Q. Nursery school was a happy experience for my son, but he is now in kindergarten at the same small school and things aren’t going so well.
The teacher says that he has unprovoked bursts of anger — a complaint that confounded us. Our son has never acted this way at home and he didn’t act like that when he was in nursery school.
After much prodding, our son finally told us that he gets mad when his teacher picks on some kids more than others and when she jokes about the kids in his class in ways that aren’t so nice. When we asked him for an example he said that his teacher saw a child picking his nose and she said, “Tommy picks his nose! Everyone do ‘the Tommy,’” and she pretended to pick her own nose. Although our son said that she was just trying to be funny, it makes him angry when she acts like that and then he “blows up like a blowfish.”
These reports have upset us a lot but we don’t know what our next step should be. Of course, we assured our son that he was right to be bothered when the teacher played favorites, and especially when she made fun of a classmate, but we can’t ask that he be moved to another classroom because the school has only one kindergarten and we don’t want to complain because the teacher might start bullying our son. We decided not to put him into therapy, even though it might help him deal with his teacher’s behavior, but how should we proceed?
A. You must be so proud of your son both for his empathy and his maturity — and so very annoyed with his teacher.
It’s particularly important for you to tell the administrators what your son has told you because they have the right to know what’s going on and the children have the right to be defended, especially your son. Your support will give him the stuffing he needs to take on any bullies he’ll meet in life, whether the bully is a classmate, a teacher or even a boss.
Your son’s teacher deserves as much sympathy as you can spare, however, particularly if she’s new at the game, because teaching is one of the most demanding, most important and most poorly paid professions in the country and one of the most poorly mentored, too. Colleges give their future teachers a wealth of abstract information, but once they’re certified, these newbies are often left to sink or swim on their own, even the ones who are in Teach for America. Unfortunately, this causes many young teachers to quit before they’ve really learned their trade.
If your son’s teacher is a new one, ask the administrators to observe her more often, to guide her through the thickets of child development and to teach her that encouragement, not derision, brings out the best in children whether they are at school or at home. This teacher also needs to know that she should talk with the children, not at them; she should explain what she is doing and why and she should also ask them what they think about absolutely anything, because these are respectful approaches. The respect a child gets — or doesn’t get — will decide what kind of person he will grow up to be.
She should also be taught to break every lesson into manageable steps; to introduce new ideas and new words as fast as the children have mastered the old ones. She should talk slowly, and then stay quiet, like Mr. Rogers, so they will remember what she has said, instead of moving quickly from one thought to the next, like the characters in “Sesame Street.” Above all, she should never, ever make fun of her students or turn any of them into teacher’s pets or teacher’s targets.
If the principal promises to help this teacher grow — and if she lives up to her promise — you’ll want your son to go back to this school next year and you’ll definitely want to give copies of “Everything a New Elementary School Teacher Really Needs to Know” by Otis Kriegel (Free Spirit; $16) to the teacher and leave another copy in the teacher’s lounge for her colleagues. This brand new book offers real-life solutions that can help experienced teachers almost as much as it can help the new teachers.
If the principal says that she has no time to teach her teachers, however, you should look for a new school. A principal who won’t fix one problem probably won’t fix the next one. Your son deserves better than that.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.