An open letter to the 2nd grade teacher who thought she could bully my son and get away with it.

September 3, 2013

Dear Lynn,

I see from Facebook that you are now married. Congratulations.

However, that’s not the reason I’m writing this. I’m writing you because of my son. Do you remember him?

School year 2009/2010. Blonde hair, difficulty reading body language, killer green eyes, poor social skills, and a heart of gold. He was in your 2nd grade class the year his father and I were going through our divorce proceedings. You and I even spoke about it several times.

To recap, second grade is basically the year that Z’s life imploded, along with his older sister’s. First of all, his dad and I went through a heart-breakingly ugly divorce. Then Ira ended up in rehab for substance abuse. Taking the kids to visit him in treatment every weekend was hard on all of us. It humiliated Ira, confused and frightened our children, and saddened me greatly.  But somehow, we all made it through.  Ira successfully completed treatment, and the kids had SO MUCH FAITH in him! And, as for myself?  For the first time in a long time, I had HOPE. Hope that he would finally be the father my children so richly deserved.

But then, as if to top off Z’s Very, Very, Very Bad Year, Ira died unexpectedly that Spring. I kept the kids home all week, and you thoughtfully had all of his classmates make him condolence cards. We still have them, and we will always treasure the compassion, love, and heartfelt sorrow he felt from his classmates the day he opened and read each one in turn. I remember that you even bought Z a gift card to Chucky Cheese (he loved it!), what a blessing in such a time of sadness.

I truly believed you had been sent by God, to help us through this incredibly trying time.

I vividly remember sitting in Bradley Park one summer day, and feeling like I wanted to talk to you. Because I was SURE you had Z’s best interests at heart, and so I called you.  It was just before Z entered the 3rd grade. I told you he had been diagnosed with several disorders that are related to Autism. Here they are again, just in case you’d forgotten. It’s been so long since he was in your class:

ADHD (Severe, but we already knew that, right?)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder 
Hypotonia (I’m still trying to figure that one out, myself)
Sensory Integration Disorder
Disruptive Behavior Disorder

So when Z was in your class he was…what, 7 years old? Yes, I remember now. He turned 7 exactly 18 days before I found his father dead in his apartment.

Do you remember me mentioning to you how afraid Z was of the vacuum? I do. I still remember the thrill I felt, the day I walked into your classroom, only to find him VACUMMING YOUR RUG and SMILING. I was SO PROUD of my son that day. Proud that he challenged and overcame one of his biggest fears, and happy that he had a teacher such as yourself. An adult (and educator), who didn’t pass judgment.  An open-minded and open-hearted teacher, who made my son feel IMPORTANT, SAFE, HAPPY, and CARED FOR.

But you already knew about all of that. So Z’s losses, as tragic as they are, are also not why I’m writing this.

Here’s the thing. When you really think about it, you’re a role-model. Not just a role-model to one child, one time. Your behaviors, statements, and lessons shape every one of your students. Not just for that day, but possibly for a lifetime. Did you know that? Did you know that your young students observe your every facial expression, every vocal inflection, and every non-verbal cue, and they then base their own behaviors on what they've seen you display?

I bet you knew that.  I mean, you've had how many hours of education? How many hours of assistant teaching? And how many hours of being an actual TEACHER, responsible for shaping our children’s young minds?

So, three weeks ago, I was tucking Z into bed, after a VERY rough night at home. Suddenly he started sobbing uncontrollably, nothing could stop him. Finally he calmed down enough to tell me this: When he was in 2nd grade, his teacher mocked him, made him the butt of her jokes, and CALLED HIM A BUTTHEAD. In front of his entire class.

Ms. Reagan, that teacher was you.

My wonderful, loving, awkward, smart, funny, sweet, angry, loveable, obnoxious, silly, huggable son....was humiliated. Shamed. By an adult. And not just any adult. An adult IN POWER. WITH CONTROL. Acting as a ROLE-MODEL. For children. Who will grow up with her lessons in the back of their minds. Always.

I've been mulling this over for the past 3 weeks, and tonight, I'm writing you a letter. A carefully worded, well thought out message, letting you know that the name you called my son three years ago? IS WITH HIM TO THIS DAY.  I’m writing this letter to tell you something I bet you never knew.

I'm  telling you that your hurtful words, spoken in a moment of anger, HAVE STAYED WITH MY SON TO THIS DAY. But because of his autism, because of his shame, because of his loyalty to you...he never said a word.

Do know that deep, sobbing, bottom-of-the-heart crying your kid does? That sound you would give ANYTHING to take from him? YEAH, IT WAS THAT. Three years after the fact, my wonderful, challenging, loving, and CHALLENGED son sobbed his heart out to me. He told me you had placed him in "time-out" in the corner, and in that corner there was an outlet with a gray button and a red button on the switch plate.

My socially awkward, impulsive, and curious son decided to see if he could push the red button with his tongue. Only you thought he was licking the outlet, and not bothering to ask him what he was doing,

YOU CALLED HIM A “BUTTHEAD.”

And the entire class LAUGHED AT HIM.

They laughed at my son.

My child, who was going through SO VERY MUCH at such a tender age.

And?

He held onto this secret for THREE ENTIRE YEARS. Until, one night, it all became too much, and the secret was spilled.

I wonder, how many other children have you shamed, humiliated, taunted, and bullied.  Because I’m betting my child wasn't the only victim of your hateful, spiteful, vindictive cruelty.

So, I leave you with this...

I know what you did. 

I believe my son.

And I won’t let you get away with it untouched.

It took THREE ENTIRE WEEKS for me to decide how best to address your behavior, so don’t even try to convince yourself that this is some impulsive, spiteful, random message.

The thought that went into this message is exactly opposite to the consideration you put in to educating my son, and his peers.

4 comments:

  1. Wow. My heart breaks for your son. This letter was perfect and I pray that the message got through to this woman. I'm so very sorry that your son went through that.

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  2. Wow that is horrible! Something I fear everyday that Zoe will go through something like that! I know she still fears her kindergarten teacher that was so cruel to her. Zach is a wonderful kid and it is an honor to know you both!

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  3. So sorry to hear about the pain she inflincted on him. Please tell him she was wrong, she was rude and that your proud of how strong he is for dealing with it and for sharing it with you. I would file a complaint with the school.

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  4. Great letter to a horrible bitch. Please tell us that you took action, and then tell us what the action was.

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