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Back-to-School Blues or How Lucy Saved the Day

Posted by Jen on August 23, 2008 at 7:00 AM in Jen
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Yes, that's me in yesterday's clothes, traipsing down the street with five children ages almost three to ten. No, they don't all belong to me, but if fate or tragedy ever deemed my sister's children mine, I would take them as my own in a heartbeat. We are on our way to Carter's open house to find out who his first grade teacher will be for the coming school year. I'm not worried, since we put in our request for the kindest dearest soul late last year. If there's any child on earth who genuinely needs a gentle touch to succeed and flourish, it's Carter.

We arrive--the whole lot of us--and quickly make our way to the bulletin board. Ms. V?! Madeleine whispers to me, practically gasping from shock. She's the worst teacher ever! I wouldn't put it quite that way, but I know what she means. Ms. V. has a reputation for having a bit of an edge. And worst of all, she's known among the kids as a yeller. Carter--who above all things cannot bear yelling--immediately, instinctively bursts into tears. My little tribe starts to panic. It goes without saying; this teacher was not on our list.

Carter cries through the classroom tour and all the way home. He puts his head in his hands and tries to make himself disappear along the wall of the house. This is especially tragic since Carter is the easiest going child on earth. His only request is that you not raise your voice. Really. He can endure anything besides that. He is so rarely out-of-sorts, that it's almost impossible to bring him back from the edge when something like this hits him hard. He almost always insists on being left alone.

Carter continues to cry outside while the cadre of cousins holds court inside. I want to stay and sit in silence with Carter, but Madeleine advises against it. "Mom, really, when you do that it makes everything worse. I really think we should just let him be by himself for a minute." I find this hard to believe, and decide to get a second expert kid opinion.

"What do you think?" I ask Josiah, Carter's dearest soul brother and best, best friend.
"I have no idea," he says, feeling as crummy as I do.

"I think I know, Jen," Jack offers. "I think Carter is missing his old teacher." This sage wisdom resonates with everyone. Old and young alike let out a collective sigh. Oh the sorrows of missing a favorite familiar teacher, especially so near the first day of everything new!

last day of school
Carter saying good-bye to his favorite teacher from last year, Ms. R, on his last day of school

It takes us this long to realize we are missing Lucy who at almost three years old is clearly on her own program, having no regard for Carter's silly needs for privacy at such a dire time as this. When we find her, she is standing outside beside the sobbing Carter--petting him like her favorite stuffed puppy dog, saying, "Don't cry, Carter. Don't cry. It's okay, it's okay."

Carter remains an island of annoyance and tears, but I can tell he feels a little bit better. In no time, Carter comes back inside--the storm passed for now. I assure him that together we'll find a way to work this out, but he hardly needs me to tell him what Lucy already made plain: that sometimes the only way through is to let someone small and safe inside--the kind of dear soul who can't imagine having rules when it comes to love, no matter how loud you cry or how much you're convinced you have to go it alone.

lucy upclose carter upclose

What are your tried and true bits of wisdom for helping kids make a tricky transition to a less-than-ideal teacher? This super-sister would really love to know.


tracey writes...

oh poor sweet Carter. we've had a few of those school surprises and it can be jarring for sure. the beauty is, after the shock (and fear) wears off, he will grow to love his teacher and might even be better for her rough edges. and chances are, he'll help soften them for her. : )

Sky writes...

Oh! My heart is breaking for Carter! I have no solution, as we had that problem in first grade. I didn't get it figured out, we (somehow) made it through. Bless his heart, I hope it goes well for him...

Marmie writes...

I would like to say something positive like Tracey but imagining poor Carter so sad....tell the principal you aren't leaving till Carter is assigned to a teacher who doesn't yell!

Cynthia Samuels writes...

This is a tough one. Honestly, with a child who really does have a deep need, I'd fight it. Probably wrong of me - we DO have to let our kids fight their own battles at some point, but for particularly vulnerable young ones, I'm all for quietly raising things w/the principal. As I'm writing, I'm thinking that FIRST I'd turn to the beloved Ms. R and ask for her advice. I have found that teachers of my children whom I trusted gave me great advice that lasted for years. Try her if you don't want to put up a fuss institutionally; I'll bet she's got some wise words. Love and good luck to our Carter, too. And his amazing mom.

Rachelle Mee-Chapman writes...

There are less-than-ideal teachers, and then there are teachers who are just plain toxic. While I feel for them as persons, I don't give them much lee-way as educators. I would (and have, and am!) fighting tooth and nail to get my HSC (highly sensitive child) into a classroom that's a good fit for her. When that's proven impossible -- as it is now -- I've helped her create rituals to express her sorrow, and doubled up on the comfort activities back at home. It's a tough thing to negotiate, but you do have to be your child's best advocate when it comes to toxic situations.

Mir writes...

Oh Jen, my heart is aching for your sweet boy. I think Rachelle is very wise -- I've been on both sides of this, both in getting a "horrible" teacher who turned out not to be (took some time and some adjusting, sure, but she had her good points) and in getting the teacher who really was just plain a poor fit.

While I believe in giving things a chance, I also believe in following your gut. I would speak to the principal NOW -- give voice to your concerns, and tell him you are willing to try it but ALSO that you won't hesitate to request a change if this is, indeed, a poor match.

And then I would hug your beautiful boy and let him know that YOU ARE HIS CHAMPION and together you will be strong and figure this out.

Velma writes...

I agree with the comment about asking a beloved teacher for advice, because they often have insights into your child that you may miss.

I just spent the week watching my brother's kids along with my own, and witnessed a couple moments of cousinly solidarity myself. It's a lovely thing.

bob c writes...

My first approach is to help my child be sad - learning that disappointment can be safe, that it is ok to be let down - that is a big a-ha.

Then, with some space, to talk about ways to survive the first day/week - baby steps.

Sam writes...

A tough situation for sure. I feel for Carter, as I was TOTALLY that kid who hated yelling, too. One cross word could totally crush me (which my parents realized, thankfully). It's hard to adjust to a new teacher but I know you will advocate for your child. Crossing fingers that this teacher won't be so bad, but definitely make your concerns known to the administration. That way, if it doesn't work out, they know you had concerns from the start.

Jen Lemen writes...

Thanks, everyone! I really appreciate the perspectives--keep them coming. Carter has only had really stellar teachers, so this is a new challenge for us. :(

witchypoo writes...

I think a chat with the principal is in order. If yelling is so painful for Carter, the school allowing this teacher to subject him to it is tantamount to child abuse.

Naomi writes...

We are set to "Meet the Teacher" tomorrow for our kindergartner as well. We also though, have a child starting 8th grade tomorrow!

Sensitive kiddos need a friend in their corner ... and need to know that school is safe. Having said that, I also think that this can be the perfect time in the littles' lives to explain that not everything can always work the way we want.

There has to be a teacher's aide, yes? I agree with Mir ... voice your opinions in a nice handwritten note to the principal ... then know ahead of time that you're gonna need to be Carter's haven when he gets home from school. Wait it out and see what happens.

I bet (like others have said) that the little guy will grow to love Mrs. V. (or if not her, the teacher's aide!) ... and if not, there's always lunch and recess!

Hang in there ...

Jen Lee writes...

Ugh. We have not had this experience yet, but now my fingers are crossed for Amelia, who had the kindest teachers on earth last year. I'll be anxious to hear how the story unfolds for Carter...

kelly rae writes...

jen, i just love how you make the stories come alive with your words. i feel like i'm right there and i don't even have kids!

all the best of luck to carter. he'll charm the edges right off of ms v.


Shari (Shash) writes...

Last year, my son had a horrible teacher that ended up turning into a great experience. Allow me to explain:

My son is VERY sensitive. He's also eager to please. He's also a typical boy who day dreams. The teacher he was teamed with felt Kindergarten was the new first grade. At first, it was heart wrenching to have him come home from school to tell me "I make my teacher VERY VERY ANGRY." Not to mention the progress reports that had N's on them and worksheets that had notes about needing improvement in red at the top. However, by the end of the year he was doing great and better still he is ready for first grade. This year at Meet the teacher day, he made it a point to go to her classroom to tell her who his 1st grade teacher was.

I liken the experience to childbirth. Painful at first, but a few years after, you realize it wasn't so bad. :)

Hope that helps!


Brené writes...

We've had lots of different teaching experiences over the past 7 years, and I can honestly say that we've always landed where we need to be (or at least where we need to learn). Even when it so bad that I had to intervene, my daughter was able to watch me set boundaries and say, "enough." Maybe there will be unexpected gifts? I can't think of a better person to help unwrap them!

Elaine writes...

I'm not a mom so maybe I shouldn't even be here. So please bear this in mind when I share my opinion.

I think you've already given Carter what he needs -- assurance, support, understanding -- no matter the outcome.

Based on my own experience -- I have a mom even if I'm not one and once, and only once did she wisely intervene in a difficult school situation -- I believe in mother's intuition. As Mir suggests, give it time and then trust your gut.

Lu writes...

Oh, how I feel for the little man.

Karen writes...

What a beautiful little tribe you have ... everyone concerned and consulting. There are always gifts through endurance and facing what life brings ... and bonds of the tribe continue to strengthen through it all. Gifts for all involved - including the teacher who is in process just like all the rest of us. God's blessings upon your wonderful tribe!

Ami writes...

While I'm not a parent, let me first say that if I were, this blog would be a great resource!

As for Carter, I can completely sympathize. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what advice I can give other than to trust your motherly instinct as others have said. Best wishes for a successful school year.

Wife and Mommy writes...

What a lovely thing for Lucy to do. How sweet and compassionate.

As for tips on transitioning to a less-than-stellar-teacher...all I can suggest is that Carter be told that not all teachers are the same. Truth be told, I think I learned more from those less-than-stellar-teachers about life and interpersonal relationships than academics, but those things are some important lessons too. I also think that showing your solidarity with the teacher is crucial, and that Carter not catch on that you aren't happy with her.

Good luck. I hope it's way better than expected!

sara writes...

Jen....Always happy to find more of your writing! Your stories about Madeline and Carter have always been my I'll pop over often. Congrats on your new gig!
As a teacher myself, I found myself hoping with all hopes that no child (or family) has ever felt this way upon learning that they are in my class for the year. It surely would devastate me. Other people have given good advice...but I'll throw in my two cents as an elementary teacher and a mom.
First, communicate!! A sweet note to start the year letting Mrs. V know that Carter is sensitive to raised voices could save all involved LOADS of drama. If a teacher knows up front that a child has a specific sensitivity....I would hope she would go out of her way to avoid the behavior. Having said that, there are times in the classroom that another student or a loud group, etc may warrant a raised voice to grab their attention. In that case, as others have said, try to comfort and explain to Carter that all teachers are not the same but that Mrs. V may have other great points. Make it a game.... Operation: Loving Mrs. V. Ask Carter to try to think of one great thing Mrs. V did each day. Surely there will be something! someone else already said, we're all better off for having dealt with different types of teachers as it prepares us for life...for bosses who might yell or micromanage...for police officers who might be stern....for store clerks who might be rude...etc. It takes all types, right!
Do keep us posted....I hope Carter has a great year!

Shelley writes...

Not a bad idea to share your concerns with the teacher early on. Not "we're worried you might be a big meanie," but "I'm sure you've dealt with noise-sensitive kids before and I'm hoping we'll be able to work together to make this time of transition less stressful for Carter" or some such.

I'd recommend against going directly to the principal at the outset... it serves as a counter-example to a life lesson we should all be modeling... namely, when you've got a problem with someone, START by going to them. Talking to Carter's old teacher is a great idea, as is actively seeking out families who have found the teacher he has this year to be terrific.

And Carter's new teacher will be reading this blog in a matter of moments. Just sayin'.

We're all out here holding a good thought...

Mary Ellen writes...

I hope Carter has a great year too. I'm a little nervous about Elijah's new teacher. But, I'm sure it's more me than him. I actually know her from Faith's experience from last year. But, I have to believe that her teaching way will benefit Elijah just as much as Faith benefited. Great post. Congrats on the new blog.

Carol writes...

Get him transferred immediately. Don't even wait for Christmas break. My daughter had a "bad" teacher one year and now at 28 she says she didn't learn anything that year. It was awful. By the end of the year I had the principal apologizing to me for how bad it was and assuring me that it was that teacher's last year teaching but the damage was already done to my little one. I would never allow it again with the two little ones I have left. It's your job to protect him from abuse, even if that abuse comes in the guise of authority, protect him, please.

kelly writes...

It is awesome to find you and the sisters all together here.
Your color outside the lines mom-ing stories are the delightful and full of truth and inspiration.

Heidi Renee writes...

oh jen - you're back! so wonderful to be reading about the lives and whirls of the lemen family again!

patty craft writes...

My only child is now 25 years old, and she teaches high school. She's known for being very demanding of her students; perhaps not everyone's favorite.

Recently she told me, Mom, those kids try my every last nerve sometimes, but every morning I wake up and all I want to do is teach.

It's tough when our young ones are in tears over an upcoming event; F.E.A.R. is driving the bus (Future Events Appearing Real). It's not looking rosy for Carter right now, but he clearly has a loving support group and that may make all the difference.

Here's to hoping that Ms.V. isn't really a yeller. Prayers go with you all.

Anne writes...

same scenario many years ago with my daughter; I told her Mrs. B has been teaching a long time, and she has three grandchildren, so she Must love children, maybe her voice is loud because she can't hear herself that well. Let's just try her for two days, turned into a week, and it did work out. She wasn't as cuddly and gentle as we had hoped, but it was okay. And, I always cut her sandwiches into the shape of a Heart, a little love reminder at lunch time. Try to find one little commonality with the teacher that he can hold on to.

Indie writes...

My 4th grade teacher was a bad teacher. I told my family when I was first assigned to her and begged them to get me out, but they not think that it was that bad. After seeing the results though, when my brother was assigned to her two years later they went to the principal and demanded that he be moved to a different class.

The thing is, my 3rd grade teacher had assigned me to that class because she thought that I was tough and confident and would be able to handle it better than other kids. She flat out said this to my mom. But that turned out not to be the case.

If your family chooses not to demand a change, then please pay careful attention to how he is doing in her class. Its never too late to pull him out.

Twenty years later, I still don't know my times tables because my 4th grade teacher would stab me with her finger nails and scream at me when I had trouble with math. I was too scared to keep asking for help so I copied my friends and pretended to understand.

Kelly writes...

Jen -
I wish I had a suggestion for you but don't other than send LOVE to her heart and surround Jack with peace. I'll be thinking about you and him and I'll send his teacher love as well. Perhaps it will be a wonderful growing experience.

Take care.

Kelly writes...

I was the one who cried all the way home the first day of my son's second grade year. We're not only dealing with a new teacher but a new school, a new home, a new town, a new are resilient, god bless 'em.

Deb writes...

Oh Jen....Carter has been brought up with respect and love for who he is, his true Self. He has learned to trust himSelf and I feel strongly that he needs to be supported in continuing to trust himSelf. His reaction says it all. It is in no way "babying" him to respect his needs and sensitivities. Please don't allow this woman to change anything about your sweet soulsensitive son, he truly is just as he is meant to be and there are many many people who can teach him things respectfully and in a way that is true to his soul.
With loving intentions and trust in you and Carter,

BlueLikeTheSky writes...

My girl's grade one teacher was a yeller, too!

We're taking a break from public school this year (at least), having found a gem, a "true" Montessori (rare 'round these parts) - organic garden and all - where she can ride out third grade free of the testing nonsense that has bored her.

So far, she's glowing. From a girl who never said a word about school, she's become one who talks non-stop for the 40 mile commute.

I am so happy to see the new blog.

Marion writes...

We have a Lucy and she is our little light. Our midwife presented us with a card talking about what the name Lucy meant and so often I can see the word light as it appeared on the card and I think and sometimes say "I am so grateful for our little light." Even though at 7 1/2 she looks like she is 9 1/2. Sisters, brothers and cousins, the blood kind and the chosen kind make all the pain and labor of life easier to bear. Job well done you tribe of sisters on raising a family that loves, supports, bears witness and shows up for fun with one another. Keep up the terrific work, raising and writing that is, it is a wonderful thing to catch a glimpse of.....

julie writes...

Jen, our Lucy had this same problem when starting first grade. She had this amazing nurturing kindergarten teacher and then for 1st grade she got the teacher that all the kids and parents said was mean. We decided to take the matter into our own hands. We decided to love this teacher. We would often bring her presents and hug her and ask her about her life. We watched this teacher soften and grow to love this class of first graders and especially our Lucy. We found out through the course of the year that she had a husband with cancer and she was also facing major surgery. She was scared and life was looking bleak. She needed some sunshine put back into her life.

Ann writes...

Reading through the comments already posted, I find I have no new suggestions.

I do hope that Carter has a good experience with his first grade, whether it is with this teacher or some other.

Here's a *hug* for you to share with Carter.

Kristin writes...

Oh, what a lovely blog you all have begun. I'm so excited to see it up and running. My 8 year old, Erica, is getting ready to start 2nd grade & we will have similar issues. She's leaving behind her beloved K-1 teacher who she was blessed to be with every school day for the past 2 years. Not only will she be going to a new teacher (even new to the school), but her 6 year old little sister will be taking her place in the K-1 class this year. I hope Carter has a wonderful year & we'll be thinking about you all these first couple of weeks, too.

Tina writes...

Oh, I've been waiting for this blog to happen! Yayyyy!!!!

Poor Carter!

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