School-Sanctioned Bullying: The Importance of Being Your Child’s Biggest Advocate
Since I’ve become a parent, I haven’t worried about whether or not bullying might happen…I’ve been flat-out waiting for it. Because, frankly, bullying is nothing new. We’ve all been through it at one time or another and while it isn’t fun, it’s reality. But this type of bullying came in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Yes, it was another kid. But the shocking thing was…the school was giving him the tools to do it.
My 9-year-old daughter came home upset last week because she had missed recess, a precious commodity in today’s education system. When I asked her why, she told me that another kid had turned her in for something she didn’t do. Never the “helicopter parent” and always looking for a way to help my kids resolve their issues on their own (if possible), I asked if she had talked to her teacher about it. She responded, “Yes, but she told me that she didn’t see what had happened. So she didn’t do anything about it.”
And I, unfortunately, let it go.
But this week, my daughter stepped off the bus in hysterics because she had missed recess again. And through her sobs, I found out that she had actually missed recess the entire week before.
It turns out that the 4th grade of my daughter’s elementary school has adopted a new rewards/penalty program. While I had known that she had the opportunity to earn “money” for the good things she did (that could be used later in an auction of things the students had brought from home), what I didn’t know was that the students could be fined for the things they had done wrong.
And that those fines could be handed out by other students.
It turns out that the 4th grade had been assigning kids different jobs that they would each have for a week: Homework monitor, someone to make sure the floor was picked up before they leave…that sort of thing. One of those jobs was Hall Monitor and another was as a Teacher’s Assistant. Both of those jobs had the power to “fine” other kids for things they thought they were doing wrong. They walked around with clipboards and put an X next to your name if they “thought” you were talking. Or not focusing. Or not doing what you were supposed to be doing. After three “X’s” you would lose a recess. After five, a parent would be called to report the bad behavior.
The discipline in the class had been handed over to two 9-year-olds who could fill out the sheet however they wanted to.
So, basically…if your buddy gets picked to be the Teacher’s Assistant for the week…you know you have a free pass. I mean, who’s going to turn in their friend, right? And if someone who you know doesn’t like you gets this position of power…you better get comfortable in that desk chair. ‘Cause you ain’t seeing daylight for as long as they have that job.
Wouldn’t that make you dread school a little bit?
While the story came pouring out of my daughter, I was simultaneously emailing her teacher, asking for a meeting. I believe in letting my children fight their own battles…to a point. But my daughter had tried. She tried to talk to someone. And no one was listening.
I will admit that even as I was driving to see her teacher, I felt sure there had been some sort of misunderstanding. I was positive that no teacher would allow a student to discipline her class. I thought that this issue had to be the product of my daughter’s overactive imagination and the start of pre-teen dramatics.
Boy…was I in for a surprise.
While the teachers assured me that no student had the power to order my child out of recess…they also had no answer for why she had missed it for so many days. Telling me over and over again how sweet, friendly and well-behaved my daughter was while also telling me that they were the only people who could take her recess away…seemed to be a complete contradiction. I finally asked her teacher to look up the “fine sheet” for the last week and see how many days my daughter had missed recess. Her look of surprise told me all I needed to know.
My child was being bullied, not only by another child…but with the help of a school policy.
I wish I could tell you that I walked away from that meeting, satisfied that the teachers knew what needed to be done to fix this issue. I tried over and over again to draw their attention to the fact that none of the other grades in the school had their students in any way controlling the discipline of the class. I asked what would be done to the students who had abused this policy so that they would learn the lesson that this type of behavior would not be tolerated. I asked for reassurance that this program would be discontinued and no student would have to go through what my child (and I suspect many other kids in the class) had gone through.
And do you know what I walked out of the classroom with? A “Homework Pass” that gave my daughter permission to skip her homework for one night.
I don’t know where the system failed us, but it did. Big time. I don’t know whether to blame it on budget cuts that have these poor teachers stretched to the limit and not thinking straight. Or if I should blame it on this kid who saw an opportunity to abuse power, made the most of it and now seems to be getting away with it.
I don’t know if I should blame myself for not paying more attention to it in the first place.
But I have learned a lesson through all of this: It’s one thing to let your kid live their life and let them solve their problems. It’s another to teach them that you will always be in their corner and that you will help them fight for what’s right.
And that’s why I’ll be back up at the school tomorrow.
Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three. She is the founder of www.theWiddahood.com, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. Along with being published in several books on grief and renewal, Catherine is also a humorous motivational speaker who focuses on ” finding joy in a life you weren’t expecting.” She is also a volunteer speaker with the Donor Alliance of Colorado.