Information for Moms

My Love-Hate Relationship with Schools

Our eldest daughter is a January baby. By the time she was able to attend elementary school, she was ready. Her first day was emotional to say the least but she adjusted well and made great friends. After the Easter weekend, a new student joined the class. She was excited to meet the new student. It didn’t take long for her excitement to turn into fear. The new student yelled, swore and hit the teachers. The teachers feared this boy and so did my daughter. I wrote a few notes in the agenda. I wasn’t getting any answers. After a few nights of my daughter crying for nearly an hour after getting off the school bus, I met with the principal. It was clear from our conversation that they weren’t sure how to handle the new student, that they felt unprepared and that they did not have a plan. By then, it was May and I decided to withdraw my child from school. If they couldn’t keep her safe, I would. I wrote to the school board, looking for solutions. I never received a reply. I checked in near the end of the school year and nothing had been resolved. The police had been called into the school due to incidents with other students. I chose to  enrol her in a different school for the following school year. This upset me because she was a great student, she had friends, she loved her teachers and felt a sense of belonging in that school. However, she no longer felt safe there in the presence of this student. I hated that she was being penalized. If there had been adequate planning and preparation, if the teachers received support and information, they could have helped this child integrate their classroom in a less disruptive, traumatic way for everyone involved. I did what I thought was best for my daughter.

She had a wonderful teacher at the new school and made new friends. We had a blissful, uneventful year. She looked up to her teacher and felt safe. She loves to learn so she thrived in this new environment. The following year, one of the girls in her grade noticed she was shy. She started picking on her. This student had an older sibling at the school, she knew a lot of people and was popular. She recruited others to join her in ridiculing my daughter. She was outnumbered. I wrote to the teachers and they said they didn’t supervise the school yard so they never saw any of the bullying. As my daughter changed from an open, light, joyful child to a nervous, withdrawn, unhappy little girl, her English teacher started to pick on her too. Again, I attempted to communicate with teachers and get her some support but I was losing the battle, and my daughter, in the process. She no longer wanted to go to school. She internalized the bullying and started feeling that there must be something wrong with her. Luckily, she had one best friend at school, a silver lining on those dark days.

I started researching homeschooling as an option. I didn’t want her to lose her thirst for knowledge. I wondered if I should bring tutors into our home to re-build her self-confidence. I knew I could teach her certain subjects but I would definitely need to hire someone for subjects like math and science. I was launching a new business at the time and our youngest was also in school. How would this decision impact our other daughter? Would she stay in school? I met women who were homeschooling. There were some lovely people out there but it was a huge decision. My biggest fear was that our daughter would never learn to socialize with her peers. There weren’t a lot of children her age in our area being homeschooled. They were much younger. Would she feel even more alienated from children her own age?

I decided to have her enrol in a new school for the next fall. Her friends had already applied to another school due to the teacher’s bullying behaviour. When I phoned the school to have her file transferred, I was called into the principal ‘s office and confronted by the principal and staff, indicating they were not aware of the bullying. They threatened to force my youngest to withdraw from their school if I moved my eldest. In the week prior to our meeting, my youngest, who was happy at school with lots of friends and who is generally super quiet, was sent to the principal’s office. I went to pick her up and the teacher and principal spoke to me in the hallway, indicating my youngest should be assessed for oppositional behaviour. This was so obviously linked to my other daughter’s eminent transfer to another school that I had to laugh. My youngest was confused. Why was she in trouble? At the meeting, I came prepared and outlined everything that happened, in sequence, and what I had done to try to resolve the issues. By the time I was done, the principal and staff retreated and simply asked that I reconsider. Too much damage had been done, she no longer felt safe there and it was time to move on. Based on their treatment of our youngest and, the fact that she would have the same bullying teacher the following year, I moved my youngest as well.

When the next semester started, grade 2, my eldest was so uncomfortable in school and socially awkward that her teacher thought she should be assessed for autism. It pained me to watch her, she was so fearful and tense. Interestingly, so many students transferred to this new school, from her previous school that they didn’t have enough desks, chairs and space to accommodate them. Mots parents had waited until the start of the summer holidays to request the transfer in order to avoid ramifications. When I asked the parents why they switched their children, they linked it back to that same teacher. What a legacy!

As the semester progressed and no one yelled at my daughter, she began to blossom. I recognized my daughter, she was emerging from the wreckage. I had started designing workshops to present in schools in order to increase collaboration while decreasing bullying and exclusion. One of her teachers asked me to come into the classroom and offer my workshop. I ended up visiting the school on a monthly basis to try out different workshops. The students loved it! My daughter was happy, she made friends and trusted her teachers. Over the years, I have watched her open up and get more adventurous. She has been fortunate enough to be blessed with amazing teachers.

My youngest also did well at the new school. She made friends, loved her teachers and felt a sense of belonging. She was not allowed to interact with her sister at the other school during recess. They were separated by a fence and teachers disciplined them for hanging out by the fence. Now, they could see each other at recess and play together if they wanted. They got to know each other’s group of friends and looked forward to recess. They would come home, tired but content with lots of funny stories.

During her last year at the school, grade 6, following our annual family trip, her teacher started picking on her because she was behind on writing an essay. We were away for two weeks. I had notified both teachers and we completed work for the other class during her first week back. Her other teacher used recess as her time to catch up. She stood over her, intimidated and criticized her. She called on her in class and used her as an example of someone who is behind on her work. This was not a good way to end the school year. By then, my daughter was 12 and very angry that she was feeling unsafe, once again. We made it through the semester and I found out that this teacher picks one student every year from each of her classes to pick on. She was picking on a boy with a disability prior to our trip then she turned her attention to my eldest.

She is now in grade 7. She has three amazing teachers this year. She has expanded her group of friends as several schools feed into the same intermediate/secondary school. Her love of school has never returned, she still prefers to stay home and prays for snow days all winter but she feels safe.

Writing about these experiences is painful. However, I think it’s important to recognize that, like any profession, some teachers are passionate and become excellent models for our children. For others, their choice of career is perplexing. Why would you go into teaching if you don’t like children or if you know you lack the patience required to do your job.

Being a teacher is hard work. Nobody does it for the money. I savour every opportunity I have to visit classrooms and support teachers through my workshops. I give generous gifts to teachers at Christmas and at the end of the school year. I don’t hesitate to praise exceptional teachers. I know the impact they can have on our children, both positive and negative.

During these difficult experiences, I often second-guessed myself. I had no clue how all of this would turn out. Was I making the right decision or over-reacting? Should I let her deal with it on her own or step in? Why was this happening to her again, why her? Looking back now, I have no regrets. If your child is being bullied by a teacher or student, don’t be afraid to communicate with teachers, principals, parents, anyone who will listen. You may not be able to change the circumstances, but your child will know that she never has to feel alone.