Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Bad, the Ugly, and the Uglier

Well, it happened.  The day that I had just about decided was never going to arrive swept in and took me by complete surprise.  Which day? 

The day that I considered calling it quits and putting Kinley back into a regular 4th grade classroom. 

And the precipitating event means that Kinley is in the biggest trouble of her life.

I've been avoiding blogging about this whole thing for several weeks (note the absence of any posts in February) because it's been so difficult personally and professionally.  But then I find myself avoiding blogging about other things that have happened since then, just because I feel like I need to tell this story first.  So here it is.  The bad, the ugly, and the uglier.

I got an email from the parent of a little girl in my class on a recent Friday morning.  The parent was understandably upset about something that had happened in my class the day before while a substitute teacher was in my room.  Unfortunately, Kinley was at the center of the whole thing.

It seems that Kinley and the little girl were having trouble getting along.  I knew that this had been a bit of a problem for a couple of weeks since Kinley had come to me in class one day to tell me that the little girl was "whispering about her at the lunch table."  Knowing that girls can be mean but also knowing that I have daughter who tends to be, um, a bit dramatic, I told her that she needed to go straight to the little girl's desk and ask what she should do to help things get better.  She reluctantly went, and I didn't think another thing about it.

Until that fateful Friday.

I read the email in horror as the parent detailed what had happened.  Kinley had been standing in line with the little girl and some other children.  A little boy (we'll call him Franklin) began pestering the little girl by trying to step on her feet. 

Now this may come as a shock to you if you haven't been in an elementary classroom in several years, but I'll let you in on a secret.  Kids pick at each other for no apparent reason.  Franklin is not a bad child.  He's not even an annoying child.  He was just bored.  And he had the misfortune of being bored and getting into the middle of something that grew to be a much bigger deal.

As Franklin was pestering the little girl, my daughter, my firstborn, my favorite student, flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, said - in a tone that could not be mistaken as just boredom or pestering - "Get her, Franklin!  Kick her in the shins!"

And that's just bad.  Here's the ugly.

The little girl then said, "Franklin, you'd better stop or you're going to get into trouble."  And MY CHILD says - cue ominous music here - "No you won't.  My mom's the teacher, and I'll tell her not to get you in trouble."

Yeah.  Just reread that one a couple of times.  I told you it was ugly.

I was stunned at the email I was reading.  But at the same time, I feared that it was true.  I immediately forwarded the message to my principal with, "Read and come see me ASAP!" in the subject line.  I was out of my league, and I wanted to be absolutely transparent in this whole process.  As you all know by now, my biggest fear is that other parents of children in my class will feel their children are treated unfairly because of Kinley.

While waiting for Mrs. Fitzgerald, my principal, to appear at my door, I decided to do a little investigating.  I called poor Franklin into the hallway.  The pallor that his face took on when I asked him to give me details about the day before was all I needed. Imagine how much courage it took for this little boy to tell his teacher that her daughter had indeed done exactly what she had been accused of doing!  He tried to make it sound better than it actually was until I recounted the events from the email.  He reluctantly admitted that Kinley had said exactly those words.  He was terrified.  I gave him a hug, told him he had nothing to be afraid of, and sent him back into the room.

I was near tears when Mrs, Fitzgerald showed up moments later to tell me how I should handle the situation.  She was just certain that Kinley was innocent and that the little girl had exaggerated.  I told her about what Franklin had said and begged her to handle the whole thing.  Bless her heart, she agreed.

Kinley was called to the principal's office for disciplinary action for the first time in her life while I regained control of my sobs in the hallway outside my classroom.

Kinley came back several minutes later with red, blotchy eyes that matched mine and an obvious sniffle.  Mrs. Fitzgerald called me out into the hallway again to tell me that she had fined Kinley and had read her the riot act.  She also told her to apologize to the little girl.  I thanked her and also apologized for my child's actions.  I also asked her to email the little girl's parents to let them know that Kinley had been punished.  (I know.  I'm a coward.  I own it.)

In my opinion, Kinley had gotten off relatively easily at school.  So at home, Josh and I chose to levy some serious and hopefully meaningful punishments.  We reminded Kinley that as a Christian she is to be a reflection of Christ.  We told her that she had not been a positive reflection and that we wanted her to understand how God felt about our words to others.  To help her learn and remember, she was going to lose TV and electronics for a minimum of two weeks during which time she was to learn five Bible verses related to harsh words (Colossians 4:6, Psalms 19:14, Ephesians 4:29, James 1:19-20, and Colossians 3:12-13).  She also had to write a letter to be mailed to the little girl apologizing for her actions.  Finally, she would be required to pray for her relationship with the little girl each night during our family devotionals until things got better.

And, of course, we told her that if she EVER did or said something that used her relationship to me as a weapon or bargaining chip again, she would be moved back into a regular classroom with no discussion.

The next week at school was tense, but I felt we were reaching a new normal.  Kinley and the little girl were a bit strained, but I assumed that was normal and that our fervent prayers for their relationship would aid in the healing process. At home, Kinley had begun to draw pictures for the little girl and to talk about how she was trying to include her in conversations and recess activities.  Josh and I were actually pleasantly surprised by the sincerity Kinley showed when reaching out to make ammends.  But the uglier part was yet to come.

The following Monday, seven school days after the incident, I got the news that the little girl was leaving my class.  Her parents decided that placement my High Ability classroom (which is optional in our school system) was not working for their daughter, and they pulled her out without saying goodbye.  She didn't even clean out her desk.  She just didn't come back.

Kinley, of course, asked if it was her fault.  To be fair, the parents had been unhappy with a few of my classroom policies and the incident with Kinley had been the last nail in the coffin. But Kinley was really worried.  I did my best to reassure her without shying away from the serious nature of what she had done.

But I haven't stopped worrying about it.  And it's not getting any prettier.