This is a guest post by Melissa Alexander-Flanagan:
"When we take our children to preschool, we want to believe they are safe. Most of us have researched these places ahead of time. We make visits, we talk to teachers, and most of all we try to stay involved. These actions keep us in the loop and reassure us our child is safe—or at least so we hope.
It is no secret among my acquaintances that my son, Asher, has had a tough year. Moving from the Montessori school where he started when we made our way to Texas into the Spanish immersion school he now attends seemed like a great idea. Asher had not been doing well at his old Montessori school.
In fact, every day when I went to pick him up, I was told “he had a bad day.” At the time, I was quite sure he was just too busy and active for them and needed something else.
The Spanish immersion preschool he goes to now seemed like our dream come true. It is located just a block from where I teach, and after touring the school, I absolutely loved the staff.
But a month or so into the fall semester, it was clear Asher was again struggling. I do not want to be the parent that refuses to admit there might be a problem with my child. But since he is my only child, I also have no one to compare him to.
Finally, after months of the school trying different things, and me having to come get him for acting out, and all of my strategies failing, I took Asher to a play therapist. And it worked wonders--literally. If only I had done it sooner.
After just a few sessions with the therapist he showed dramatic improvement! The therapist discovered quickly that he struggles with severe anxiety. I knew he had some issues given some of his habits, but I had no idea how serious it was.
Asher was adopted at birth and my ex-husband and I split when he was just over a year old—when he was still forming attachments. The divorce was long and bitter and our co-parenting relationship is, at best, difficult.
And it was obvious that no matter how hard I tried to shield him from the conflict, he was affected by it. But play therapy was healing him and he was gaining coping skills. I was thrilled.
Then suddenly, about two weeks ago: massive regression. When I say massive, I mean massive. My sweet boy who has been potty trained for a year and a half is suddenly wetting his pants three times a day at school. He is biting, scratching, and hitting. He is saying things like “Mommy, I don’t want school” and “I don’t like the bad teacher. “ When I asked who the bad teacher was, he named her without hesitation.
As a mother, a teacher, and someone with a degree in psychology, the hairs and the back of my neck immediately stood up and my mind went to the worst possible scenario. If someone is hurting my child, I thought…
I called his therapist and we agreed that because there had been no changes at home and his therapy was indicating that home was his “safe place,” then the problem must be at school.
I approached the director and she was helpful, but dismissive. Then, more things came to light. After receiving another call to go pick him up for acting out, I started investigating.
I talked to some other parents and teachers and it turns out, the problem was not isolated. Then something amazing happened--the other teacher in the room called me. That brave woman called me and told me everything. Not only was the suspected teacher being verbally abusive, but she was being physically aggressive with my child, as well. My little boy—just three years old and already struggling with anxiety—was being bullied by his preschool teacher.
She yelled at him and told him he was bad. She grabbed him by the face and pushed him down. She pinched him. Oh yes, she did these things—and she did them right under my nose. The guilt mounted and I was overcome with anger.
Fighting every urge in me to go to the school and drag her out by her hair, I instead called a meeting with the director and both teachers. The honest teacher who had called me was willing to testify to her fellow teacher’s abusive behavior in front of the director.
So, we had our meeting, and I confronted this monster and made her tell the truth. With the director there and the other teacher in the classroom present, she couldn’t lie and I wasn’t going to let her. It took every ounce of self-control I had not to slap her. But I knew I had to rise above, not only for my son, but for the other children in that school.
“Just imagine--,”I told the director, “just imagine what we don’t know. This is what this woman does in front of other people. What does she do when their heads are turned?”
They fired her on the spot and, after making a call to the state and CPS, I spent the afternoon trying to figure out where my son will go to school next. I am so torn. He has established friendships there and I am so worried it will send his anxiety spiking, but how can I keep my son at a school where he was being bullied by a teacher? Why didn’t anyone know? Why had it not been reported? What do I do?
The answers I am left with are the same ones I came to terms with when I, myself, was bullied in middle school: people are afraid. They are afraid to stand up. They are afraid they will be blamed. People let their fear silence them, and as a result, other people often end up hurt--sometimes they even end up dead.
This time, it was my innocent toddler—just three years old and still too young to even really articulate what was going on. She preyed on him because he couldn’t defend himself. This is what bullies do. They bully to feel powerful and strong. They do this when they are children and then, if something isn’t done, they grow up and do it as adults.
Luckily, I caught it. Luckily I was paying attention. Had I not, the consequences for my son could have been devastating. And so, to each of you today, I ask one thing, don’t be afraid to stand up. Don’t be afraid to step in. As my dad used to say, “It is never wrong to tell the truth.” It might be hard sometimes, but it is never wrong."
-Guest Post by Melissa Alexander-Flanagan