Last year, my eldest baby girl wound up in the classroom of a very new, very inexperienced young woman. Now I consider myself a young mom...I was blessedly knocked up when I was 21 for crying out loud....so it's rare for me to walk into my kid's classroom and feel like the oldest person in the room. Last year, however, on Meet the Teacher day, I definitely found myself wondering if this woman had ever even heard of Bone Thugs n' Harmony. Prolly not. Her hip hop knowledge base likely began with Lil Wayne and Rhianna.
I knew right then and there things were going to be off.
And they were. Boy, were they ever.
Now my kid can be loud and boisterous when excited, but is also extremely introverted and terrified of authority. She is also, and this isn't proud mama talking, extraordinarily smart. She was reading at a 5th grade level in first grade, people. The kid is smarter than me. Which should be awesome, right? Teachers typically eat that stuff up, right?
Not this one. No, her 3rd grade teacher chose to focus on my kid's biggest weakness....her social ineptitude. My lovely firstborn struggles deeply with relating to and understanding other kids. Her teachers up until last year had been wonderful - coaching her through her interactions with other kids, helping her focus on her education and studies, redirecting her when she became bored in class. Her 2nd grade teacher actually referred her to a special advanced program for 3rd graders and beyond - it allows kids with above-average learning skills to join other like-minded kids in separate classes for math and language arts. It was a godsend. My kid came home spouting sonnets about her advanced classes. She was challenged and excelled. Her two advanced class teachers praised her regularly and provided me with positive feedback during parent teacher conferences. "She is wonderful, and very, very bright." I could've cried I was so happy.
Can't say the same, however, about the feedback from her 3rd grade homeroom teacher. I received phone calls about my kid "bullying" other children and refusing to listen in class. My angel baby received referral after referral after referral for behavioral issues. In the beginning, I attempted to work with my kid on her "problems." I didn't know the teacher and gave her the benefit of the doubt in those first few months. I thought she was honestly looking out for the well-being of my child and believed her when she said my kid was indeed being a bully.
But then I started to wonder. I'd ask my daughter to break down her interactions with her classmates and the teacher. I spoke to my kid's other teachers (she had 3, after all, and that's not including her art, music, and PE teacher). No one else encountered any problems with her behavior. And these "bully" instances? Well, the worst of them, the one that was escalated into a full-blown "she could be suspended for this type of behavior," consisted of my kid drawing a picture of an animal with it's tongue out and crazy hair and big teeth and a caption that said, "*insert student name* is crazy."
Now, I did coach her on how that could be interpreted as negative by the child she'd named. I told her she needed to be careful about what she said, did, or wrote about other children. But did I ground her? No. Did I think she needed anti-bully intervention? No. Did I think her homeroom teacher, who called me and talked in her serious voice to deliver what she considered outlandishly terrible news, overreact and step out of bounds? Absolutely, I thought so.
You see, as I continued to speak with my kid about what she'd done I learned she'd drawn the picture at the request of a group of kids who were drawing everyone in their classroom as animals. Also, in our house the word "crazy" is a good thing. I was voted Most Crazy in high school, as a matter of fact.
I get it. How could the teacher know that? Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors...which is why I would've expected the teacher to, at the very least, ask. Use a little common sense. I was deeply pissed about the quick-draw accusations and not giving my kid a chance to explain. This teacher had blacklisted my kid as a bully and it was affecting my kid's ability to learn. She would come home crying, leave worried, and get "stomach aches" all the time. This, from a kid who loved school and learning and books and teachers. But could I blame her? During one of my phone conferences with this woman, the teacher explicitly told me she'd heard "other" teachers talking about my kid and they all agreed, my kid was a bully. She was "viewed as a bully throughout the faculty," and this teacher "just hated to see that happen to someone as bright as" my daughter. I was floored. Teachers were standing around the water cooler talking shit about my 8-year-old kid? Who's the bully here?
Eventually, communication with this teacher disintegrated into highly emotional screaming matches, with me doing most....ok all....of the screaming.
"Stop referring to my kid as a bully, lady!"
"She looks up to you and you say things like that about her? And you wonder why she doesn't listen?"
"Do your teacher buddies know you're telling parents what they say during their lunch break?"
"Maybe if her teacher didn't label her as a bad person, she wouldn't be acting like one!"
Oh I went nutters. I was not nice. I did not respect this lady. But I kept my kid in her class. And the school year ended with my kid saying for the first time in her life that she never wanted to go back to school. And I absolutely despised this teacher and wanted nothing more than to stomp in there and tell administration everything this stupid lady had told me. I wanted her fired. I wanted her head on a platter for me to send on over to whatever craptastic facility she graduated from so all the other jerks-in-training could see what happened when bad teachers did bad things.
But of course I did none of that. I smiled and got excited for the new school year and now it's upon us and my kid has a new teacher and we're both looking forward, hoping for the best.
Because I don't know what the right answer is. You see, people are people - imperfect and flawed. There are people who excel at their jobs, like my mom and dad in-law, both retired teachers who rocked the educational pathways of the youth placed in their care, and then there are people who suck at their jobs, like my kid's 3rd grade teacher, who knew neither what she was doing nor where her boundaries existed.
As parents we can go nuts, like I eventually did. I mean, I could've taken it to the next level, and the next, and possibly gotten her into some serious trouble with her boss. It's the mama claws. The urge to fight, to defend, to strike hard against anyone who in any way harms your kid.
But then there's the flip side. Reality isn't nice. Real-life can be a bitch. I know I've worked for people that didn't like me. I've worked for people who weren't fair, or nice, or even knowledgeable. And I worked there anyways, often because I needed the money. That's adulthood in corporate America right there. It's not fun, but it's real. And the sooner I can teach my kid to understand her self-worth and abilities are in no way dependent on what another person says, does, or thinks, the better.
So part of me is glad I chose a middle ground. I struck hard and gave that teacher hell near the end....but I also surrendered my kid to a real-life learning experience. And now that she's experienced it, this mama's dang sure it won't be happening again ;) Here's to a new school year! And thank you to the teachers who view their kids with new eyes each morning. You are a shining majority that reins supreme over the few bad apples every profession is forced to claim.
What about you guys? How do you feel about fighting teachers? Ever had a bad teacher yourself? They seem to stick with you, don't they? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)