I read this story (see link below) that popped up on my Twitter timeline and felt a flood of memories and emotions come rushing into my head that were invoked by the similarities to the incident that this mother has endured. She describes an incident of her child misbehaving at school and immediately being suspended. This incident was followed by a few more instances of inappropriate behavior and more 1 day suspensions by not only her 4-year-old, but also her 3-year-old son who was in the same school. The story proceeds to discuss her own experience of being suspended from preschool and the damage it did to her psyche when the teacher admonished her and labeled her as “bad.”
I immediately relived my own suspension at 3 years old at my small private Catholic school in Connecticut. Although I cannot blame it purely on race, I know that the entire situation traumatized me and remained ingrained into my brain forever. Thankfully, the teacher who recommended that I be suspended retired and a new pre-school teacher took over her class. As many years as it has been since I was in that room, I remember the smile and spirit of the kindest woman I have ever known.
This time, as a 4-year-old, my experience was different. I know me now, so I can only imagine then that I wanted to be the center of attention and show off all of my knowledge. Ms. Eddie saw this and instead of suppressing my boisterous spirit, she encouraged it. She would let me sit in her chair and read to the class or allow me to work with other students who may have needed help learning their ABCs. And from that year on, I rarely had any disciplinary problems in school. I fell in love with learning and always excelled because I had confidence in myself and I didn’t have my past mistakes following me from classroom to classroom.
When I matriculated to the next grade, Ms. Eddie would always request that I come to her room and read to her new class of students. Her actions made my other teachers notice how I learned and they too allowed me to be who I needed to be to succeed. When I got to the 2nd or 3rd grade, my teacher allowed me to teach a new student who had arrived from Poland how to speak English. That was my assignment, to sit in the back of the classroom and work with her on the very basics. It was one of my proudest moments in life, to see my peer read an entire book in a language that I helped her learn.
Over the years, my father would beg the teachers to give me extra work so that I would not ruin the classroom environment for everyone else. When they didn’t listen, I would distract others who were moving “too slow” or act in a way that I am even ashamed to type about. My scariest moment in school was when I was laying across the desk and I saw my father’s head peep into the window and I thought my life was over. He walked in as the class was leaving and asked my teacher why she allowed me to be such a distraction and proceeded to discipline me in the bathroom.
I am blessed that none of my teachers ever labeled me, recommended suspensions or publicly humiliated me in front of the entire class. I see so much of myself in my son and I know the type of environment he will need to thrive. So many family members and seasoned parents have told me to observe classroom’s prior to enrolling my son in school, because boys are different. Their attention spans, the way they react and interact may be different, but it does not have to be labeled as difficult. I have always realized that Ms. Eddie was one of my many angels. She gave her life to her students, but more importantly she gave them unconditional love.
We have to get back to a time where students are not treated like factory workers, but instead individualized people with individualized learning styles and habits. This article reinforces my search for the perfect environment for my mini me. I hope that he never has to experience the humiliation of a school suspension at such a young age and it is my job to try to prevent it.
For our futures. For our sons. For our daughters. For a better education system. Be you. Do you. Tell your own story. On your own terms.