Belinda Hayes, The Spiritual Teacher
Today was meant to be an exciting day. Today was meant to mark a new year for my kids…but as I dropped my 9-year-old daughter off to school today for her first day of Year 4, all I could think about was my time spent in year 4 over 29 years ago. All I could think about was the system that first made me realise to trust my instincts and to know and understand my own personal space enough to feel confident enough to say no.
…Let me tell you a story…
When I was 8 years old, I was starting my first day in year 4 and I had a brand-new teacher (let’s call him Mr X for anonymity purposes). I remember being so excited as this was the year that we got to learn the recorder, it was the first year of having our own chair bag and it was also the first year I had ever had a male teacher.
I was excited and a little scared too. But I had my best friends with me from the year before and I was a great student, so I was not too worried. That was – until I met my teacher. I could never truly understand what it was that I disliked about this teacher in that first moment, and it would be years later (as a pre-teen) that I would truly understand my immediate, instinctual dislike!
Mr X was everything that you can imagine for a primary school teacher in 1990. He was well mannered, he was young, he was tall (well, to an 8-year old he was!). He was a rarity within a female orientated system, and he had a smile that you could almost sickeningly see the gleam and twinkle from…. but he had creepy eyes that lingered too long, and he inappropriately loved to stand in your personal space.
So, when we started Maths Olympics, a game in which we would ‘duel’ with another child in the classroom to be the first to ‘draw our gun’ and shoot them with the answer to a maths quiz – we were all a little excited and eager to climb the leader board to be the Maths Olympian of our grade. That was, until the prize was revealed…. a DATE with the teacher. Yep, you read that right! The child that won the Maths Olympics each month would be personally picked up from their home and escorted to dinner on a ‘date’ (that was the word used too) with Mr X.
As a straight-A student all through my schooling years, it was not long until I won the Maths Olympics and scored my date with Mr X. Of course, I was wary. I was concerned. I already felt uncomfortable around him and was unsure why (being only 8 years old) and so when we arrived at my house to pick me up (oh yes – the parents back in 1990 all thought it was…quote…’cute’), I recall becoming increasingly stressed. I did not want to get in the car with him and I certainly did not want to be alone with him.
In the end, I caused such a scene that I demanded that my older sister (2 years older) be allowed to come too, and that we visit the most crowded place I could think of, Hungry Jacks, for dinner instead. I remember spending the entire evening warding off his inappropriate hugs and back rubs as he would place his hand on the small of my back in line, or as we were seated.
Fast-forward a few months and by now my instinctual radar for danger whenever he was around was blaring. Then, one lunch time, for absolutely no reason, I was held back in the classroom when the bell went for lunch. I had no idea why and had NEVER misbehaved at school before, but I was too much of a stickler for the rules to disobey a teacher, and so when I was told to stay in and that I had to ‘clean the dusters’ that is what I did.
I got my first REAL detention that day (no, not the one that Mr X gave me…but one from the Principal) because as I stood at the back of the classroom in the enclosed atrium area, banging together the chalk dusters to clean them, Mr X made his way up behind me placing his arm around my shoulders. In that moment I knew something wasn’t right. In that moment, I knew in my gut that his actions weren’t right. Guiding me into the classroom, he made his way over to the door to close it over and in that moment, as he turned to walk back towards me, I pegged the two chalk dusters as hard as I could straight at him! They smashed into him with a thud straight on his forehead and I ran. I ran out of the classroom and across the school yard and hid myself in the girl’s toilets.
When I was finally found and taken to the principal’s office, I could not explain why I had done it. To them I was seen as ‘naughty’. I had abused a teacher. Worse, I had physically hurt him. Mr X was ropable, and I was scared. Very scared. I tried to tell them why I did not like him. But the fact that he ‘looked at me weird’ was not enough. I tried to tell them that he took me on a ‘date’ and I did not like it. It was laughed off and seen as ‘cute’. I tried to tell them that he would hug us, and I didn’t like it, but contact was acceptable then and a hug was seen as friendly, not inappropriate. I did not understand why it felt so wrong, but I as told it was alright.
My throwing arm saved me that day, as Mr X left me alone after that, but there were so many other incredibly inappropriate times recalled from my childhood during that year. I recall all of the girls being lined up on the grass having to kneel while a teacher (one of the senior female primary leaders) came along the line with a 30cm ruler measuring from the ground up to ensure our dress hems were not ‘too short’. Another female teacher then proceeded down the line with a mirror in her hand looking up and under our skirts to ensure we had on ‘white’ underwear (and white only!). The whole thing was bizarre and made me feel dirty and uncomfortable. I don’t recall too many other incidents like those occurring again or too regularly thankfully, and don’t get me wrong, I have some wonderful memories of year 4 too – like receiving my first ever Valentine’s Day gift from a boy in the class (a Snuggle Pot & Cuddle Pie drawing coloured in for me and placed in my chair bag). I remember making more life-long friends. I recall joining a recorder band. I remember joining the choir and performing at Parliament House. I recall forgetting all about it and moving on.
It was not until I was in year 9, five years later in 1995, that the truth and understanding of what I felt began to be explained and I began to understand. At the same time, the principal of the school was accused of, well, shall I just say, inappropriate actions with children (I am being careful here of what I say), and a female teacher of the school left after rumours of being a victim of a sexual assault. Mr X left the school about the same time (whether it was connected or not, I do not know), and I never saw or heard of him again.
I don’t think about those moments often. But I do know that because of my age and the influence this school had on me, that they are a part of who I am and my belief systems. I recall realising at the age of 13 why things felt amiss and why I was always conscious as a young child of my personal space. Even now, as I write this, I am reminded of how far we have come from an education system, only 23 years ago displaying such blatant #metoo scenarios. About the people that endorsed and enabled them. About the parents that were none the wiser, or the students that did not understand any better.
So, as I stood watching my daughter this morning with pride and albeit, a little anxiety; I am confident in her ability to know her own personal space and to listen to her instincts (as I was when I threw those dusters). I am confident in her understanding of what is right and wrong, and I am confident in the leaps and bounds we are making in progress towards understanding that this mentality and behaviour is no longer acceptable.
We have a long way to go – but as the next generation begins school this week, I am proud to know that we have come so far!
Belinda Hayes – The Spiritual Teacher
Dedicated to healing and the science of energy, Belinda is committed to enriching people’s lives to allow them live their own version of happiness.
As a Reiki Master and accredited Crystal Healer and Teacher Belinda offers powerful and dedicated options of healing through various products and services as well as workshops and training courses.
As a mother of 2 beautiful children and a survivor and fighter…Belinda knows all too well the power of positive thinking and the ability of the mind to heal the body. She is passionate about the mind-body connection and holistic health from a spiritual, emotional, mental and physical perspective.