Safety Guy at Darien Lake on his favorite ride - bumper cars.
It's almost time for school to start, and each year since Safety Guy has gone back to public school (this will start his fourth year back after being home schooled K-5) I write a letter to his new teachers. I introduce my son, and give some details about his strengths, needs, quirks, hot buttons, and interests. He may be going into high school now (eeek!), but I think this year's letter will be more important than all the others combined.
Those of you who have been with me for a while will remember what a choice slice of hell last spring was for Safety Guy at school: bullying and academic stress, and ending the year with a physical assault, which gave him a mild concussion. Can you blame him for being anxious about going back to school this fall? I sure don't, and I can't give him any firm assurance that the bullying won't continue. Our school has a big problem with bullying. So, the letter. . . .
Somehow this letter has to be hopeful but firm, clear but detailed, and positive but including the expectation that what happened last spring WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN. I know all but one of his teachers coming up this year (the one I don't know is a new hire). I like and respect all of them; there's not a poor teacher in the bunch, and many I would unreservedly call excellent educators. But, and here's the big BUT, Safety Guy will still be grouped with many of the students who tormented him last year. He'll have more teachers this year (four subject-specific resource teachers, instead of one resource teacher across four subjects), which means more eyes on potential problem situations. I am hanging a lot of hope on these teachers nipping bullying in the bud, and sitting on potential problem situations.
And, I include Safety Guy in the equation, since he has his own heaping helping of teen attitude, and a huge knee-jerk over-reaction to bullying now. After being teased about being "weak" and a "wimp" last year, he decided it was better to get his verbal licks in first, rather than wait for the bullies to get up a head of steam. Now he sometimes instigates too, which needs to be addressed. Also, when he's stressed or upset or angry, he will lash out verbally, and not just at peers. Swearing at teachers is a great way to get a one-way pass to the office, and makes him look like he's in the wrong even if he was bullied into losing his cool. He had more behavioral issues last spring than the past 2 1/2 years of his public school education combined.
Our school is also going through some big changes: new vice principal over the summer, new principal starting at the end of September, and staff being moved around within the school. On top of this, there's supposed to be a new behavior plan for the school to address the chronic bullying. I hope it's effective, but I'll believe it when I see it in action. And I will, soon, both as a parent, and as a substitute teacher.
I have to write this letter, you see, to introduce my son to people who know me but don't know him, who don't know the misery he endured last year, who don't know his hopes and fears, his strengths and weaknesses, his quirks and obsessions, his brilliant sense of humor or his unique powers of observation. I want them to know that I love my son, and that I will fight tooth and nail to prevent him from being hurt in school again. I understand where the school is coming from on behavior management, and legal issues, and parent relations. And the cold bottom line is that I'm a parent first, and a teacher at the school second, and I'll be a pain in the butt as much as I have to in order to help Safety Guy have a successful, safe freshman year.