The majority of parents in the US send their children to school every day and have little worry for their children's safety. Most parents believe that the staff in their children's school help to make the environment as safe as they can. Then there are the parents, like myself, who unfortunately fall into the minority. School is not a safe place, at least not for one of my children. I know I have written about how school has failed my son over and over, but it continues to do so. The school that my son is currently in wants every child to be more like my daughter. They want students to just conform. Be little robots. They don't want anyone to learn more than what the teacher is teaching or learn less. They expect students to be right in the middle. And heaven forbid your child decides not to be a conformist and steps out of line because that's when school becomes unsafe. That's when the people everyone tells you to trust show their true colors. They don't have any interest in helping or hearing your side of a story. They just want you to sit down and shut up.
My son has been dealing with bullying since first grade. Bullying comes in many forms and can inflicted by adults as well as children. I've written about this before, but I am going put it out there again. First grade was horrible for my son. I thank God that he has blocked most of it out of his memory. I would most definitely consider the teacher he a had a bully. She didn't know what to do with him because he was so advanced. So she just had him read. Then, she had issues when all he wanted to do was read. She put him on a behavior chart for reading when he wasn't supposed to. She made the special teachers keep a closer eye on him than on other kids in the class so she could mark on his chart if he was good in that special or not. If you're reading this and not thinking this is bullying yet, let me put it another way....what would you consider singling out a specific child and calling out every single mistake in front of everyone? Mistakes that the other kids made, but no one brings up and it's brushed off because those kids weren't singled out? Singling out children and making them feel bad about themselves is bullying. If someone followed you around every day and wrote down each and every time you did something they didn't want you to do, not necessarily something that was bad, just something they didn't want you to do, wouldn't it make you feel bad? That's exactly how my son's first grade year was. I finally had enough and talked to the principal. I said, "[Monster] keeps getting in trouble for reading" (because honestly, looking through chart, after chart, after chart, 99% of it was reading with one or two stupid things that no one would even care about tossed in). He said, "So what's the problem?" I replied, "Exactly". He asked if Monster was getting his work done. He was. Not only was he getting his work done, but he was excelling at it. I thought for sure we were going to have a break through. I had the principal on my side, right? No. Nothing was done. My kid was left feeling like he was a bad kid and started throwing up before school. In first grade. FIRST GRADE. That's not evening mentioning the kids who bullied him on the playground. Those kids never got in trouble. But why would they? They were "model" students who sat and did their work and paid attention in class. They were kids whose moms were involved in all sorts of things at the school, so these boys must be perfect. At one point, my son got pushed into playground equipment and was bleeding when he came home. He didn't want me to tell, but I told him it was not a choice and kids should never do this. The consequences for these "model students"....apologize. At the time, I figured that was fine. Monster was OK with it because he just wanted it to be over and never speak of it again. That's how he was and still is. He just wants to be left alone and have no attention drawn to him. Thankfully, Monster's other teacher came back from maternity leave (he had team teachers, but the one took over full day) and things got a little better, but there were only 3 months left of school and he still had the bully teacher half of the day.
Enter second grade. Second grade had to be better, right? I mean, it HAD to be. I knew that I couldn't take another year like first grade and neither could he. Low and behold, I get a call from the teacher about a month into school regarding his reading. He was reading again, all the time. Then, my son comes home from school one day telling me that he has to sit out of recess because he got in trouble for pushing a kid down on the playground that he didn't push down...one of the same kids who pushed him the year before. Then, he really broke down. He explained he didn't push the kid, he didn't even realize he ran into the kid because he was playing, but the principal and teachers kept pushing and telling him he did it so he just said he did so they would stop. Wow. He fully admitted he might have run into the kid because he wasn't paying attention to where he was going, but he didn't do it purposely. He didn't care about sitting out of recess, he was more frustrated that no one believed that he didn't do this purposely. He completely understood that he should have been paying attention to what he was doing and even if it was an accident, he should have apologized when he realized he knocked someone down. Maybe he should have sat of recess for not paying attention to his actions, but the point was no one listened to him. We're OK with consequences as long as the whole story has been laid out. This was, sadly, a turning point for my son. It was here that he stopped trusting the adults in his school to be on his side and actually listen to what he had to say. He retreated into books, yet again, getting him into trouble even more. But still, even with all of this, second grade was way better than first grade. Even not trusting his teacher or the principal, he still wanted to go to school every day. The rest of the year was pretty much, "he's reading when he's not supposed to". But, like first grade, he was still getting his work done successfully. There were a few more instances where he wasn't paying attention to what he was doing and got in trouble because he shut down and immediately jumped on the defensive. Once again, I saw where he was coming from, but we, yet again, discussed how even if it's a mistake, he should apologize and move on. There is a time and place to dig in your heels and whether or not you took so and so's pencil by mistake is not the time. Then, one day, he got fed up. One day, he had enough. He had enough of us, every day telling him to pay attention and not read during class. He had enough of watching all these other kids actually do bad things and not get in trouble for them. He had enough of the teacher not believing him. He talked back. Looking at the big picture, this isn't so bad. I have been in the classroom and have heard kids talking back to the teacher. I expect more of my children and this is unacceptable, but what came of this changed my opinion of his school. He was taken to the principal. He apparently had "attitude" when apologizing to the teacher. Now, again, we firmly believe in showing respect, but we've also all heard and used the I'm-sorry-let's-just-get-this-over-with tone. Apparently the kids who come in blatantly disrespectful and telling off teachers and kids who are fighting are less of an issue that an exasperated kid, because that tone got my kid lunch and recess in solitary confinement. Should my kid have gotten in trouble for talking back? Yes. Did he when he got home? Yes. However, does the punishment fit the crime? No, especially when I had been in the school enough to see the actions of other students and hear how other students talk to adults. It took all I had not to march down to the school and raise holy hell. Once again, Monster started to believe that maybe he was just a bad kid. He cried every day and asked why he was bad. We tried to reassure him that he was a good kid. We tried to explain that he needs to pay more attention to his action...less reading, more being aware of what was going on around him, etc., etc. I started labeling his pencils and I told him to keep them in his desk instead of in the buckets on top of the desks. This actually helped a lot because he was able to see if he took someone else's pencil or not. However, the damage was done and he retreated further into his books. And his teacher gave up on him. And I gave up on the school. It was here that I realized that we were in this fight alone. It was here that I realized all we could do was not give up and be there for him. School wasn't one of his safe places anymore, so we had to make home even safer. It was here that we made him realize how his day at school was more that what his "behavior chart" said. In fact, it was here that I didn't give a damn about the stupid chart and stopped looking at it all together since all it ever told me was that he was reading in class (and, still getting his work done)
I would like to take a quick break here and add a little note about attention. The use of the world "attention" and not paying attention is way too often associated with ADD or ADHD. So, for everyone reading and thinking that maybe my kid should be on meds, this is not the case. I actually did speak to his doctor when I was at a complete loss. His lack of attention is intentional. He makes the choice to read. During subjects like Science and Social Studies, where he's actually interested, he has no trouble doing what he's supposed to do. During specials, he has no issues with "attention". During camps, we have never had one single issue with anything. The only time attention is an issue is when he is bored or there is down time.
Third grade came off the heels of the best summer we have had to date. It made me sick to send him to school. Sick, physically. Sunshine was starting Kindergarten with a teacher who was new to the building, so that, too made me nervous. You never know what you're going to get. Yet, I wasn't as worried about her as I was him. I was ready to have a sit down with the teacher the first day, but Husband talked me out of it. He told me to just see how it went. I held my breathe. Every day, I held my breathe. I waited. I waited for that phone call. I waited for the email. I waited. Then, something amazing happened.....nothing. November conferences rolled around and I hadn't gotten one single phone call or email. I then figured we'd get bombarded at the conference. We had Sunshine's conference first and then we walked down the long hallway to Monster's. I was ready for "he doesn't pay attention and is always reading" speech. I wasn't ready for what she had to say. I wasn't ready because up until this point, everyone had given us the impression that a kid reading was the largest problem they had ever seen. She said that yes, sometimes she has to remind him not to read, but "if reading is the biggest issues, that's a great problem to have." What? I'm sorry, but that sounded like support. Could it finally be that someone at that school understood my kid? I cried. I did. I cried at the conference, but this time it wasn't because someone was telling me my kid who reads is a problem child. I cried because someone was telling me that I had a good kid and him reading when he wasn't supposed was an issue, but not something that couldn't be handled. My kid was coming home happy and confident. In here I'd also like to add that they had to keep all their supplies in their own desks, labeled, so there was not an issue of him taking other people's things. Fast forward to January. After winter break, Monster's two best friends left the school. One moved and the other transferred to a private school. Add to that no outdoor recess for 3 months. Reading became a little more of an issue, but his teacher never, not once, made us feel like he was a bad kid for reading. However, he was put on a behavior chart as a way to track how he was doing with the reading. He stopped coming home telling us how his day was and started coming home telling us if he got a 3,2 or 1 on his chart. I broke my heart that we moved from a happy confident kid to, again, a kid who based his worth and his day on what a chart said. But, again, his teacher stressed that his reading all the time is not the biggest problem in the world. She stressed how smart he was and how much she loved that he loved to read. We finally make it to April and I think we did it. We actually made it through the year without it being horrible. That's when he made a mistake. When he screws up, it's big. I will not get into what he did. He was called to the principal's office and he apparently shut down and couldn't tell him why he did what he did. I got called into the principal's office, on a Friday afternoon, and was left with this for the weekend, "As of right now, we don't think there will be consequences." That leaves me, my husband and Monster to sit and worry all weekend. This was a doozy of a mistake and could have gotten him suspended and we just had to wait and see what happened? Needless to say, our whole weekend was ruined, as was the rest of the next week. We just kept waiting. We didn't want to bring it up in case nothing was to come of it, but not knowing anything was awful. It turned out, nothing came of it and for that, we truly thank God. But let me jump back just a little. Remember, Monster does not trust the principal. So, is it any surprise that he didn't talk to him and tell him the situation? Not at all. The actual situation was that Monster tried to do something that the other kids were doing, but executed it incorrectly. Immediately after doing it, Monster apologized. The kid told. If Monster was a "normal" kid, it would have been sluffed off. Honestly, it would have. Know how I know? I'm in the school. I see what goes on. I also know my son. When I finally got a chance to talk to his teacher, she told me how sorry she was to have to have told the principal because she actually saw the situation for exactly what it was, him trying to fit in.
See, Monster is a bit socially awkward. That happens with gifted kids. He's so smart and so imaginative that he has issues relating to his peers. Most kids don't "get" him. He wants to talk about book characters or play crazy fantasy games while most boys his age want to play soccer or football. Remember, his two best friends left the school, so he was left with virtually no one. He decided to do something that he saw the other kids doing and he failed. Then he got in trouble because the other kids think he's odd. Don't get me wrong, he shouldn't have done what he did, but look at it from his point. He sees kids doing this thing every day and then he does it and gets in trouble. He can't understand why it's not a big deal for anyone else except him. To him, he's part of the group. To him, these are all his friends. Best way to explain it is that he is like a spectator. No one really notices him, but he feels like he's part of it because he's watching and taking it all in. Then, when he tries to join, people push him out and wonder where the hell he came from.
There are only six weeks of school left at this point. We can do this. We can get through it. Monster has finally made two more friends who accept him for who he is. We've got this. That's when we find out Monster's getting bullied. On the playground, kids are making him do things that are embarrassing threatening to tell the playground monitor that Monster hit them if he doesn't do what they say. Monster is now panicky about getting in trouble, so he feels he must do what they say. We talked about it and do you know what his biggest fear about the whole thing was? Having to talk to the principal. He said he would sit by the wall and not play or just stand by the monitor's so that the kids wouldn't bother him rather than have to talk to the principal. He would rather keep getting bullied than talk to the principal. Again, Monster's teacher was awesome. She spent her lunch break on the playground keeping an eye on things. She let Monster know that she was there to talk to and that she wouldn't make him discuss it with the principal unless he decided he wanted to. She let the playground monitors be made aware of the situation. After this, it comes out, from one of Monster's friend's, not him, that he's been getting bullied for a while and not just on the playground. It's not as obvious as on the playground, but it's obvious enough that other kids are picking up on it. It's more a matter of teasing. We talk about it with Monster and he simply replies, "I don't really listen to what other kids say about me". That, right there, is courage. Yet, if you've ever been teased in your life, you know that even if you say it doesn't bother you, some of it sinks in and eats away at your confidence.
Do you know what the protocol for bullying is? It's sitting the bully down with the victim and "talking it out". It's that or the "victim" gets called in and then immediately after, the bully gets called in, like the kid doesn't know who told on him. Anyone want to take a guess at how that goes? If the bullying was only a little before, it's going to get a whole lot worse. And, after that little chat, the bullies friends will now be joining in on the bullying. Why they think a nice little chat is going to suddenly make the bully realize the error of his ways is beyond me. Even better is the "no bullying" policy that the school obviously doesn't mean a thing, and I'm not just speaking from my son being bullied. At the beginning of the school year, there was a child who was transferred out of Monster's class and put in a different class. The reason was because he was getting bullied, physically and verbally, by another child in Monster's class. The student was getting sick every day going to school. He was not wanting to go to school. So, they just switched him out of a classroom that he had been in for the first 3 weeks of school and stuck him in another class and made the victim have to learn a whole new class routine, etc. Know what happened to the kid doing the bullying? Nothing. I also know, for a fact, that there were other complaints made against this same child for bullying by other kids in the class and nothing was done. Even kids from other classes knew this kid and said no one tells on the kid for fear of retaliation. So, yeah, sticking the bully in with the victim to talk it out probably isn't the best move there, unless, of course, you want to get a new teacher out of it. I am so, so thankful that this particular student wasn't one of the one's bullying Monster, but the second biggest bully in the class was. Again, complaints have been made against this other child for the past two years, and, well, nothing. Awesome way to show kids that you're on their side...support the bully.
I dread sending my children back to school. I dread sending them into an environment where they don't feel like the people in charge are on their side. It's sad when we have to figure out who our "safe teachers" are. By that I mean teachers or staff that Monster feels he can talk to if he needs help. He came up with 3, and 1 of them wasn't even a teacher he had, it was Sunshine's teacher. I can not say enough how awesome both my kids' teachers were this year. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't have made it through. Sunshine's teacher was honestly the greatest teacher I've ever met, and remember, I was a teacher, so I've met a lot. I can only hope that both of my kids' teachers from last year are still at the school this coming year or else Monster will have no one at that school to be on his side. I asked Monster if he wanted me to pull him out of school. I asked him if he wanted me to homeschool him. I asked if he wanted me to open enroll him to a different school. He told me no. He told me that he loves school because he loves learning new things and being with people he knows. How brave is that? He is so strong. He is much stronger than I am or ever was. He amazes me.
**Edited to add: I am not laying blame. I am pointing out MY feelings on the subject. I am pointing out MY experiences and pulling from people that I have talked to with similar experiences at the same school. I am point out that something is broken with the system, not necessarily the players.**