Our Switch to Home School

I held back tears as I walked into the school. While clutching my 8-page stack of papers, my hands trembled--partly with rage, partly with anticipation of confronting the principal. I shook my head while I said to Karl, "I never thought I'd be on this side of the table." I planned to never be THAT parent--the one complaining about my child's teacher. But after 2+ weeks of tears and fears, after a sham of a parent-teacher conference, I trudged into the principal's office with documentation of mental and emotional abuse--8 typed pages worth.

If you (reader) are looking for a blog post to confirm your suspicions that public school is all bad, you will not find that here. I grew up in public school. I have walked through most of my life while my mother taught in public school. My sister followed. My aunts and cousins work for the public school system. And no doubt, if Karl and I had not joined the ministry, I would have served alongside them. And while yes, the system is tragically flawed, my empathy for teachers is HIGH. In fact, it is somewhat of a running joke with us that public school teachers must be filled with the grace of God--how else would they last in a profession where they are overworked, underpaid, and continually disrespected? I have heard stories over the years that you wouldn't believe of disrespectful students, of complaining parents with major entitlement issues, of administrators with no backbone who look out for their interests above the interest of their teachers. And yet these selfless teachers remain in position to educate and encourage the next generation. I knew I would never be one of "those" parents. I was going to work WITH the teacher, and not in an over-bearing way, but in a let-me-partner-with-you-as-you-have-authority-over-your-classroom way.

Unfortunately, our little girl did not land with such a filled-by-the-grace-of-God teacher. Mrs. Q, we'll call her ("Q" for Question why this lady went into the teaching profession), causes a pit in my stomach when I think about her. Another note to reader: This is gonna be long. But it's like an episode of Matlock, you've got to know the details on the front end if you want to be properly appalled at the reveal.

Our daughter, who has affection for all her previous teachers, never smiled when we mentioned Mrs. Q ("Q" for Question every Quality you'd expect of a Kindergarten teacher and you won't find it). She was afraid of Mrs. Q ("Q" for Question her name, but I won't drag it through the mud on the internet). And consequently, she was afraid of school. Our little girl who loves to learn, HATED going to school; and she refused to raise her hand in fear of receiving a harsh reprimand. Every day when we picked her up, she reported that she did not enjoy her day. Nighttime produced sobbing and dread for return the next day. Morning had less tears, but her face was sullen with reluctant acceptance of defeat.

She really is such a good little girl--we'd encourage her to be brave and return to school, so she did. We prayed a lot. She prayed a lot.

We kept our optimism high--surely the situation would improve. Mrs. Q wasn't getting on to her--her daily report showed all smiley-faces, but the kids all around her, we thought, must be little heathens. Why else would Mrs. Q be so mad all the time? Hopefully once they learned to settle down and obey their teacher, the classroom environment would improve. When the tears and fears worsened, I started keeping a log--mostly for my benefit. I wanted to review from day to day my daughter's fears, when she experienced them, and my response to them. I decided to review these things with my mom, my sister, and a trusted former-teacher friend. They, like I, wanted to give Mrs. Q the benefit of the doubt, and all encouraged me to have a parent-teacher conference sooner than later.

I emailed Mrs. Q just after 2PM. When I showed up at school dismissal, a mere 30 minutes later, I was pleasantly surprised when she said, "I got your email. You were on my list to call TODAY. I'm concerned too. Can we chat right now?" This was God's providence--Karl had come home from work early--he wanted to come with me so he could experience the carpool line in case he ever needed to be on pick-up duty. So he took the kids home, and I stayed to converse with Mrs. Q. I talked with her for more than an hour. I felt cared for that she was giving me so much of her time. She shared concern and wanted to do everything she could to improve our school situation. She thought the anxiety was due to 2 main components: 1. The public potty, and 2. A "nosy" little girl at her table.

Mrs. Q said she noticed the pattern of anxiety just before each of the 3 daily trips to the potty. She said she asked my baby girl "What can I do to make this better for you?" To which she replied, "You could go with me." Mrs. Q told me how she rearranged the schedule to take my daughter on a special trip to the potty. She allowed her to use the staff bathroom across the hall while another teacher watched her class. She said she could repeat this every day until the potty fear alleviated. I thanked her for her special effort and apologized for the inconvenience it must be causing her--after all, my daughter is just one of 21 kids in her care.

Mrs. Q asked what else caused fear in my little girl. I said that mostly her fears were about getting in trouble. I discussed some specifics from the previous week. Mrs. Q nodded along, "Yes, I recall those incidents," she continued, "I've noticed a pattern that whenever the tears come, 'Nosy Rosie' has just said something upsetting such as, "You shouldn't be doing the blue crayon book, the blue crayon book was yesterday." Mrs. Q said she reassured her, "You are not in trouble. You are the only one doing it right." But when problems with "Nosy Rosie" persisted, Mrs. Q decided to rearrange the table seating. Mrs. Q told me that after I sent the email, she pulled my Baby Girl aside and they had the following conversation:
Mrs. Q: "Tomorrow I'm going to change the seats. Can you tell me about the people at your table? Do any of them bother you?"
H: Shakes head.
Mrs. Q: "What about Michael? Does Michael bother you?"
H: Shakes head.
Mrs. Q: "What about Katie? Does she bother you?"
H: Shakes head.
Mrs. Q: "What about Rosie? Does Rosie bother you?"
H: "Sometimes Rosie makes me nervous."
"Ahh", Mrs. Q and I said it at the same time. Mrs. Q looked at me and said, "And she said it just like that: Rosie makes me nervous. She's so adult in how she talks, you know. She talks just like you and me." I nodded. My Baby Girl has been that way since she was 2. Mrs. Q said they continued their conversation with her asking, "If you could pick 2 little girls to sit at your table, who would you pick?"
H: "Sarah and Macey"
This surprised me, because I knew Alexis was her favorite little playmate in the class, and had never heard her mention Sarah or Macey. Mrs. Q said they all had a similar temperament--quiet and well-behaved, and thought those 3 girls would get along well together. Again, I thanked her and told her that I felt encouraged about these changes.
Mrs. Q said that she, too, was hopeful and asked if there was anything else that she could be doing. I thought carefully how to express my last concern. According to my daughter's reports of the day, she generally felt like Mrs. Q did not care how she or the other kids in the class were feeling, and routinely brushed them off in a hurtful manner. I began, "Well, my girl is very tender-hearted and loves affection..." Mrs. Q nodded again, "Yes, she is always the first one in my lap for story time. She sits in my lap every day. And just the other day, I was working on the floor during their Free Choice time, and she grabbed a book and hopped in my lap, which I love. So she just sat there looking at her book while I drew smiley faces in the take-home folders."

This made me glad. Mrs. Q and I exchanged friendly chit-chat while we exited the building. I was eager to talk to my baby--I just knew that today must have been better for her--with the less scary trip to the bathroom and knowing that she would be at a different table tomorrow. When I hopped in the car (Karl had to load up the kids to come get me), I asked her, "Tell me about the potty today!"
She frowned and said nothing.
I said, "You got to use a SPECIAL potty today, was it less scary?"
She said, "Mommy, it was not a special potty."
"Well, you might not have known it was special, but it WAS. It was a potty just for grown-ups, and Mrs. Q let you use it."
This irritated her and she said, "Mommy. It is NOT a grown-up potty."
I, now a little irritated at her for clinging to specifics and delaying the point of the conversation, said,"Well maybe it was the size of a kids' potty... I don't know, but it was special. What I want to know is: was it less scary? Was your day better?"
Annoyed, she said, "No."

At this point, we arrived home. The kids hopped off to play, and I relayed the parent-teacher conference to Karl while I began preparing dinner. When I've explained it all, my phone rang. It was a girlfriend of mine who has been aware of our situation at school. We'll call her "Mrs. I" ("I" for In-the-Know, not "B" for Busy-Body, but really "I" for In the loop). I won't tell you how she knows, but "Mrs. I" had just received some privileged information that Mrs. Q is bad news. Mrs. Q has received complaints from parents in years past, in schools past, and has a known reputation for being cold, harsh, and strict. Beyond complaints from parents, she has received reprimands from administrators and is up for review at the end of the term. I felt my stomach drop out from under me when I heard this news. My daughter's instincts had been spot on. The encouragement I felt vanished. We ended the call, and I sat down my phone.
At this moment, Karl walked purposefully into the kitchen. He rested his hands on the bar, and said with calm concern:
"H just told me that she doesn't sit in Mrs. Q's lap for story time. I said to her, 'Ok, not story time, but some other time.' She looked me in the eye and said, 'Daddy, I have never sat in Mrs. Q's lap.'"

I stared at him in disbelief, and explained what "Mrs. I" had just revealed to me on the phone. As we're setting the table, it all was coming together in our minds. Did Mrs. Q really just spend an hour LYING TO MY FACE? In a desperate attempt to keep me at bay, this lady who is in fear of losing her job fabricated events to make herself appear to be a nurturing teacher, but really has been frightening these little 5-yr-olds. Karl pounded his fists on the kitchen island. His face and neck turned red, and he yelled something that I don't remember. This alarmed the children, who ran into the kitchen. They stood at the edge and watched with big eyes while Karl stated with firm resolve, "She is not stepping foot back into that classroom."

We both felt too sick to eat dinner. I kept picturing Mrs. Q's false face of concern, and I felt defiled by it. As the kids sat down, I casually asked, "Baby girl, tell me about the kids at your table at school."
She said, "There's Michael, and Katie and Rosie and Caleb."
I asked, "Do any of them bother you? Do they make you nervous?"
She paused for a minute, wearing an expression of "Hmm, I've never thought about it before" and answered, "No."
I said, "What about Rosie?"
She replied breezily, "No, Rosie doesn't make me nervous."
I said, "Mrs. Q told me that you told her that Rosie makes you nervous. Do you remember Mrs. Q asking you about the kids at your table?"
She looked at me and said, "I didn't say that. Mrs. Q didn't ask me about anyone at my table."
"Did she tell you that you'd be changing seats?"
I, maintaining an aura of innocent curiosity, asked, "If you could pick 2 girls to sit at your table who would you choose?"
Immediately she says, "Alexis (the playmate I expected Mrs. Q to mention) and hmm...Destiny."
I asked her about more details from my conference--little things that I didn't even type here--all false. Then I remembered how confused and irritated she was during our conversation about the potty. So I said, "One more time...tell me about going to the potty today? Did Mrs. Q take you because you asked her to?"
She said, "No. I went during lunch. I raised my hand like this (she gestured the letter "R" in sign language) and another teacher gave me permission to go. My bathroom buddy was Katie, so she went with me."
Karl said, "Did Mrs. Q take you later in the day? Did you go to a different bathroom than normal?"
Confused she said, "Daddy, why are y'all asking me all these questions? We used the potty with the purple and white tile on the floor. We always use the potty with the purple and white tile. Last week we used the one with orange tile, but not today--it was purple and white."
Karl looked at her and said, "We believe you. You have always told us the truth, so we know we can trust you."

I felt ashamed at myself for not listening better on our car ride home. Fortunately, I had listened well the previous weeks. And fortunately, I kept track of those listening times by logging the conversations on my computer. And now I had documentation to bring to the principal.

Karl took off work the next morning. A friend kept the kids--all 3 of them, and with my hands trembling, we walked into the principal's office. Mr. K (we'll call him "K" for Kind Man) listened intently, took notes, and raised his eyebrows with concern at the appropriate moments. Like any good principal, he defended his employee first. He said, "I hate to believe that Mrs. Q said all of this just to placate you. Maybe she'll follow through on some of these things--like the table seating and the different restroom, and it will be better. Tell me, where are you two at in the process?"

Karl respectfully replied, "Where we're at is that it doesn't matter what Mrs. Q does to 'follow through'. The issue is that she can't be trusted. Where we're at is that we can't believe a word that comes out of her mouth. It's not a matter of if she changes the tables, it's a matter of her lying to my wife, fabricating conversations that never occurred. Where we're at is that our daughter will not come back to this school as long as Mrs. Q is her teacher."

Mr. K didn't defend Mrs. Q any longer. He said he would discuss all of these things with her. He took my 8 pages--4 documenting the events that our daughter reported, and 4 documenting our parent-teacher conference and how the lies revealed themselves.
He said we could begin in a new class tomorrow. My friend, "Mrs. I" had mentioned a few of the other teachers to me, "Mrs. G's" ("G" for Guaranteed to be Great!), but their classes had reached their cap. Mr. K said that the only spot left was with "Mrs. P" ("P" for Probably a better experience). We said we'd think about it and let him know by the end of the day. We contemplated home-schooling, since we knew that our missions schedule would require that come March anyway.

Feeling rushed by the school bell, I called Mr. K and said, "Sure, let's switch to Mrs. P's class." But I felt uncertain and wavered back and forth all day. Once the kids were asleep, Karl and I had the opportunity to talk it through. The stress of the day led to an off-topic argument, and at midnight, finally back on target, Karl said decidedly, "We're homeschooling her for this year." Then he added, "How do you feel that I just made the decision for us?" I said, "Good. Actually, relieved. The weight of the decision was burdensome. Now I don't have to second-guess if I did the right thing--I submit to you, so my conscious is clear." (Imagine that! When I let my husband lead our family, my burden feels lighter!)

The sunlight, not an alarm clock, woke us up in the morning. Our baby girl, pleasantly surprised, smiled ear to ear when Karl told her that Mommy was going to be her new teacher for Kindergarten. "Really?!" she exclaimed. The usual stress on her morning face melted away. We began our day with Bible time in pj's around the breakfast table. After morning chores, we drove to the elementary school and signed the papers for her withdrawal. I thanked Mr. K for his time and said I had no hard feelings against him (although I will if he does not recommend Mrs. Q's removal at the end of her term), and that maybe we'd be back for 1st grade. Then we celebrated at a playground. Basking in the sun, it felt like a honeymoon. The stress was behind us. We had an afternoon lesson, but said that really, home school would commence next week. She asked me if piano lessons could be part of her school. I enthusiastically agreed! Karl and I both told her that another part of her at-home Kindergarten curriculum was that she master the use of a public potty without fear... which she did Sunday morning at church--all by herself. (Imagine that! With a little bit of gentle encouragement instead of a scolding, she managed to overcome an obstacle!)

Several moments since, we have felt remorse for forcing her to return to that class. We picture her reluctantly walking in those doors, that huge backpack bobbing up and down covering half of her little body, her radiant smile fading as she stiffened up her lip. We had felt so confident in the beginning that we had made the right decision. We hope that just like in our adult lives, these weeks of trial had a bigger purpose. No doubt she grew closer with Jesus as she leaned on Him for strength. We also hope that God's sovereign hand placed her in that class for these things to be brought to light. The few people we've told this story to have asked, "Why hasn't Mrs. Q been fired?" There are policies in place to protect teachers--good teachers--from any bratty kid or clueless parent who lodges a complaint. It takes a lot of specific documented offenses to get a teacher dismissed. Honestly, we hope that my 8 page report is the final nail in the coffin of Mrs. Q's career in Kindergarten.

We also had to consider our hearts, and our responses as witnesses for Christ in the areas of forgiveness, mercy and grace. I have carried grudges before, and have had to allow God to work out forgiveness in my heart. Right now, I feel like we chose the right path. We felt like this was not the time for mercy, it was the time to bring injustices to light, time to stand up for "the least of these." We had spent time praying for Mrs. Q before, and will continue to. And we will keep praying for those precious kids remaining in her care for the year. We have pondered our responsibility to those kids considering we have knowledge that their parents do not. Do those kids cry at home? Do they say that their teacher is cruel? Do the parents listen? Do they validate them or dismiss them? Currently, we have no way of contacting them even if we wanted to invite them to a birthday party. So we pray that God's sovereign hand of protection would rest over them, the way His Hand rests over our little one and us.

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