The 'Problem Child' and Me

"Your child shows signs of attention seeking behavior."

I'll never forget those words.  Two months into the school year, my husband and I were seated none to comfortably at a kiddy-sized table, looking none to dignified and likely quite stunned.  I was mortified.  We faced our daughter's 2nd grade teacher as professionally and stoically as we could (given that our knees were bent at chin height  seated in teeny-tiny Crayola-themed 2nd grader chairs).

No words have ever instilled such despondency in this mother's heart.  But we sat silently and nodded numbly through the entire first-term parent-teacher meeting, waiting for the good part.  "She's an avid reader", "She socializes well", "She's creative".  It never came.  Apparently delivery of the sandwich feedback technique would not suffice for us to grasp the breadth of our daughter's shortcomings.

"She's easily distracted."  "She doesn't complete tasks on time; she can't focus."  "She lacks independence."  "She can't commit her ideas to paper."  "She lacks responsibility."  

We were utterly speechless.  Dejected.  Speechless.  Sad.  Speechless.  Powerless. Speechless.

Like most parents, my hubby and I are always a bit anxious to head to parent-teacher meetings.  But the Pre-K interview, our induction to the parent-teacher angst ritual, proved to be painless and really quite enjoyable.  It set the tone for the next two years.

Pre-K, Kindergarten, Grade 1 ... the homeroom teachers described to us a happy, outgoing little student with a sunny disposition, an eagerness to learn, and a motivation to share and help her classmates.  No academic issues, actually some really strong suits, but a tendency to dawdle.  We would have to work on helping her focus a little more in an effort to finish her assignments on time.   

Precious cotton ball and macaroni art, painstakingly written tales of heartache at not owning a puppy, a silly putty volcano model; these became our rewards for attending  parent-teacher night.  

Sitting with nurturing, positive, motivating educators who assured us that she was right where she needed to be academically and socially.  We always went with an objective mind, ready to take the bad with the good.  And they always gave us just enough of each to make a positive difference.

Every morning she would leap out of bed, excited about the school day, about the wonder that it held, about the hugs from her teachers, and about her classmates.

Fast forward to two nights ago, when our "happy, sunny, eager, motivated" kiddo told me she thought she would be too sick to go to school on Sunday (the school week runs Sunday - Thursday in Qatar).  She tells me she thinks her teacher and teacher's assistant don't like her.  She tells me that she wishes they would use their "nice" strict voice with her, like they do with the "really nice" kids in her class.  ????  

This has been stewing for a while.  She's telling me nothing I haven't already felt.  My husband is livid.  The main reason we chose not to leave Qatar last year was because our daughter loved her school so much.  

And even though we knew things would be different from the first day we dropped her off at school this year, we thought that would be a good thing; we were determined to remain objective.

Even when we saw her teacher standing arms crossed at the classroom door, turning kids away before even greeting them, telling them to put their bags in their cubbies before coming into class.  No "hello", no "welcome to second grade", no "what's your name", no warm and fuzzies.  We took it all in, a bit sadly, but thinking the no-nonsense approach might actually be a good thing, might help kiddo mature, might provide her with a solid foundation to prepare her for the 'real world'.  Our little girl was finally growing up.

We continued to take the objective stance after the parent-teacher meeting.  We told ourselves that this was just this teacher's 'way'.  After all, we could't discount what she'd said; we consider ourselves mature enough to take the bad with the good.  Even though we both walked away with the sense that the teacher simply did not like our child.  Even though we felt like we'd just been put firmly in our place.  We told ourselves we would use the opportunity to help her improve on her weaker points; at least we could focus our efforts.  We told ourselves that even though the delivery was poor, the message could still be useful.

Her report card a month later was no better.  While her marks remained strong and all her 'extras' teachers had positive and constructive comments, her homeroom teacher's comments read something the lines of "if she applies herself, she might have the potential to become a good student".  It took everything to hold my husband back at that point.  I am ashamed to say that even then I asked him to keep it in check, to suppress his instincts.  

How could it be, he asked me, that a child who has repeatedly gotten praise for her compassion, her interest, her respect, her work, her efforts, had all of a sudden become such an utter "problem" child.    

It's been five long months, filled with small and frequent examples of demotivating comments and actions.  "The teacher didn't let me go to the bathroom."  "The teacher rolled her eyes at me when I told her it wasn't my fault." "The teacher took away free time for the whole class because I wasn't done picking up my table."  Small examples of humiliation that never quite sat right.  Still, we remained objective.  

But our daughter's comments two nights ago were the final straw.  We miss the bounce in her step.  We miss her enchantment at learning something new.  We miss her anticipation of each school day.  We miss being able to tell her everything is going to be ok.  Something is not ok.  And that's not ok with us.

So we've scheduled a meeting with the school counsellor.  We can't stand back and see her spirit crushed.  We can't stand silent while someone chips mercilessly at her larger-than-life personality.  We can't let one bad teacher (yes, I actually wrote that) destroy our daughter's faith in all the great educators this world has to offer (subject of a future post).  We've had enough.  We're not objective anymore.

How did it come to this?