By Tiffany Duncan
Christmas party from hell
The last day of school for Andrew was the day of the Christmas party, with many parents present. It was an eye-opening, if dreadfully unpleasant, experience. Up until that time my unhappiness was with the teachers. While I had some misgivings about some parents I did not suspect anything.
At that point many of the parents—new ones, or those, like myself, outside of the gossip loop—did not know that Andrew was not coming back after the break. All was normal with them. Of the parents who had heard, many were concerned and were quite supportive and friendly. But, to my great surprise, there were a number of parents who pointedly avoided me. People I was in the habit of greeting pleasantly twice a day for the last year and a half would not even make eye contact with me. That’s when I started to get the feeling that perhaps there was more to the story than met the eye.
During the party, I, like most other parents, sat on the periphery of the classroom. The children sat at their desks in the middle of the room. Here and there some parent sat with a younger kid. Neil, flanked by both his parents, sat two rows in front of Andrew who was in the back. Andrew, for whom there had been a “closure” ceremony at circle time earlier, was well aware that he would not be going to school with, or even seeing, Neil any more. He so wanted to be with him that day. He kept calling out his name, trying to get his attention. Neil’s parents sat on little chairs with their backs unyieldingly turned to Andrew, blocking Neil’s view and movements. When a couple of upper-class kids came in dressed as elves and distributed tangerines, they by chance missed Neil. Andrew yelled out loud above the Christmas music and the chatter: “You forgot Neil.” Everyone turned back, smiling, to see where this comradely outburst had come from. Neil’s parents did not budge.
It might have been my imagination, but I think the teachers were making more of an effort than usual to be lively and playful that day. I think the children were allowed to sing their songs in louder voices than the customary hushed tones. But at that point all I wanted was to get my son and myself away from a hostile environment.
So what in the world was going on…?
The truth is that we still don’t know what exactly was going on. We’re also resigned to the fact that we’ll never know. Perhaps the only people who know are the teachers and the principal, and it certainly is not in their interest to talk. Telling the truth about what really happened would only incriminate them. In fact, as I mentioned to the principal, I was worried about repercussions to the preschool teacher who had inadvertently given us some information.
We never had a discussion with the teachers. We had seen and heard enough to know that an honest discussion would not be possible. The more we looked at the situation the more we saw that to protect themselves the teachers had no choice but to give excuses for their strangely unprofessional behavior. We also knew that when push came to shove they would not hesitate to blame and label Andrew some more. Frankly, at that point both my husband and I felt that if anybody said another bad thing about our kid we would commit a capital crime. Our tolerance for blather was also an all-time low.
The only speculation I would venture now is that the teachers did indeed want to nip certain behaviors in the bud in Andrew’s group. They had had a hard time with the older group of boys and did not want another group of rambunctious boys coming up. Perhaps they were trying to make an example of Andrew (and possibly Thomas and Miles). Sensing this punitive attitude of the teachers, some mothers had stepped in to push the situation to extremes that would result in the expulsion of the kids to whom they had taken a dislike.
At any rate, for whatever reason, the teachers and the principal seemed to have lost control of the classroom. I don’t know what went wrong for whom, how, or when. All I know is that things do not go so wrong in a classroom unless there are some fundamental problems with the school. I also know that there is nothing wrong with any of the children in classroom Q. To place blame on children is the height of professional ineptitude.
The price our son has paid for this ineptitude, however, is still a source of anger and sadness for us. As Andrew shares more details of how he was treated we try to explain to him that that is not the way teachers should behave. When he hears us talking about finding a new school he sometimes gets a guilty look on his face like he has somehow let us down. We have to keep reassuring him that even if he sometimes did the wrong things at Hillside it was not he who has made us upset and angry.
What is particularly heartbreaking is the sadness that overcomes Andrew when he is reminded of Hillside. Children form strong attachments. He misses the songs they sang, the playground he had made his own, eating lunch with his class. He mostly of course misses his friends. We cannot arrange play dates with everyone—and Neil, of course, is beyond reach. It is very troubling for us to watch the shadow of questions on his face that he cannot articulate. He cannot quite understand why he was the one to have to leave the school. He never asks why he is not to see Neil again. Listening to us tell him that he did nothing wrong, I can see on his face a question for which I have no answer: “So if there was nothing wrong with the way I was, then why was I the one who ended up being punished?”