Care and Feeding

I’m Still Traumatized by What a Teacher Did to Me

I’m pretty sure he thinks he did nothing wrong, but these memories still bring tears to my eyes, 30 years later.

Hand holding a pen, writing a letter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I went to a private Christian school as a child in the 1990s and had a horrible experience. My teacher, who was the headmaster, was abusive—physically, mentally, and emotionally. He beat me one time for running in the hallway. He used to throw my books, backpack, and other things across the class when I did not hand in my homework. I was kept out of classes for days at a time. Obviously, I was not a good student. I failed half my classes and had to attend summer school in order to be promoted. There were times I wanted to die. I was going through a rough time and told a lot of lies. I’m not saying I was perfect, but I did not deserve the way he treated me. I could not go to anyone because I thought this was normal and no one would have believed me. I know at least one other former classmate shares my feelings, but he had people fooled. No one did anything.

I am writing to you because I’m getting my MSW, which is triggering my memories of my classroom days, and I want to send him a letter about how I feel about how he treated me. I’m pretty sure he thinks he did nothing wrong, but these memories still bring tears to my eyes, 30 years later. He saw me in the street 10 years ago and invited me to visit the school. I almost laughed. What should I do if he responds to my letter? I am trying to prepare myself, but I do have some concerns about how he will take this. I’m worried he might post the letter on his Facebook page. Any advice will be helpful.

—Bullied by the Teacher

Dear Bullied,

I am so terribly sorry you had such an experience in school. You didn’t deserve any of the things that happened to you there, regardless of what sort of challenges you may have had as a young student.

Writing to this man may be very cathartic, and knowing that he will hear your side of the story could bring you some peace. However, you do have to be prepared for the possibility that he will respond and that he may still have a very different take on his abusive behavior than you do. I doubt most people would publish such damning accusations on their Facebook pages, but he may choose to write back directly. How do you think you’d process that emotionally? What if he denies everything, or blames you for his actions?

I think the most important step you can take to help yourself heal, and to mitigate the triggers that you are experiencing during your studies so that they don’t continue to be an issue, would be to seek professional help if you haven’t already. You are traumatized by what you endured at this institution and you need to process that with someone who can help you learn how to live in peace with these memories, so that they don’t cause you any further pain. Honestly, I think you’ll get much further talking to a therapist than speaking to the man responsible; however, a professional can also help you with a plan for writing that letter and figuring out how to deliver it (or if you need to do such a thing at all). Best of luck to you.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

Early this past summer, my precocious 11-year-old daughter and I were downtown when she pointed out two teachers from her school walking hand in hand. She said that these two had always seemed particularly close but she hadn’t realized that they were dating. School started a few weeks ago, and she has both of them as teachers this year. On the first day, the male teacher shared with the class that he lives with his wife, three young children, and a menagerie of pets, while the female teacher explained that she lives alone with her two cats—much to my daughter’s shock.