Monday, April 29, 2013

A Battle Fought...A Victory Won!

Oh my gosh!  Have you ever come out of a week/weekend feeling that you now need a vacation from it all?

Last week was not my typical I do not like confrontation one itsy bitsy bit.  Since the beginning of the New Year there has been a shift in my 1st grader's classroom...a substitute covering while the regular teacher has been out on maternity leave. (as she rightly should be)  At first all of the kids seemed to be excited about having a temporary teacher and had liked when she had subbed for the class before.  Things have not turned out as all had hoped and let's just say that there have been far less happy days since the change has taken place.

Everything came to a head last Thursday when my daughter came home and burst into rivers of tears when I asked how her day went at school.  When I tried to comfort her and probed for the reason behind the waterfall on her face I was told, "She told us to shut up!"

"Who told you to shut up?!"  (mommy alarms are sounding and anger is brewing)

"Mrs. Teacher told us to shut up." ("teacher" is my censorship in an attempt to spare the teacher's name... out of respect)

"Did she say it to just one, a couple of kids OR the whole class?"

"She said it to all of us.  I didn't see her but we all heard and got really quiet."  She said her back was to the teacher when it was said but that everyone gasped and were quiet.

Sobs grow louder and tears are now falling like Niagara Falls.

"Please, please, PLEASE don't make me go back to school until Mrs. Peak comes back!!!" 

At this point my heart is completely broken for my daughter...and I am on a mission to right whatever wrong has occurred.

Text messages begin going out to see if any other moms can corroborate the story with their children.  It turns out the order was voiced at two children, but the entire class heard it and some thought it was directed to everyone.

Oh, let me tell you, this mommy's frustration level hit the roof and blew straight through!  It was not the first time that inappropriate words had been spoken in the class...a few FAR worse than this before.  (an "F" bomb overheard, "Little Sh**s")  This was it!!  I was done pushing things aside and hoping simply for issues to be resolved on their own.  It was time for this mommy to take some action....and I wasn't the only one on a mission for resolution either.

Another mother and myself wrote emails to the Principal of the school about that day's blunder...and about others that had been observed over the past several months.  We then decided to forward those emails to the other parents in the classroom to let them know (if they already didn't) what had been going on.  There were a number of us that had been trying to covertly smooth things out for our kids, but nothing was turning out positive like we had hoped and the remaining 4 weeks could not continue to spiral downward.

Here's what I wrote...I've spared the names of the Teacher in question and Principal simply out of respect. (I can be nice like that)

"Dear Dr. Principal,

I absolutely hate confrontation, yet I find myself in the position where I feel that I must voice my concern regarding conduct in my child's 1st grade classroom.  Frankly, I find it infuriating that a teacher would tell any student to "Shut Up".  This happened yesterday (Thursday) and was the first thing my daughter relayed to me when she got home from school.  She was in tears saying that Mrs. Teacher had gotten upset and told the class to "shut up", which I later found out was directed at two students but the entire class heard it and fell silent.  She begged me with tears streaming down her face to not take her back to class until Mrs. Peak comes back.  Tell me that this is not the conduct toward students that our school would deem appropriate.  It is definitely not professional to say the least.  How is that an example of being RESPECTFUL?  There is no reason that an adult can not take control of a class without telling students to shut up.

Since the beginning of 2013, the students of Mrs. Peak's 1st grade class have been on a rollercoaster ride.  Understandably, they miss their teacher and have to adjust to a substitute who handles the classroom differently. However, when there is a number of students in the class so upset that they spend mornings and evenings in tears regarding going back to the class there is something wrong.  When my daughter is so upset at the prospect of being in class she is developing headaches, something is definitely wrong.  There were times that she would say that "school is lame", but would gladly go because she didn't want Mrs. Peak to miss her and at the end of the day would tell me that it was a good day.  In retrospect, I wish I had followed another mother's lead and removed my daughter for the remainder of the year to homeschool instead.

These days 9 out of 10 days seem to fall under the category of a bad day.  I am having to promise my daughter that I will be in the classroom as much as I can...or assure her that I know that another parent is volunteering in the classroom on a given day.  Her words to me: "Please come to my class today. Mrs. Teacher is nicer to us when a mom is there."  That, to me, is disturbing.  A classroom should be run in the same manner whether or not a parent is present.  The fact that my 6-year-old can see that things are different when a parent is present speaks volumes to me.

As a mother who wants her child to have a desire to do their best and glean all that is available in school, I strongly believe that educators should inspire their pupils.  This is not the case in Mrs. Teacher's class. 
  • When I have been in the classroom I have seen children go to her with a question only to be told "I already gave the instructions" and to "go ask someone else what to do".  SERIOUSLY?!  This is a class of 1st graders that can not remember instruction that goes in length over 5 minutes.  I've been confused by the instruction and have had to look at the work, figure out the intended outcome and re-explain it to students at times.  

  • A number of the students have told me that they are afraid to ask her for help...yet when I walk thru the door I have noticed that they will timidly wave for a volunteer (me or another parent) to ask for help.  

  • The atmosphere in the classroom is cold and irritated. The tone of speech alone relays that everything seems to be a frustration.  I have yet to see a smile toward the students when I have been in the class. Towards me, yes, there is a smile.

  • When the students have had a hard time understanding something "Oh my God" can surface in frustration. "She says it because we don't understand something."-My daughter's words.
  • 4th graders have been correcting homework...without a key when I have seen them.  On one occasion they were told to "just write an A if they missed one, or a B for two or something like a star or happy face, whatever you want."  I had to contain myself.  

  • I tested the students who need weekly one-minute reading testing when asked.  "They really need to be tested every week but I just don't have the time to do it.  It's so hard to get them alone while we're in class."  It took me a total of 6-7 minutes with those three students that day. (one student was absent)

  • My daughter had a hard time with her spelling test one week getting a number of the words wrong...I even sent back the test to Mrs. Teacher circling the spelling word "found" in the list and dictation because she had also spelled it wrong (fownd) both times.  When I picked up homework this Monday for her a new list was given with her moved up to the next level for spelling.  I was astonished and asked if it was right.  I was answered with the response of, "Well if you think that the words are too hard for her then she can just do the B Group or A Group instead. I don't really know which one to give them sometimes."  WHAT?!?!   Shouldn't missing roughly half of the words show that they shouldn't be in the higher group yet?  That they need to continue to work in their current group?

  •  Last week, when on the field trip to The Discovery Museum, I volunteered to help with Mrs. Other Teacher's class since there were more than enough chaperones for Mrs. Teacher's.  She came up to Mrs. Other Teacher and told her that since she had enough parents for her class, she (Mrs. Teacher) would just come help her (Mrs. Other Teacher) with her students.  The other mother and I were dumbfounded and just stood there while Mrs. Other Teacher insisted that Mrs. Teacher needed to stay with her own class.

In short, the children in this classroom have had their year ruined.  They are no longer inspired, they are fearful and are trying to just make it to the end of the year. In high school that can be expected, in elementary school that is a SHAME.  Something needs to be done to turn things around in this classroom.  Us parents should not have to be leaning on Mrs. Peak during her leave for assistance.

Also, word has circulated that Mrs. Teacher may be brought on as a permanent teacher...I sincerely hope that is not the case. Especially for the elementary students.  The patience to appropriately handle them is just not there.  It may very well not be there for any age group.

Extremely frustrated & disappointed,

Tanya Samudio"

I hold teachers at a very respected level, they have a taxing and enormously responsible job of educating our children. (I work with mine every night and have to be creative in examples of how to do their homework) BUT when children are not inspired in class and have been talked down to, all of that respect dwindles away and my defense mode for the students kicks in. 
Fortunately two other mothers and I were able to sit down with the Principal Friday morning in an attempt to have or voices heard. (which is good because it gave us an evening to cool down and formulate the best strategy for advancement without getting completely shot down)  Our concerns were heard, action was taken for an immediate apology to the class, meetings were scheduled and an olive branch was extended by us in an offer for parents to meet with Mrs. Teacher to discuss how we could best help in the classroom to end the year on a positive note.

Things I have learned that help you if you have go into a meeting with the head of the school:
  • Go in with facts and the impact that those facts have made on your child.  This will get you much further than going in simply on emotion. 

  • Keep it calm, cool and collected.  No one responds well to a hot tempered parent, plus words can get to a place that you can never backtrack from and walls go up with reinforcing steel.

  • Be open and offer possible resolutions to the problem in a manner that makes you partnered to a positive outcome and not just an adversary to the system.

My hopes are that this silver lining turns into gold without Mrs. Teacher removing herself from the class (as she has offered), but instead working with us parents to lighten the atmosphere and get these kiddles ready for their transition into 2nd grade.  While the prospect of a new face leading the class sounds inviting, we all seem to agree that Mrs. Teacher being aware of her conduct, correcting and learning from this - and showing the kiddles that we can work through difficulties - would be a positive outcome for everyone involved. (and there would be no need for the kiddles to adjust to another new teacher)

So here's my question to you...
What would you have done if it had been your child?

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