By Tiffany Duncan
The nagging unhappiness of the second year
OK, so the first year was not ideal. For summer school we put Andrew back in the preschool where he went as a three year old, because it was more fun and we liked it more. I was also hoping that being away from his new friends and teachers he might miss them and be happier when Hillside started again. And he was. He started the new school year with excitement to see his teachers even more than his friends.
But the second year was not turning out any better than the first. It was even more of a struggle to get him to go to school in the mornings. “I don’t want to go to school,” and later, “I don’t like the teachers,” was routine. Again, he said that it was boring. This time, I thought about it. I had noticed during an observation day the previous year that one very bright girl, also a four year old in the three-year old group, having missed the birthday deadline by days, often sat quietly at her desk with nothing to do. She simply looked bored. By the end of the year her parents took her out of the school to start kindergarten elsewhere—at Hillside she would have had another year of preschool like Andrew.
During the summer at the old preschool the head teacher told me that Andrew often sat quietly singing to himself and reading a book. “And sometimes he spends quite a bit of time looking up a favorite topic—sharks, right now—in different books. That’s the beginning of research!” she said with a laugh. We both found it interesting that the high energy and rambunctious little boy was exploring other interests on his own. Mostly, I felt that the teacher took pleasure in watching the directions in which the children at her school grew. It was quite apparent that she and her staff paid attention to the kids individually. Lo and behold, maybe they even enjoyed the differences!
I kept suppressing making comparisons between big beautiful Hillside and this unassuming little preschool. “If only we last through preschool and kindergarten then everything will be fine, ” I kept hoping. After all, I had heard the Hillside preschool described as a necessary evil to go through to get to the elementary school. I had taken the chance.
“The teachers are not happy to see me.”
The second year started with Andrew excited to see his teachers and ended with pointing to their picture on the wall, pale and trembling, saying: “I hate the teachers—all of them…” In a calmer moment the next day he said: “In the mornings I’m happy to see the teachers and I say hello but they’re not happy to see me.”
Again I knew exactly what he was talking about. I myself had cringed at the way the teachers greeted his enthusiasm in the mornings. His excited, happy hellos were almost always greeted with a reprimand: “Good morning, Andrew. Stop running…” “Hello. Put that away…”
I witnessed an unfeeling and gratuitously oppressive exchange one day that made me feel utterly miserable and worthless for putting my son in the care of those teachers. Andrew was wearing new sunglasses about which he was very excited.
“Hey, Judy, do you recognize me…?” he approached a teacher with a mischievous smile.
“That’s nice, Andrew. Now take them off and put them in your cubby.”
“Can I show it to my friends? Maybe they won’t recognize me,” he beseeched still smiling.
“I told you to put them away.”
Deeply disappointed Andrew handed me the glasses to take home. But the bucket of cold water on the poor child’s head had not even been enough. The teacher seemed not to have made some point forcefully enough: “I told you to put them in your cubby, Andrew, not to hand them to your mother,” she said.
The previous year I had tried my utmost to make some kind of warm human contact with the teachers, to no avail. In fact, they seemed pretty good at not allowing any connection to take hold. No comment, no discussion, no joke was acknowledged except with a perfunctory smile and change of subject. I wondered whether I made any sense to them at all.
Developing a relationship with teachers continued to stall in the second year. One morning, trying to entice Andrew to go to school, I said that it would be more fun to go to school and play with his friends and teachers than stay at home. He said, “Teachers don’t play with you. They just tell you what to do.” What about the friends? “Teachers don’t let me play with my friends when I want to. They are always saying do this, do that...” Another time: “The teachers don’t let me have any time to myself.” (This is time that perhaps the teacher at the little preschool would have looked at as opportunity for research!)
Not surprisingly Andrew started becoming defiant with the teachers, which did not endear him to them. One afternoon, in the bustle of pickup time, one of the teachers had a quick talk with me about him refusing to do his “work.” Andrew, who had his ears perked up while hanging around with his friends, turned to us and putting his arm around me looked straight into his teacher’s face. “You know why I don’t do what you tell me to do?” he asked her. Then he almost shouted: “Because it’s boring.” Then he ran off not to hear what we might say to him. (I learned later that this was called a “listening problem.” I myself call it proper avoidance of teacher reprimand and more parental inanity.)