First grade has been an uphill battle. It turns out that many people knew this teacher was less than stellar. Several of them left the program, quietly, but they did talk to those who pushed them for answers.
I went in not knowing. I didn't learn it from gossip, I learned it from watching my previously happy, smart, joyful child come home with his soul crushed. Not every day, but often enough. Whenever he said he had a good day, it was always PE, music, library, lunch or recess.
Another mom at school has been in close contact with me, she has relayed multiple stories, both from this year and previous years about the teacher bullying students, yelling at them, shaming one student in front of the class, especially regarding making mistakes in their work. She says her son is afraid to try because he doesn't want to do it wrong. This mom also reports that several students had to miss recess to practice walking in a straight line because they were six inches off the line while walking to class.
On the other hand, another mom whose daughter had this teacher for two years said that her daughter rarely had problems with the teacher and their experience was mostly positive, but that the begining of first grade was a pretty rough start. She told me that a lot of it gets much much better once the parents are in there, Ms. L is overwhelmed by the kids when its just her, and especially when she doesn't know them personally yet (the begining of 2nd was a little hard, but not nearly on the same level).
Our own expereience has been that for several days, Ben was coming home starving, with a lunchbox that was more than half-full still. He would report that his class was late to lunch again. When questioned more, he said the class was late most days. I investigated this by carefully asking around, and got a full report from the mother of a very dependable, mature, trustworthy little girl. (Have I mentioned how much I love knowing all the parents and all the kids?)
Here is her report: "I asked E about the lunch thing tonight, trying really hard not to "lead" her with the questions. She said that Ms. L has them line up for lunch, and if anyone talks, that child has to go sit at their desk. E emphasized that it is not "choosing Step", it's just like a time out at their desk. Then the rest of the class has to wait until Ms. L releases the child from the time out (my phrase). E said that this happens most days, and sometimes it is several children, and sometimes they are sent to their desks at varying times, so ... it can take a really long time for them to finally get out the door.
Lunch is short, and I know the kids already have to really focus on their meal and not dilly-dally in the cafeteria. I don't have a problem with that; I knew it might mean that E wouldn't be able to finish lunch for the first few days, because she is a talker and a slow eater. So far she has been okay and able to finish, but I know she is really having to focus hard and not talk with her friends as much as she would like to. Again, I have no problem with that. BUT ... if they are having several minutes of lunch taken away as a disciplinary action, then I have a problem. I am okay with having recess shortened due to inappropriate behavior, but not lunch. Lunch isn't optional."
This conversation got started because another mom in our group said her child came home having eaten almost nothing and was very hungry and cranky.
For me, I could almost even handle her holding the children who are disruptive into their lunch time. I don't love it, but I can understand where she is coming from. But what both Stephen and I aren't OK with is her punnishing the entire class, military style, for the transgressions of a handful of kids, sometimes just one or two of them. The reason this is done in the military is to encourage the others to gang up on the troublesome ones in a peer pressure or bullying style in order to get them to change their behavior.
This is first grade folks, and that is just plain not OK.
Today's post is brought to you by the fact that during tonight's reading homework, Ben burst into tears and had what I can best describe as a panic attack or nervous breakdown over trying to read the word "sing" which I know he is perfectly capable of reading. He seriously was on the floor gasping for breath. I am so proud of myself, it was a shining moment in parenting, let me tell you. I did not lose my cool or make any snarky comments about his overreacting. I also hadn't said anything about the several times he missed the word. No sarcastic comments, nothing that could possibly be interrprited as judgmental or attacking. I just calmly let him know that he hadn't gotten it correct yet and asked him to look again. He was practically hyperventalating by this point, going on and on about how he couldn't breathe and needed water.
Its truly amazing that I was able to quickly assess that what was happening was that he was letting out previously held in emotions in a place where he felt safe to do so. I got him the water, suggested he step outside on the deck for some fresh air, and then he was calm and he voluntarily came back and easily read the word. He wanted to continue on with his game (yes, we do our reading homework by reading RGP video games) but I requested that we take a break and talk about what going on.
I was honest with him about our concerns about his teacher, told him it was breaking my heart to see him dreading school and that he was a smart boy and a good boy who truly wants to do a good job and follow the rules and it was so hard to stand by and watch him go through this. I told him that his papa and I have an appointment to talk to the teacher next week. And I also got his opinion for our consideration (not that he gets to choose, but just his voice heard, like a vote) about whether he'd rather get pulled out to be rescued from the terrible teacher, or stay in to be with his friends. He said he'd rather stay. It's hard but he isn't suffering, his words not mine. Whoah. Have I mentioned how much I love this little boy? I really don't want his whole personality to be changed because of this. I listened to him share the parts of school that are hardest for him.
HIS main concern is that just like the lunch problem, this teacher is obsessed with keeping the class as one whole unit. When they do their work, they are not allowed to go on to the next project until everyone is finished. They are not allowed to do ANYTHING until everyone is finished. Ben is, of course, one of the first ones done.
So when he finishes, he has to just sit there. No talking (duh!) no going ahead in work (hmm) and not even silent reading (WTF?) is allowed.
(I am super pissed because this entry went on for another couple of paragraphs and lj ate it and my kids are about to eat each other if I don't make them dinner so I can't even fix it right now)
So several hours have gone by and I've been unable to recover the end of this entry via technology, so I'll just kind of sum it up that Ben feels like he is being punnished for being smart. He says the work isn't hard and that his main problem with school is that he spends literally half of his day sitting silently at his desk, bored out of his mind with his work already completed. I can understand the no-talking policy, so that the slower kids aren't getting distracted. And I can *almost* understand the no-going ahead rule, because it would be inconvienient for her to have 25 kids who are all in different places in their work, and it would probably result in some of the kids being WAY behind the bulk of the class and some other kids being WAY ahead. But why, oh why, is silently reading a library book going to be a problem? Seriously. Silently sitting still at his desk. If you asked Ben to define the word punnishment, this is eactly what he would say.