused to see authenticity shining through those who were clearly committed to living the brand of being human first and professional second.
These adults reminded me of Mr Zaleski, my teacher.
As A Teacher, You're An Ordinary Hero
I asked our social worker if we could live with Mr Zaleski. He explained that we would be moving to a new school and the bottom literally fell out of my fragile world. My teachers were my lifeline.
All that indicated I was of any value was based in my classroom.
Mr Zaleski let me stay in for a few precious minutes at lunchtime to continue a chess game he had on his desk. I lost every time (what with him playing to win and showing no mercy and all) but at the end of each game he'd nod and smile kindly as he told me I was improving. Those lunchtimes were a much needed constant in my chaotic and uncertain life. Whatever was going on at home, the chess set would be in my classroom reminding me I mattered to someone.
My teacher took the time to notice that what I needed a million times more urgently than my times table certificate was a human connection. Luckily he decided he could deliver both.
What he knew then, and I realised later, is that healthy relationships with authentic adults would be the crucial element that tipped the scales in my future.
The Power Of Being Human First, Professional Second
As humans we are pre-programmed to seek out and make connections with other humans. This need for connection is especially strong when we're young. In my vulnerable state the eight year old me reached for the one source of validation and only good connection I had. The one with my Year 4 teacher.
Even with parents who know how to nurture, children need multiple spectacular adults outside the home to flourish. In my case, my teachers were battling years of negative reinforcement and, with that depth of damage, their consistency was critical. They had to be human first.
Once the physiological basics are met, humans need to know that they are safe.
This is enormous. And the defining factor of your impact as a teacher of a child living in chaos is the depth to which you establish this.