I walked into the school cafeteria, my third grade daughter clutching my hand nervously. My toddler dawdled behind with my husband, who had taken off work to be here with us. I was so grateful for his presence; he always offsets the anxiety and emotionality that pours off both me and my oldest child. Before we’d left the house that morning,my daughter had repeated as a mantra, “I can’t have Mrs. Johnson. I can’t have Mrs. Johnson.”
“Honey, that’s not a great way to start out Meet Your Teacher day. What if it turns out you do have Mrs. Johnson?” I gently coached her. I was certain we would have Mr. Paxton, just as I suspected my daughter and her best friend would be in the same class. It helps to know people who have connections to the teachers.
We stood in front of the registration desk, and I gave the women seated there my daughter’s name, spelling it slowly. She ran her finger down the list of students and then looked up.
“Mrs. Johnson.” she said.
I squeezed my daughter’s hand. “It’s going to be all right,” I murmured, as she began to quietly cry. As we walked out of the cafeteria, her sobs escalated. “I can’t go in there. I don’t want to go in there.”
I crouched down on the floor by the doorway, ignoring families who walked past us with curious expressions. Hugging her tightly, I said, “We can stay here for a minute. Let’s get ourselves together. I promise- it’s going to be OK.”
“Amelia will have Mr. Paxton or Mrs. Miller– I just know it. She told me her mom talked to the teachers!”
“It doesn’t work that way, honey,” I told her quietly, ignoring my suspicion that I was speaking with a forked tongue. “Maybe she’ll be in your class.”
“Mrs. Johnson is mean!” she announced vehemently through her tears. “She’s strict and she hits kids with rulers.”
“Honey, that’s illegal. Kids spread rumors– we have no idea what she’s like. We’ve never met her.”
We made our way through the hallway, my daughter sniffling next to me. We passed other parents and children we knew, calling out our teacher’s names to one another. “Paxon!” one mom replied, “Miller for us,” said another. Our morale was dampening further by the minute. As we approached the door to Mrs. Johnson’s classroom, my daughter panicked. “I can’t go in.” she said, and sat down in a chair outside the door.
Setting my jaw, I walked into the classroom alone, leaving my family in the hallway. I desperately scanned the desks for Amelia’s name, or any other familiar friends. Instead, I spotted the name of a kindergarten classmate who had been cruel to my child, who went so far as to lie to the teacher and falsely report that my daughter hit her. A five year old child. She later confessed that she’d made it up. Mercifully, the girls hadn’t been in the same class since then, and I knew her presence would only hurt our case for keeping a positive attitude.
There was no Amelia. In fact, there were only two girls with whom my daughter was friendly in second grade.
It’s fine, I told myself. We’ll start over. This will be good for us.
Us. Because, really, this was all about me, too. My daughter’s sensitivity. My sensitivity. Her anxiety. My anxiety. It was all connected in a hopelessly entangled web of projection, transference, and perhaps the sound of a helicopter (parent) coming in for a landing.
I prided myself on my ability to keep it together as my daughter sniffled and sobbed her way through the disappointing day of meet and greet. As we exited the building, I repeated over and over, “It wasn’t what we expected. It wasn’t what we hoped for, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be great.”
I reminded her that we needed to give her new teacher a chance. If it turned out she really was mean, we’d deal with it. We can’t always have the teacher we’re hoping for. We have to be flexible. We have to keep our spirits up, our attitudes positive. And other vexing truisms that made me want to punch myself in the face.
Because, really, I was pissed. Every May on the “tell us about your child” placement form that parents fill out to assist with class assignment for upcoming year, I write something like this.
My daughter is very sensitive and often anxious. She benefits from teachers who are consistently calm and nurturing.
We have always been placed with the perfect teacher. Until this year. I suspected that although no rulers were being brought down upon tiny knuckles, my daughter’s classmates had been right– this is the strict teacher, the hard-ass, the not-so-warm-and-fluffy one. And we have to deal with it.
Perhaps time will prove us wrong, and we’ll realize that Mrs. Johnson’s class was the perfect place for my daughter, that there are valuable lessons to be learned here. Perhaps new blossoming friendships will make the disappointment worth it. Perhaps it will be character-building.
But I would be remiss, not to mention naïve, if I didn’t acknowledge the distinct possibility that perhaps it’s actually going to suck ass.
I can’t predict the future. But today, my daughter’s heart is breaking. And as a result, so is mine.
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That must have been so hard! I remember having a teacher who had a bad reputation once, and I ended up loving her because I was pretty well behaved and as long as you were behaved, it was fine. I actually liked that she had such control over the class because it made it a peaceful environment vs. nicer teachers who may not have as much control. It meant more to win her over too. I hope it works out well for her!!! I will be awaiting a post about it.
I am often astonished at how well you seem to speak from my life. My daughter is only starting K this year, but that is what I would write about her to the school, too. And this is exactly how I would feel following the meet and greet.
You deserve congratulations on how well you held it together and kept our own emotions in check for the sake of your daughter. My daugher and I have that same ability to feed off each other’s anxiety, and it is so counterproductive.
I will keep you two in mind and hope for “great” instead of “suck ass.”
Oh bless your heart mama!! And your poor daughter’s!! What a horrible way to start the school year off! I am a big fan of teaching my daughter that things truly do happen for a reason…
Maybe there is a new friend in that class that will be THE best friend of her lifetime? maybe Mrs Johnson has something very important to impart on your sweetie pie that she will never ever forget- that’s BEAUTIFUL. Maybe- just maybe, this will create a purpose in developing such coping skills for those hard places in life where muscling through and digging for strength to excel, succeed, and endure through this training ground in third grade.
And even better? Maybe this will be a foundation for how she trusts her mama through the tough times… or realizes her family support… or discovers a courage she didn’t know she had.
I could go on and on…
Hold on mom. I know- it’s so so hard.
What a tough day, but kudos to you for keeping it together for your daughter, even when you were broiling inside. And maybe, as Chris says, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what the year in Mrs. Johnson’s class brings. I, too, will be hoping for something better than “suck ass.”
I’m sorry it was such a rough meet and greet. What was your impression upon meeting the teacher? Sometimes, a strict teacher can be a blessing, especially in the 3rd grade – that’s when things get a little more serious. In my experience, I honestly believe that the schools try to match the students with the right teachers. I have four kids – and that works out to 25 school years (so far:) and we’ve only encountered one bad teacher. Try to have faith. I would talk to the teacher privately (and an administrator) and stress your concerns. I would also inform them of the past history with that one little stinker, so they can be prepared. You daughter sounds very sweet, and I’m sure the teacher will love her. Oh, and also ask her teacher form last year to speak with the new teacher. I do that with my son who is a bit sensitive, and it helps coming form another teacher!.
Oh gosh, my heart hurts reading this, in part because I see so much of myself and my daughter in you and yours! The whole teacher thing kills me, it was hard when we were kids and perhaps harder still now. My fingers are crossed for you both that this year does not suck ass (loved that line and the honesty behind it) and that Mrs. Johnson and your daughter’s future classmates defy expectations – in a good way!
It must have been so hard to leave her!! I remember desperately not wanting Mrs. Elton for fourth grade. And. low and behold, that is who I got. As it turned out she was much nicer than I thought she would be and 4th grade was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Plus, the teacher I really wanted ended up having a baby and leaving a few months into the year. This experience taught me an important lesson, we never really know what a situation will be like until we are in it. I have shared this story with my own kids whenever they have gotten a teacher that they didn’t want and for the most part it’s worked out well. I love that you let her know that if it was really bad you will deal with it. That is exactly what I told my son and I was so glad when he came to me and we figured out solutions! Wishing her a great year!
I really admire how you handled this, because I know my heart would have been breaking too – who’s wouldn’t, right? I will tell you a quick story of how my son had the “mean teacher” and it was also when he was in 3rd grade. We heard the same things: strict, mean, rigid, etc. My son also tends to become anxious and this teacher was also known for instituting group snack, which meant that each family would be assigned a week on a rotating basis of bringing in snack for the whole class and it had to be healthy stuff on the teacher’s “approved list.” My son is the world’s pickiest eater and this caused a lot of anxiety for him in the beginning because he pretty much hated everything on the list. I even had a phone call with the teacher about it at the beginning of the school year and she basically told me “too bad” he has to deal with it. And how did his year go? Well, he actually did quite well in her class. The snack thing was rough at first, but then…he started to try (and like!) new foods. At the end of the year, he acknowledged that she was strict and sometimes mean, but I could tell he also felt proud of the fact that he survived…and even thrived, in her classroom. I remember being dumbfounded that the school initially placed him in that class, but sometimes what seems like a terrible match of teacher-student can end up being okay. I hope that is the case for your daughter…please keep us posted!
Oh Stephanie. We are living parallel lives I swear. When we saw the list for 3rd grade over at our place, my girl cried too. ALL her friends ended up together in a different class. I tried so hard not to cry myself too. Hope you guys can have a good school year!
Well that sucks!
I hope Mrs Johnson turns out to be nice. It can be rough but also lessons are learned and we deal with what we get. She’ll be ok, so will you 😉
Oh, this is so hard, and I have two totally different reactions to it, one as a teacher, and one as a parent. As a parent, I know how hard it is when our children are sad and scared and anxious. I think all the ‘truisms’ you told her are right — she doesn’t know what it will be like, she needs to keep an open mind about it…. even though we know it may not be the best year for her.
As a teacher, I know that 1) kids exaggerate. At curriculum night, parents come up to me to learn about my class and say things like, “I heard this class has 70 pages of reading a night.” (um, no). “I heard no one ever gets an A.” (um, no, usually 30-40% of them do). Or think of when kids say “she totally yelled at me” and that really means “she actually said it in a normal voice but it was something that I didn’t want to hear.” I also know that 2) teaching and learning is a lot about personality and fit. The teacher review sites that I know I shouldn’t read but I do anyway say things like, “If you get Rudell for this class, switch to xxxx’s class!” and then the next one says, “If you get xxxxx for this class, switch to Rudell!!!” So maybe if some kids had a bad experience, it doesn’t mean they all do. I bet there are kids out there who loved her. At least one?
Hugs to you and your daughter and I hope she has a good start to the school year.
And mine too. I completely relate. It felt a little bit like trying this scenario on for size on our family unit. Ben and I are emotional and anxious. My husband’s presence always balances us off. I would have reacted the exact same way you did. I’m proud of you for keeping your calm, at least externally for Izzy. It sounds like you said all the right things and I agree with your statements on how this could all turn out to be a valuable experience for her, yet it’s so so hard to watch your child in that state. Big hugs to you!
p.s. how was her second day?
Oh Steph – I so so hope that it doesn’t suck ass. I guess it’s not easy to switch teachers?? Sigh. That really is a bummer that she isn’t in the same classroom as her friend but maybe (trying to stay positive) she’ll make more friends? Sorry – I kinda wanted to punch myself in the face just now, too, so likely not helpful at all. I really do hope that it’s much better than expected though. Truly. sigh. Hugs, mama.
We haven’t met Tucker’s kindergarten teacher yet, but he’s been promised a tour of the class and school and a meet and greet when nobody else is there (which BETTER happen).
—–I loved this piece.
I work for the school district & usually, especially for Kindergarten, they allow you to pick the teacher who would be best for your child.
Did you ask if you can switch?
If this teacher is a bad ass, um, I’m wondering why she is teaching the younger students. Bad asses are for Middle School/ High School!
If you don’t like her, you must switch. This is your option.
either that, or kick some ass!
I’m reading this late so I hope a silver lining has appeared…? I remember this age well and all my anxiety. I had my mother come to school every day and change my seat because I didn’t like where I was! And I remember being told the teacher would tie me up and leave me in the basement. Such anxiety! I think you have the right attitude. Hang in there.
That’s tough, I hope the teacher’s not bad. As a parent, it can be so hard to deal with children’s anxieties, especially when we have a niggling feeling they might be natural. Hope your daughter’s doing well in school.
So how did it go? My mom taught fourth grade for years and her technique was to absolutely strict the first quarter. Once the class knew the rules, she eased up. She knew that if she let the kids walk all over her nothing was going happen. (Like mamma, if the teacher isn’t happy, nobody is happy.) Most kids loved her–she’d have students recognized her as grown up and say she was her favorite.
Also, no one bugged me. They knew who my mom was and was afraid she’d send them to the principal if they harassed me. We had kindergarten to high school on the same campus…and yes, she once got a high school football coach in trouble for cussing in front of me and other students. 😉
You guys remind me of me and my oldest daughter. How is the school year going for her? I’m sitting here worrying about her because I don’t think we’d do that well in this situation.
Aww. First days are always hard. It’s even hard for grownups! I hope she has settled nicely by now.