Saturday, March 30, 2024

Things that Make You Go "Oh, no!"


So the inspiration for this post was a story that was just relayed to me about a teacher.  

Now, there are some great teachers out there, I live in the same building with them.  There are also some bad ones and some in between, all of them paid the same and always underpaid regardless, so I don't want to be too hard on teachers - this story is about one particular teacher.

I won't relay the story because I don't have permission, but it started me thinking about a particular teacher my daughter had in kindergarten.

Now, I had taken enough child-development courses in college and read enough articles to know that kindergarten is very important - it sets the tone.

However, being a single mom, local public school was the option, which is fine - I went to public school, and my high school is nationally renowned for producing a record number of national merit scholars - but I didn't live in the posh side of town now - and we're certainly NOT talking about Abbott Elementary, where the teachers really care about their students. 

Additionally, all of the teachers were white, despite the ratio of students of color to white students being higher.

So I walk my daughter into her classroom on the first day of school, and before we even get in the classroom, I hear some lady screaming at someone.   We turned the corner, and she's on her Nokia cell phone (it was back in the early days of cell phones), screaming at her husband - and it wouldn't be the only time.

"Oh, no," I thought - x 1. 

She sees me and hangs up quickly and apologizes, but doesn't explain. 

I introduce my daughter to her and she's clearly stressed out, but I'm still giving her the benefit of the doubt, like I do still today, that I would like for people to give me - sometimes too long.

So we're chatting and she goes "I have too many kids in my room.  And look at these black kids, one of them was just dancing on the desk.  I'm from Alabama, we don't put up with that shit."

"Oh, no" I thought again ...  x 2.  And 3.  And 4.

I was also thinking how hard it would be to actually stifle a laugh if I saw a kindergartener dancing on a table - and I doubt that's the first time that's happened, black, white, or purple! 😂

Because it always makes me laugh when kids have no clue of the rules yet and no attention span, and are just expressing pure joy, not caring a fig of what anyone else thinks.

Of course, it's our job to teach them, though, so I might've taken him by the hand or picked him up off the table and some something like:

"Okay, Usher, I see you.  I KNOW, it's exciting, the first day of school, right? Yay for school, yaayyy! "

"And as cute are you are, doing that dance, it's not dance party-time yet.  Now is quiet-play time.  Look at THIS toy, pretty cool, right?" 

"Then we'll have quiet-listening time and nap time and snack time. And if you do those things for me, you can have dance time, later, I promise."

"And let's not dance on the furniture, either, because we don't want you to fall and get hurt and we want to take care of the furniture, right?" 

But I'm not trained teacher, that's just me - so I said nothing.

So I just stood there with my mouth open at what Mrs. S just said, still holding my daughter's hand because I didn't want to let it go and release her into the care of this racist, crazy lady, with no sense of humor! 

But back then, I was terrified of standing up for anything because it didn't go well for me when I did, so I "wouldn't say shit if I had a mouthful," as the Southern saying goes.   

That is because I was in a place where I was being so gaslighted that I didn't trust my own perspective, nor did I think I had a right to anything at all - but that's another story.

Regardless, whatever happened before, the child in question talking about was now seated on the carpet, talking excitedly to the other children, but looked up, smiled and said "Hi!!!" to both of us  - then he invited my daughter to play with him and the toys on the carpet, sharing his toys with her, it was very sweet. 😊

So then I was thinking to myself "The only person in this room behaving badly and wildly inappropriate, at this moment  - is you, Mrs. S" - but I still said nothing. 

As I said, didn't entirely trust myself, back then, so I just let it go.

I did, however, stay for another half-hour, playing with my daughter and the kids on the carpet, making sure things were okay, and observing how Mrs. S. behaved with the other parents that walked their kids in.

I've gotta say, Mrs. S seemed stressed out with everyone, which I could partially understand because they had too many students per classroom, but she was noticeably cooler and dismissive with the black parents, hurrying them out of the room.  

One of the parents wanted to linger a bit, a father of color in a mechanic's uniform, but she assured them his daughter was fine, and hurried him out of the room, too. 

Then she turned and looked at me and rolled her eyes. I did not respond to this eye roll in kind, as I didn't see anything wrong with him asking politely to stay for a bit, I mean, I was staying for a bit, so I just looked away and went back to playing with the kids, until I asked my daughter if she was okay for leaving her there for a few hours, and she said yes, enjoying time with the other children. 

Now, at the time, the public schools had a "ticket-pulling" system, where if you did something you weren't supposed to do, you "pulled a ticket."

The consequence for the first ticket was a warning, the consequence for a second ticket was separation in time-out from the other children to work alone, and the consequence for the third ticket was the principal's office.

Mind you, for kindergarten, the rules are supposed to be by the day, not by the week - because it's difficult for 4 and 5-year-olds to keep track of consequences by the week - and this information will be important later on in the story.

Now, my daughter was a big talker, still is - she started talking at six months old and then just never stopped 😂

So about a month later, my daughter comes home and says "The teacher had a party with cupcakes for all the kids that didn't pull a ticket, and we had to sit and watch them eat them. Am I a bad kid, Mommy?"

I told her certainly NOT!  She's a great kid, but she does need to work on her talking out of turn in class because it was causing problems for herself and the others - but at the same time, I thought that there had to have been some sort of misunderstanding that had happened, this couldn't be the case, right?  

But regardless, that was my daughter's interpretation of what happened, that she was a bad kid overall, and I didn't want her left with that impression, so I called the teacher for clarification.

Sometimes kids misinterpret things and it's important to gain clarification so that they don't walk away with the wrong impression, particularly about themselves, right?

So I wasn't angry (yet), thinking there had been some misunderstanding that Mrs. S could clear up.

Now, my voice is literally shaking when I called her, terrified to confront anyone, even ask for clarification,  even with sugar on top.

I told her what my daughter said and that there must've been some misunderstanding that I wanted to clear up, so if she could tell me what happened from her perspective, instead.

To my surprise, that IS exactly what happened, and Mrs. S defended it.

"Oh, no!"  x 6, 7, 8, 9, 10!

Mrs. S: "Yes, that's right. These kids don't know how to behave, so I figured I needed extra incentive than the ticket system. In real life, if you're caught speeding, you get a ticket and a fine." 


Me: "Yes, but ... isn't the consequence for speeding the ticket and paying a fine already?  I mean, it's not like the non-holders have a big party at the end of the week and eat cupcakes right in front of the other kids, right? LOL.  
"And at 4 and 5 years old, I'm not sure they understand that it's the culmination of their behavior over the course of one week. I thought these tickets were daily for kindergartners and started over the next day.  One day is like an epoch of time for them, and they can't process the course of a week yet, right?"


Mrs. S: "Look, these kids need consequences."


Me: "Yes, I agree - but the tickets already have consequences, right? 
"And have we thought about what kind of message of denying food as punishment is sending, especially to young girls, many of whom will struggle with eating disorders later in life?" 


Mrs. S: "They won't settle down!  Not yours, she just likes to talk too much, but these other kids, their parents don't behave any better than they do." 


Me: - ignoring another racist jab, and the fact that she behaves worse than all of them -"Okay, well, I hear that you're overwhelmed, and you did say that there are too many kids per classroom, this year.  Have you talked to the principal about needing some help? You mentioned that you have more than your share of students, perhaps a parateacher?" 


Mrs. S: "I've gone through two already."


(She didn't say whether it was because of the kids or her lol) 


Me: "Okay. Have you talked to her (the principal) about  this again, and your extra-consequence cupcake-party plan yet, run it by her?" 


Mrs. S: "No, are you going to call her on me?" 


Me: "No, no, I'm giving you the opportunity to do that yourself, explaining also how overwhelmed you are, too.  Would you mind doing that for me?" 


Mrs. S: "Yes, I will, because she's been a teacher, she's been down here in the trenches with us.  I'm sure she'll agree with me."  


Me: "The trenches? LOL.  Good Lord, Mrs. S, I realize kindergarten-teaching can be challenging and difficult, but  we're not in an actual war with 5-year-olds, here, and perhaps there is help available, if you ask.  Yep, let's do that, Mrs. S. Let's you run it by her and see what she thinks, okay?" 

Half an hour later, the principal calls me herself, just after Mrs. S ran the whole thing by her. I never asked her to call me, mind you, she just did. 

Principal:  "Oh.My.GOD -  I'm absolutely horrified!!! I'm SO sorry!  No, of course that's not okay, it's very concerning! I appreciate you giving her the opportunity to tell me what she's doing herself, that was brilliant. " 

"She's a brand new teacher, this year, and I'm surprised no one has called me, I can't know until someone tells me, but that was the best way to do it - instead of calling me, have her run it by me herself, that's brilliant!  I can't believe she hadn't the sense to even try to hide it, thought it was okay." 

Me:  "Well, I originally called for clarification, and I DO recognize she is overwhelmed and needs help. As for calling you, I think generally people don't want to be a problem. Also, half the class are children of color.  I'm not sure their parents are comfortable calling, she isn't exactly warm to their parents, I've noticed."


Principal:  "Ohhh, I hear you.  Good point, I'm going to ask which students didn't get to eat cupcakes, under the guises of her "problem-children" theory, but unbeknownst to her, I'm going to call their parents and ask. Now, she does have too many students, but we're getting trailer rooms and hiring new teachers to take some of these kids into a fourth classroom, so just hang on until January and I promise, your daughter will be one of them."

As it turns out, other parents WERE upset about this, but too afraid to even ask - and that did indeed happen - my daughter was moved to the new classroom and she loved her new kindergarten teacher, and Mrs. S's contract was not renewed at the end of the year.

As for Mrs. S, I think not only were they sensing and reacting to her obvious anxiety, but I suspect they could also sense her lack of respect and even disdain for them, particularly children of color (which was obvious to me from Day One); thus, they had no desire to please her or do anything she said because they knew she didn't care about them, even displayed active disdain for them?

It just goes to show you that an institution or business overall can have the right values, right ideas, right everything - but if even one person that's in charge over others is warped and left unchecked, the  negative ripple effect it can have, with the most powerless paying the biggest price.

Now, my daughter did like the new teacher, but it did set the tone for quite a while about seeing teachers as a positive thing you could trust.

As an aside, it was awkward with this new teacher at first, having nothing to do with her teaching.

It was because I previously worked with her at the restaurant where we all worked during college - me, my daughter's father, and new teacher - and she had reportedly slept with my daughter's father while we were together, so he said himself.  


But I already spoke up once, though terrified, so there was no way I could muster up that courage again and look this gift horse situation in the mouth. 😂

Ya gotta love living in the South - you can't make this shit up. 😂

So at first, I was like "Oh, no" again - BUT - in her defense, I understood that after I left, and later became pregnant, my daughter's father told everyone that we'd broken up, the child was not his, and I was crazy.

All lies, of course, but in her defense, he told everyone that so that he could sleep around.  He couldn't bring himself to break up with me while pregnant, and in fact, proposed to me when drunk twice (which I refused, because I knew he didn't mean it and neither of us wanted marriage.) 

In fact, two girls later came forward to apologize to me, they also were told the same story before they slept with him, then he dropped them.

And 20 years later, during the recession while working a second-job at a restaurant, my male manager approached me, after working for him for several months.  He revealed ho he actually was - that HE had had been Z's strip-club buddy, when I was pregnant, that I'd never met.  

He told me that Z told him the same story, he believed him, covered the lies about being at work, even helped him wipe the stripper-glitter off himself before returning home, and that I had been correct - he was sleeping with everyone and Z had been gaslighting me about it, and when I'd figure anything out and get upset, he'd tell people I was crazy.  He said he started to figure that part out then, but it wasn't until he actually met me and worked with me that he realized how much of it was just lies so he could sleep around and party.. 

He apologized profusely, and said that he had observed me for months now, working for him, and he now knew that Z had lied about everything and he felt really bad for it, how sorry he was.  

I hugged him and told him it was okay, it was a long time ago, but how much I appreciated that validation.  I told him that we were young then, and we're even friends again now (and were at that time), so all's well that ends well. 

I did let him know, however, that I had broken up with him because he couldn't bring himself to break up with me while pregnant, so he did everything he could to make me break up with him so he wouldn't have to do it, all the while gaslighting me at the same time so he wouldn't have to take a look at himself, but I was better for it.  

Anyway, point being, this new teacher believed, like everyone else, that we weren't together and that the child wasn't his, and as I said, I liked her previously - so I gave her a chance - and I'm so glad I did, because she was great! In fact, she still teaches 😊

So see?  Sometimes giving the benefit of the doubt does work out - and other times it doesn't - I just had to learn, and am still learning, how much is too much benefit of the doubt, and for how long?

The new teacher was very wonderful with my daughter, I just felt awkward/uncomfortable about the whole having-slept-with-my-daughter's father thing, so I didn't visit the classroom as much anymore, as I probably should have, because of that, and that was my fault/discomfort.

But the happy ending is, she loved the teacher, and I'm happy to report that there were no long-lasting effects, in the end - she graduated from college in 2016, has a great job, and is living her best life on the West Coast, so all's well that ends well 😂

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