Public School, Part 2

School Punishment -- photo for Public School, Part 2When I was eight years old, our chocolate labrador, Meg, was struck and killed by a car in Sheepshead Bay.  She was only three, and she was a beautiful, docile animal that would allow all three of us kids to stick our hands down her throat and pull her tail, even while she was eating.  She was well-trained, too, and would come tearing straight for you with as little as a hand wave in her direction, which was why my father allowed her to run freely in a parking lot that terrible Sunday morning.  It was a hit and run, and my father and his brother knelt by her side to see if there was anything they could do, but poor Nutmeg was in shock, and she bit my uncle ferociously on the wrist before passing away.  My uncle had to go to the hospital.  When my father told the three of us what happened, it was the first time I saw him cry.

I feel like that these days, like our poor dying dog, biting helplessly and uncharacteristically at anything that comes my way.  I’m so furious about what happened this past week at our son’s public school that I felt like biting the head off the lady at the post office just because she didn’t have any collector’s stamps.  An elderly man gave me a disapproving glance because I pulled too closely alongside his parked car that same day, and I literally stepped out of my vehicle and shouted at him for looking at me funny.  And then he shouted something back at me as I entered the post office to which I screamed back — “Go take your medication!” — only to turn my head forward and notice about thirty people waiting in line, all looking at me with expressions that can only be described as a mixture of horror and disgust.  And really, the truth is I did pull alongside that man’s car awfully close.  He had a right to be irritated, and probably I am the one who needs to be medicated.

This is all misdirected anger, I know. This Friday marked the second week of Ray’s matriculation into kindergarten, and although he rarely gives up any information, this past Wednesday while snapping a few Legos together he said something so quietly, in such a whispered tone, that I almost didn’t hear it on my way to the kitchen.  He said, “The music teacher grabbed my arm.”

I walked backwards into the dining room where he was sitting in front of the small hill of Lego pieces and said, as quietly and nonchalantly as I could muster, “I’m sorry?”

It took a while to get the whole story out, mostly because when you ask a small child questions you must use a very open-ended line of interrogation lest you lead the witness.  You can’t say did she yell at you because you were bad, but why did she yell at you, or even better: tell me exactly what happened and I will give you four ice-cream cones before dinner.

Here is what happened.  He was fooling around in music class, trying to impress Armani with silly sounds, when the teacher grabbed his arm and screamed in his face WE DON’T DO THAT IN KINDERGARTEN.

And here’s the part that really killed my head.  “Mama,” said, puffing out his chest proudly, “I felt the tears coming out of my eyes, but then I just put my head down and said don’t cry, don’t cry, and so I didn’t.”

My son doesn’t cry easily.  My daughter, Lucy, will cry if you hug her the wrong way.  But my son?  He watches me cry during Les Miserables as if he’s got some kind of dissociative disease.  He’s practically sociopathic.

Here is the first thing that came into my mind after Ray told me this little story.  And also the second, the third, and the thirty-third.

I am going over to that school and I am going to beat the daylights out of that teacher.  I don’t care what my five-year-old did in there, I don’t care if he set fire to the maracas, you don’t touch my child in anger.  I am going over there and things will happen that cannot be written here and I will probably end up in jail where I will edit my memoirs, the working title of which will be, I Am Going to Kill Her.

Last Thursday night, the eve of my first post about the atrocities of public school, Lynn and I attended Curriculum Night.  We skipped the introductory assembly, where the principal spoke to parents for thirty-five minutes about how wonderful a community we all are, followed by a short presentation by the PTA president who encouraged us all, literally, to save our beer bottles and put them into a receptacle outside the school to raise money because last year there were enough beer bottles to raise a thousand dollars!  We came in at the tail end of this speech and went straight to Ray’s kindergarten class, where we listened to her tell a group of parents that she preferred we not be in the classroom as helpers because it confuses the children as to who is the real mommy in the room.  She spoke about the curriculum and her reward and punishment system, and how safety is the most prominent part of classroom discussions, especially during the first few weeks of school.

Ray did tell me the other day that two children in another kindergarten class were being unsafe with pencils, and the punishment was to sit and face the wall in another kindergarten classroom where you didn’t know the teacher.  And, Ray added, if you were especially bad you had to stand and face the wall, you couldn’t even sit.  I know this is true, by the way, because I casually asked the aide about it the next day, and she proudly concurred that Ray’s account was accurate.  I did not ask her if she knew the year was 2013 and that McCarthy was no longer in office.

Ray’s kindergarten teacher went on for a while, talking about sight words and proficiency report cards, and when the last parent had thanked her for all that she had done in the first eight days of school, Lynn and I stood up to speak with her about his excessive number of Time Outs and what happened in music class.

She was very friendly and straightforward, and we actually appreciated being told that the parents she hates the most are the ones like us, educators and homosexuals.  Just kidding.  She doesn’t care about the homosexual part (I don’t think).  But she made it clear that she doesn’t care for parents who know anything about pedagogy.  This annoys me.  I believe the more sophisticated approach to parental involvement is to use classroom parents to your advantage.  With such a large classroom, a teacher can always use another person to help a wayward child with the glue stick.

I realize she was trying to be funny when she said, “I hate parents like you,”  or better yet, “I don’t do a newsletter because I don’t want parents to know what I’m doing in here,” but I am also of the mind that every joke is your subconscious fighting its way to the truth.  We didn’t think her jokes were funny, even though we pretended to laugh.  Still, we feel his teacher is competent and non-volatile, she is having to deal with an extremely large class, and that for the most part she is doing the best she can with the resources that she has (parent banishing not withstanding).

We asked her how to approach the music teacher, not so much because we didn’t know, but because we were interested in her reaction.  She indicated in so many words that this particular teacher is a screamer.  She also said the first thing she always asks a teacher when she finds out a child has been screamed at or arm-grabbed is to ask: what did he do?

In short, she said it wasn’t a big deal.

I disagree.  I don’t think the first thing you ask is, what did he do.  I think the first thing you ask is, are you a medieval imbecile and if you dare touch my child again or even scream at him would you like me to drive a stake directly through your heart or would you rather I hammer a nail into your eye?

With this lively attitude, we bid our adieus to Ms. Law and went to see the music teacher.

And here, dear readers, is where I will leave off today.  Stay tuned for Public School, Part 3 first thing in your inbox, or on the blog, Thursday morning. 

Part 3


  1. Can’t wait for part 3 – I just hope it doesn’t end in a late-night phone call for bail money…justified as it may be.

  2. I was full of advise after reading part 1. Now I’m at a loss. I have no good advise and can only say that I feel your pain, and understand your anger and your frustration.
    The only additional thing to do would be to go to the principal. I know you talked about not being “that mom” in the last entry, but screw it – so what if you are “that mom”. Doesn’t the squeaky wheel get the grease? Sounds like someone needs to stand up and say – we care, and this isn’t ok. Why not you?

  3. Wendy Lawless says:

    I don’t really have any advice, but I do have a story. Harry went to an Episcopal elementary school, until it stopped working. In fourth grade ( I think ) he began having issues in music class – not liking the songs that were chosen to be sung, having a hard time sitting still etc. The teacher was a very fastidious, tightly wound guy (with no kids) and started to punish him in what I considered to be a very Draconian fashion. Dragging him into the hallway – I actually witnessed one of these incidents, quite by accident, while visiting school one day. Through a gate I was passing, from about eight feet away, I saw Harry against the wall, not crying but clearly distressed, whimpering, afraid and embarrassed with the teacher holding his shoulders against the wall, with his face right up against Harry’s, speaking to him in a kind of low menacing tone. I was so taken aback, shocked that anyone would treat a child (MY child) in this way. I made an appointment to speak with him, during which I explained that I felt his methods of trying to get what he wanted from Harry weren’t going to work, that shaming Harry would only make it worse. I suggested that he use humor, and a lighter touch in general with my son.( It’s fucking music class, right?) He very calmly listened happily, and smiled. He clearly liked Harry, just not the behavior. Soon after, he brought in some crusty sailor drinking songs to sing which the kids loved. Then, bizarrely, he gave me a copy of The Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel. I felt he was suggesting that I had unsound parenting skills, but I said thank you so much. He and Harry patched it up and all was well.
    So I guess I’m saying go talk to the teacher, be careful, be nice, and if it doesn’t work go higher up.

    • I actually agree with this. Your gut reaction is to rush to the superintendent of all 8 elementary schools, and then call the editor of the NY Times. But I don’t think there’s a reason to complain to the principal or any higher-up until you’ve seen the music teacher first, lest you run the risk of the teacher resenting your kid for the rest of the year (and other reasons, too). I know very well how to be a megaphone; it’s the whispering that I find a challenge.

      Thanks for your story about Harry. I think you handled it perfectly, but it’s still very upsetting to read that anyone did that to a child. And it would have taken all that I had to not run up there and start screaming and pinning the teacher to that damn wall. xx ABZ

      • Wendy Lawless says:

        Well, prior experience with cray cray parents taught me to swing low, and tread cautiously! A (completely insane) dad of one of Harry’s friends once threatened to sue me and have us kicked out of school. Another time, a big mean girl took Grace’s glasses off her face in the yard. I must have driven two hundred miles an hour to rip that kid a new one. So, I’ve had my moments.

        • Wendy, what the hell? Why did someone threaten to sue you and why have you not written that story? Write it so I can make a guest poster out of you on my blog. Now! Write! Draft! Edit! Delineate! Detail! ABZ

  4. Matt Wright says:

    Thursday? Thursday! Ugh. This is worse than waiting a week to see if Klinger was going to finally be thrown out of the Army.

    I’m so sorry to hear that Ray is having a rough time. Grabbing and yelling are both bullshit moves, and in my opinion you should report the incident in a more official manner, even if it’s a scheduled meeting with the principal. I agree with Edye, so what if you’re branded “that mom?” There are a lot of “that moms” who have initiated change and exposed larger issues that made a difference. I know it takes balls — er, I mean guts — to walk into the new principal’s office and ask for answers, but hey, it’s public school so they can’t exactly throw you or Ray out!

    Thinking of you guys lots these days — Matt

    • Yeah, I don’t know. My father is a retired elementary school principal, and he seemed to feel that we should see the teacher first, not go straight to the principal. If we go straight to the principal and get the teacher flagged right away (rather than quietly alerting her privately that We Will Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night) you run the risk of him being resented more generally in the classroom. Which is a very hard thing for me to think about. This whole ordeal has been sickening. Thanks for writing in, and I’m sorry I couldn’t post the rest on Tuesday. We don’t have a nanny or anything like that, so my writing time happens in the middle of the night. At the moment they are all sick, so the middle of the night is not mine, either. It’s amazing to think that before I had children my time was all my own, and I still dared to complain that I was busy and never had any space to myself. HA HA xx ABZ

  5. Truly…Rays new school sounds like a school from the 60’s! Sit facing the wall? Sit facing the wall? Grabbed his arm? Crazy! Shocking and so so sad for your little Popsicle. He should be having fun in kindergarten-not being scared.

  6. Margot Vane says:

    I don’t know… You ‘speak to the teacher first’ when your kid doesn’t understand the homework assignment. But when there’s manhandling and screaming aimed at a five-year-old — in essence violence and terror — I’d say that teacher pretty much just forfeited their right to be ‘spoken to first’ by the parents.

    There’s plenty of people I’d like to manhandle and scream at, but they’re adults. And I’m pretty sure that episode would result in Law & Order knocking on my door to present me with a restraining order.

    This isn’t black ops, this is kindergarten. Five-year-olds are supposed to be goofy and make noises. If they didn’t, we’d be having them evaluated to make sure there’s nothing wrong with them. This barbarian, militant style of ‘handling’ children was pretty much pronounced dead with the final episode of Leave It To Beaver. What’s next?! They gonna bring in Dick Cheney to waterboard first-graders for not eating their PBJ crusts?! This is not conducive to learning, learning how to learn, or enjoying learning. These are draconian methods designed to inspire fear and obedience. I don’t want to see Ray (or any child!) afraid, excessively polite or deferential.

    Twenty bucks says the teacher’s response would be in the form of a recommendation that you consider ‘medicating’ your child to curb and suppress his exuberant childlike tendencies — how do you think 80% of tiny kids end up with prescriptions in their school bags? And another twenty bucks says the principal ain’t gonna be too far behind in supporting that recommendation…

    So, go be ‘that mom’ with all your might. Please don’t resort to poking the teacher in the eye as that’ll only invite L&O to your doorstep — thus making you the villain and taking the focus off of the real crime at hand. And do file an official complaint with someone in authority as that kind of behavior just isn’t ok. How much effort does it take to intimidate a five-year-old using big hands and a big mouth? None. They’re tiny humans with tiny hands and tiny voices — it’s easy-peasy. Any-freagin-body can do it. Take this bitch down in a formal and official manner. We’ll see how well she’ll manhandle and scream her way out of that pickle…

    • Margot Vane says:

      Also: you raise your voice at your employer or coworker in the workplace, you get reprimanded, suspended or fired; you scream at a salesperson, you’re denied service and asked to leave the store; you shout at a customer service rep, they hang up on you; you intimidate the flight crew on an aircraft with your big voice, they’re landing that plane at the nearest airport, calling in the marshals and the FBI and having you removed from the flight. But it’s ok to behave that way with a tiny human… thus teaching them that it’s ok to behave hat way.

  7. Kristine Polisciano Gonzalez says:

    What she did was illegal and immoral and she must be sanctioned write a letter and send it to everyone from the commissioner on down. She must not be allowed to keep her license. If you don’t do it she will continue to traumatized children for the rest of her career. I am not kidding.

    Then get her address and I’ll call uncle Vito.

    • Matt Wright says:

      I hate to argue with you, Amy, but I agree with Kristine. I think the whole “chain of command” concept is crap. I can understand not wanting to go to the principal because your kid isn’t eating his PBJ crusts despite your asking the teacher’s aide, but this is different. If this music teacher has been there for years, I’m sure somebody has spoken to her already. I’m sure she has a set of stock answers to calm the parent down, and then she just doesn’t grab THEIR kid again. If everyone knows the teacher is borderline abusive and it’s continuing, it’s time to involve somebody who can’t brush it off. I’m afraid the advice that you always speak to the teacher first is given with self-preservation in mind, not the welfare of the kids and the reputation of the school as a whole.

    • Wow. Real vitriol here. Like this isn’t something you haven’t seen pretty often in your 20+ years? I’ll be interested to hear your response to Part 3, which should be published after the weekend. Apparently it wasn’t fit for print. Yet. xx ABZ

  8. Wow! I am horrified and so very, very sorry that you’re dealing with this! You are completely right that none of this is okay.

    You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. I understand not wanting to be “that parent” because it can make things harder for your child (and his siblings, when they go to school as well.) Then again, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    I think that you are handling this terrible situation admirably. No matter how much you’re boiling inside, you’ve given real thought to your actions and are controlling yourself far better than I would be able to manage.

    Heck, I homeschool my kids, in (small) part because I don’t think I could deal with this sort of thing! So kudos to you for fighting the good fight – that takes courage and fortitude.

    I look forward, with trepidation, to reading more of your experience and I wish you the best of luck.

Something to say?