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Grade One and Field Trips

Towards the end of the grade one year, I was allowed to accompany the class on a field trip as a volunteer. I say allowed because in this case, it's the correct word. My son's teacher knew two things about my son: He was extremely 'challenging', and I understood him well. My understanding of my son, however, was a product of my home environment. Her classroom was obviously not our home; it was her space. She needed to be in charge of it, and she needed to handle my son in a way that allowed him to be integrated into the class's activities as much as he possibly could.

I know that some people think I'm a bit of a control freak. I accept this, because it's lamentably accurate in many cases. But not, oddly enough, in this one. I understood that my son's behaviour in a class of 24 children was of necessity going to be different than his behaviour in a home with two, one of whom wasn't even walking at the time. I also understood that his grade one teacher was also a bit of a control freak.

(We had a discussion once about this very thing; she was apologetic. She felt that raising her voice -- that shouting at the kids in her class -- was evidence of a loss of control. It was very important to her that she not lose control in, or of, the classroom. What's funny about this is after she said this to me she stopped, realized what she'd just said, and added, "I know that sounds terrible." It didn't sound terrible to me. I told her "It's a large group social situation. Someone is going to be in control -- and I would frankly far rather it be you than one of your students." (I've seen a four year old control a classroom, and it is not pretty.))

So I knew at the outset that the classroom was her home; I was the guest. The rules were hers. I had volunteered for some of the early field trips; she didn't tell me she didn't want me there. I simply wasn't chosen as one of the attending parents. However, toward the Summer of grade one, I was. We went to High Park --on the TTC, which is always a bit stressful when you're trying to make sure you don't leave any of the kids behind on the platform when the train departs with you in it.

It was an interesting day. When we got to the park, my son was, charitably, hyper. There was no need for lines, etc., once we were certain all of the kids were there, so they were given leave to 'stretch their legs', which generally involved a lot of running around.

My son ran into one of the girl's in his class, sent her flying into a large tree, and kept going. I was appalled. So I immediately shouted, in that appalled mother tone of voice, to get his attention. Had he done it on purpose? No. He hadn't even noticed. But to me, that didn't matter. The girl had hit the tree, scraped some skin off her knee, and was very quietly upset (she was a quiet, very nice child).

His teacher lifted a hand in that universal "stop right now" gesture as I drew breath and headed toward my son. Then she went over to the girl to make sure she was all right, and to say "He just needs to run, right now. He didn't even see you. Are you all right?"

It would have been very easy for the girl to take the incident personally, to assign malice because there was pain (hers). The reminder that this was very much in keeping with his inability to notice the world around him instantly calmed her down.

Can I just say that this is not a choice I would have made if I had been a parent in the park on my own time? I didn't think it was fair to the girl; and even if my son hadn't done it deliberately, he had still caused (minor) injury. I would have made him absolutely aware of what he had done and in no uncertain terms. Nothing that happened that day in the park with his class changed this.

But -- and there's always a but -- it was not my class. It was hers. What she was afraid of was pretty much exactly my reaction, because she knew if I got angry at him, it would re-enforce the sense that it was okay to be angry at him, and his integration and acceptance in the classroom would be destabilized. She knew that the girl, understanding the situation, would let it go. As my son was entirely oblivious, he had already let it go, not realizing there was anything to let go. I was the one who had to struggle with it, to accept that the rules here were not my rules, even if the child was my child. I had thought that her fear was that I would show the usual parental favouritism or that I would coddle him in ways that were not the norm for the class -- it wasn't. It was that I would attempt to discipline him for behaviour that I wouldn't have accepted in our house, in a way that would undermine what she had built.

And I didn't.

I still have some issues with this. I really do think the girl deserved an apology. Yes, it was an accident; yes, it wasn't deliberate. But still -- he did hurt her. I think he should have acknowledged it, apologized for it; he would have done both, because he really did not like to cause other people pain. But even so, it was not my class. I was the guest here. And the decisions she had made for her class as a whole in relation to my son had worked out so well for him.

After this field trip, though, I went on a number of others. My son didn't speak or cling to me while I was there (some of the other kids did), but he was comfortable having me in the class; he understood at base that nothing bad would happen to him if I was there. He also understood that if something happened and he didn't particularly like it, if I accepted it, it wasn't innately harmful.


ETA: I think one of the things that made dealing with the teachers, the classmates and the other parents simpler was the constant evaluation of what I would feel like if I were the parents of other children affected by my son, because if I were those parents, I wouldn't know him, and possibly wouldn't care.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
damedini
May. 31st, 2011 02:41 am (UTC)
I can see the teacher's POV here. Yes, he hurt the girl and she deserved an apology, but he was oblivious, and would be again, and nothing was going to change that. So, since he was unable to adapt to be more aware, the class would have to adapt to accept his obliviousness as inherent to him, and not be upset by it. They needed to accept that he wasn't being malicious, and wasn't being mean by not apologizing, he just didn't notice. just as the tree wasn't malicious by hurting her, it was just the tree being a tree and her hitting its treeness. No point getting upset at the tree.
msagara
May. 31st, 2011 02:58 am (UTC)
Yes, he hurt the girl and she deserved an apology, but he was oblivious, and would be again, and nothing was going to change that.

I was thinking more of the girl, though. Yes, she did accept that he was oblivious, and that did work - but the onus in this case was on her, and her acceptance. All of the integration of my son into his school environment involved compromises from everyone involved (son included) -- but she was six years old, she was crying, and it seemed to me unfair that his actual apology/acknowledgement was deemed to be too potentially disrupting, because I feel she deserved it.

If the parent of the girl had been angered by this, I would have understood it completely, which is why I found it troubling. If the mother had come to me and said "I don't want my daughter to learn how to suffer in silence instead of speaking up for herself" it would have been hard for me to argue, because at six, we learn much broader lessons than intended from very specific incidents.
damedini
May. 31st, 2011 03:08 am (UTC)
I do see your point here, it's a hard call.
kyrielle
May. 31st, 2011 01:55 pm (UTC)
I see your point, and yet...I would be happy to have my child taught that, in fact, sometimes the best thing we can do is accept that things are as they are. We don't have to like it, we don't have to be comfortable, and we can expect our needs to be taken care of - but not everyone is going to notice the harm they do or apologize. Unfortunately, in the school environment, as at work, we may be continually forced into contact with people who neither notice nor apologize; in most other areas of our life we can get away from them.

And some injuries (physical and otherwise) demand they be brought up, addressed, made as right as they can. For others, doing so doesn't help.

If she is learning to "suffer in silence" - that's not good. But if she's learning that sometimes, it's best to take your pain to those who take care of you and care about you, that they will help you and validate it, but that no harm was intended - I don't know if that is so bad.
msagara
Jun. 1st, 2011 04:11 am (UTC)
If she is learning to "suffer in silence" - that's not good. But if she's learning that sometimes, it's best to take your pain to those who take care of you and care about you, that they will help you and validate it, but that no harm was intended - I don't know if that is so bad.

It's hard to tell exactly what your children are learning, though.

Example: the mother of a six year old boy who came into the bookstore semi-frequently. She was media savvy, and so was her six year old. Or so she thought. Wanting to protect him from the spate of commercials, etc., on television, she'd sat him down and explained that what he was watching was a carefully constructed fantasy. It was made to look real, but was not, in fact, reality.

He agreed. When they spoke about it, he repeated her words, and used them as if he understood them. But...

He asked his mother to help him write out a wish. On an 8.5x11 piece of paper, in large letters. She thought this was odd, but did help him. He was watching the Narnia TV series at the time, and that evening, when it came on, he grabbed his piece of paper, waited until a specific character appeared on the screen, and then ran up to the screen, holding the carefully written 'wish' in front of the screen so that the character would see it.

So, in spite of the fact that his responses were all of the correct intellectual responses, he had clearly failed to absorb the practical meaning behind the words themselves.

Often, we know only long after an event which event had the most significant impact. I strongly suspect that this was not scarring for the girl in question, but it's me. I worry *rueful g*.
folkmew
May. 31st, 2011 03:01 am (UTC)
I can definitely see both sides of this one! I suspect there's an element of "choose your battles" with the teacher as well. But I probably would have played the "even if it's an accident it's good to check on the other person and apologize if you hurt them" angle. When I had my own classroom (and as a parent of two boys close to the same age) I really try to reinforce both justice and compassion/forgiveness. Everyone has tough issues - that doesn't make it OK always but it does mean we can try to be forgiving of their shortcomings and hope they'll forgive ours. It's so damned hard though!!
alexmegami
Jun. 1st, 2011 03:56 am (UTC)
But why not talk to him about apologizing herself, then, so that your anger didn't make it OK to be angry with him, but so that the girl also got the much-deserved apology? I feel like there was a middle ground available there that wasn't taken. (Or would the fact that he didn't notice her in the first place make it a problem when the teacher would say that it happened and it didn't jibe with his memory of things?)
msagara
Jun. 1st, 2011 04:06 am (UTC)
But why not talk to him about apologizing herself, then, so that your anger didn't make it OK to be angry with him, but so that the girl also got the much-deserved apology?

What I would have done was draw his attention to the accident. I would have accepted that it was an accident, but would have also asked him to apologize. He was good about those things, because if the girl was in tears (and she was), he would have known that something had happened.

But it was not something that the teacher wanted me to do. She wanted to handle the difficulty in her own way, and in a way she thought best for the over-all gestalt of the class.

It's possible that she thought I was about to go nuclear, and that's what she wanted to avoid - but it was also important that she have the option of deciding what worked best for the class as a whole, of which my son was only one part.
(Anonymous)
Jun. 13th, 2011 01:23 pm (UTC)
It's possible, isn't it, that the teacher wasn't putting the needs of your child, or even the class-gestalt, first? Maybe she thought there would be other better opportunities in the future for him to see the consequences of his actions and apologize. He wasn't aware of the pain he'd caused and he wouldn't have any sense that he'd "gotten away" with something. Whereas, maybe the teacher thought it was more important for this little girl to feel strong and in control instead of like a victim who needs to an apology in order to feel better. At least as you tell it, the girl wasn't asked to "suffer in silence." The teacher was there and recognized the problem and asked if the little girl was all right, allowing her to make the call on her own and indicating her confidence in the little girl's judgement.

I think the hardest part of being a classroom teacher must be to balance all the needs of the different children. Especially when the needs conflict. When punishing a child for misbehaving also means validating the spite of a tattletale who got him in trouble, for example. It's very hard to tell from outside if a teacher is doing at good job at this, because we don't know all the children, we only know our own. But when I see the teacher giving short shrift to my little drama queen, it makes me hopeful that she's probably got everybody else's number, too.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )