I was working on a new post about school lunches versus homemade lunches entitled “School Lunch Blues. Already?” when the situation hit the fan. My son was in trouble. Again. I finally had a teacher that contacted me before the first round of report card related conferences. It made me happy to know the communication lines had been opened up early into a problem for a change. Then I realized… She called me so soon because she gave up on my son before every other teacher had and needed my help.
In our conference, we discussed the usual issues that come up with my son. This time, the situation was much worse. There were times during the day that my son was unable to participate in class. Why? He was hiding in a corner under a table. Well, this is new. My son is a real trooper. It’s not like him to simply check out and refuse to cooperate. This teacher was also calling him a liar regarding certain classroom incidents. This was new, too. My son is like any other child, and does lie to me occasionally. But, one thing all of his other teachers have said at one point or another is that my son has never lied to them. He is blatantly honest and will admit if he did something that got him in trouble. Why now, is this one teacher saying he lies to her?
I thought of a few possibilities.
- He doesn’t like or respect her, so he doesn’t give her the respect of telling the truth.
- He’s trying to avoid punishment or reprimand.
- He’s telling her the truth, but she doesn’t believe him.
My son actually likes the teacher, so I know that’s not it. He’s never been afraid of getting reprimanded before. Corporal punishment isn’t allowed in this school, so there’s no physical fear. That can’t be it. Maybe he’s telling the truth after all. Ever thought of that, Teach?
So what is the truth? For a couple of years now, he has been complaining to me about being bullied. On occasion, he has lashed out and struck another student which landed him in hot water. His stories often differed from that of the teacher. Sadly, most of the time, the teacher didn’t even witness the incident he was punished for and was only going by what other students claimed. They only caught my son defending himself or striking out after being provoked. How do I know this? First, I know my son. He’s not violent. More importantly, he does have friends in the class that witnessed the incidents and are willing to tell the real tale. The mother of one of these friends tells me her son was in tears at the dinner table one night recently, because he felt bad about what was happening to his friend, my son.
But first, let’s look at what’s really going on in that classroom. It all started a couple of years ago. One child in particular always seemed to make my son upset. They had started out as friends in first grade, but now, it seems, they don’t get along. The complaints about this kid were almost constant starting late in his second grade year. Fast forward through a few incidents, and suddenly, my angel isn’t so angelic. He’s hitting other students. Well, the other kids figured out they could get an interesting reaction out of my son if they pushed him far enough. So, they kept at it, reveling in his hurt feelings. Fun!
Then, they figured out that they could do distracting things in class, blame it on my son, and get him into trouble. In fairness, my son was no angel here. He’s notorious for making fart noises in class, for instance. He likes to make people laugh. So, my son would get himself into trouble. When the other kids got bored, they would make their own fart noises. When the teacher protested, they pointed at my son. Guilty! Or, was he? In the teacher’s eyes, he was. And so, it begins. Now, we have a game. How often can we get this boy in trouble? When will we push him to the point of acting out of frustration? They were determined to find out.
Fast forward again to the fourth grade. We go to our school’s open house to meet my son’s new rookie teacher. It’s her first year in our district, and possibly only her second teaching if my memory serves correct. She seems really nice and capable. My son’s first priority is to find the class roster. Hurray! His bully will be in another class. The only worry is recess. But, wait… Two weeks into the semester, they start switching classes to accommodate for differing levels of ability in reading, math, and science. More on this aggravating fact that they’re rotating classrooms in elementary school in a future post…
So, okay, they start rotating three classes a day according to the students’ abilities in some subjects. Big deal, right? Wrong. My son’s arch enemy strolls into his classroom as instructed. Where does he sit? Right next to my son. That’s when I got the first call from his teacher. Well, the solution is a no brainer. Separate them. Except, it’s too late. My son now has a reputation, and his fellow classmates inevitably take advantage of it. Both the students, and now, the teacher believe him to be a trouble maker with a quick temper. The kids know just how to press my son’s buttons from previous years, and they certainly try to push them again.
The teacher, being a rookie, is inexperienced, which causes a problem. When another student brought a stun gun to school (one of those disguised as a cell phone) and set it off in the classroom, she was sitting next to one of my son’s friends from our neighborhood. He knew exactly what it was since his mom had one just like it, and he reported it to the teacher. The resulting consequence? The student was asked to put it away and leave it in her book bag. Um… If my son had done that, he would have been marched to the principal’s office gruffly and quickly. He would have been immediately suspended in this age of zero tolerance policy.
It was only a few days after the stun gun incident that I got the call I dread. Allegedly, my son hit another student. I heard otherwise from one of his friends. I was told it was the other kid striking my son repeatedly. My son received a warning for striking the other kid once. He was convinced the other kids were determined to get him kicked out of school. The teacher was at her wit’s end at this point. A short time later, I got called in to the school for a conference. His grades were suffering. He wasn’t doing his work. As stated before, he spent a lot of time hiding under a table. In the process of trying to get to the root of the problem, I asked a simple question. Is my son being bullied? What I heard next was like a punch to the gut.
The school is growing fast. Fourth grade classes are at an all time high (ergo hiring new teachers). An average class size of twenty quickly turned to thirty. A rookie teacher is quickly overwhelmed, and personal attention to students that need it suffers. My son’s teacher openly admitted she could not control the bullying in her classroom. Since the requirements force the teachers to teach students in groups at all times, she has no idea what a table at the back of the class is doing if she’s helping one at the front. The teacher honestly could not tell me what was happening at my son’s table.
At recess, it is customary to let the children play without interference. I was told she couldn’t tell if the other children were playing with my son or laughing at him. So, she can’t control what happens to my son in the classroom, and she won’t make sure bullying isn’t happening on the playground.
At this point in the conversation, I burst into tears. You see, I was bullied when I was my son’s age. I know exactly how he feels. Now my son was going through the same thing I did, and his teacher can’t or won’t help him. Shortly after this conference, I realized my son was having panic attacks. He had one at home after a stupid argument over a cup of water. Suddenly, it all became crystal clear to me why he was lashing out at other students and this one teacher. His fight or flight response was kicking in. I was told no employee at the school was qualified or able to handle a student that has panic attacks. The only solution was to allow a guidance counselor to remove him from the classroom after an incident occurs to give him time to calm down. They could follow a doctor’s instructions if I had him evaluated medically. He would miss class instruction, and still nobody could work with him to calm the panic. What am I supposed to do if the school can’t help my son?
I asked the teacher, “Do I need to pull my son out of school?” Of course, I was discouraged from doing this. She said he would lack social interaction. Uh… Being bullied every day is better? Then, there was the matter of his suffering academics. We may not be able to prevent bullying in a school that proudly displays a “No Bully Zone” sign prominently out front, but we can help him academically. How, when the classroom situation is a mess? The answer deserves a blog post of it’s own.
Stay tuned for “Form 504 – The last straw”.