I found myself in another situation where a teacher was a bully, a really mean overtly crude bully. Not only did Pat bully teachers, she bullied students. She bullied students in a way that made my toes curl, my insides wrench, my brain shut down. Me, the adult, reduced to silence, again. What I have learned over the years is that a bully needs to be confronted. A bully needs to be revealed, the light needs to shine on that bully.
My classroom was next to hers, I once listened awe-struck as she berated a student in the snidest, most cunning, and ridiculing way. I wanted to bust into her room. Again, I did nothing. (Gosh this hurts to write, do I even want to reveal this about myself?)
I was told a story, that Pat told a student to go stand with her face in the corner. It seemed this woman absolutely hated children. It also seemed she absolutely hated herself. She was completely round, face blotchy, she shuffled when she walked, the only food she consumed was microwaveable, and she was social with the staff. Pat had a sense of humor. I believe that sociability caused the other female teachers to say, “Well, she’s friendly, I get along with her, she’s fun to talk with…” This caused jaws to remain shut when it came to speaking up to her.
At least one parent a year pulled their child from her room. At least one parent a year approached the principal about Pat’s wrath. At least one parent a year had an all out argument with her, in public or plain view. Even the school secretary, who had tremendous power in the school, had an all out battle with Pat one day. Did Pat lose her job? No. Did she change? No.
I had a student, Ben, who was obviously with a learning difference, it wasn’t specifically defined as dyslexia as all the testing was in process, but he could not read and had great difficulty writing. He was in first grade after a repeat of kindergarten. Ben’s vocabulary was extraordinary, defining or understanding words far beyond his years of living and the context of his world (he could define and talk about words like figurine, identify, and gregarious). He could appear to be gazing into space, wiggling, jiggling, and distant, yet the moment a discussion started up about a book, a science topic, or a read aloud math equation, Ben had answers. He could dive in deep to explain his thinking, his connections, and identify answers verbally, easily. Ben’s brilliance was noted by all teachers, except Pat.
One afternoon as I was leaving school. I walked by the slew of young ones diving through their backpacks for homework, books, and pencils. They were preparing to enter after school homework help, where Pat awaited, in her rolling chair tucked behind the kidney table amidst a sea of hoarded materials.(I’m guessing many of you teachers know who I’m talking about.)
Ben looked at me with tears welling up. “Ms. Ross, I can’t go in there. She is so mean to me. I can’t do my work.” The agony present in his voice, the distorted face, his small body all propelled me into Pat’s room. Ben followed.
“Mrs. DeSalvo, Ben is worried. He has trouble reading and writing his work down. He is able to tell me all of his answers when I ask him. I know he is capable of the work, the comprehension, or anything you ask him, however, he is not able to read directions or write it and needs help. Could you ask him for his answers or …?”
“Oh, he’s full of it. I make him sit right here with me and stay on top of him the whole time, otherwise, all he does is play around and gets nothing done.”
“He is knowledgable, he knows the work. It is difficult for him to read and write, though. I usually read the directions to him. Often times he tells me his answer and I write it in highlighter so that he can trace over it.
“Ahh, no. He is pulling the wool over your eyes. He is perfectly capable of reading and writing, he just gets babied too much by all of you. That other one, Carrier, she babies him too. You’re all being fooled by him.”
“No, Mrs. DeSalvo. He truly needs help.”
“Ben, sit down here, right now.”
Ben complied immediately, looking like a wounded animal waiting to die.
“Ben, I will see you tomorrow. You can ask Mrs. DeSalvo or a friend if you need help reading or writing.”
This ended our exchange, and though I was proud of myself for actually speaking up on behalf of Ben, and going directly to Mrs. DeSalvo, I felt ruined inside. I knew that Ben would sit there in angst for an hour.
I cried the entire way home. I cried most of the night. I drank a large glass of wine. I picked up the phone and called Ale, the Family Engagement Coordinator, my co-worker, and my trusted friend.
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