Protecting your child from bad guys: when the ‘bad guy’ is someone you trusted

We had an incident recently with Fred’s after school
teacher. The incident started with an accident (in which Fred was the victim) and
ended with the teacher’s firing.

The story is involved and I’ll keep it short: the accident was caused by the teacher; I casually brought the accident to the teacher’s attention in a private conversation and in a “no biggie but FYI” kind of way; the teacher became belligerent and defensive, denying the whole incident; the accident reflected larger classroom management
incompetence; we believed in our son; we spoke up; our complaint was not the
first.

Speaking to the head of the program was one of the
most empowering things I have done as a parent. We were fortunate in that we
were listened to and fully supported. When we first spoke with the director, we
were immediately offered the choice to switch Fred into another class. Fred is
very adaptable, and took the changes in the coming few weeks in stride.
However, he was curious: “Why am I switching teachers?” “Where do I go
tomorrow?” “Where did Ms. ___ go? Is she coming back?”

I somehow managed to evade his questions by
responding vaguely, something I could get away with perhaps because the issue
involved someone he had not been that happy with anyway. I was vague because,
regardless of his or our feelings toward the teacher, I believed that I should
not reveal the negative side of the important adults in his life.

But ultimately it would not be up to me. During a
car ride with Fred’s best friend Jack and his mother, I overheard the two boys
talking about the “incident.” Jack’s mother asked me what was going on, and I
told her the whole story. I’d lowered my voice when I told her how the teacher
vehemently denied everything, and that is when Fred’s 7 year-old voice pierced through
our whispering like a bomb: “She is a BIG FAT LIAR! She did it and EVERYONE
knows it! EVERYONE heard me crying! She is a STUPID LIAR!” My throat tightened
and we stopped talking. Initially it was my dismay that he had heard me, as well
as a knee-jerk reaction to hearing him speak disrespectfully of a teacher. But
soon I realized I was reacting to something else. While I had never doubted
Fred’s version of the story, his raw fury simply made the truth all that much
clearer to me.

“Well, she is not there anymore,” was all I decided to
say, to let him know that he had been heard, that he had been vindicated.

Throughout this incident I’ve tried to walk a fine
line between maintaining respect for this teacher and letting Fred know that we’d
gone to bat for him. But how do you tell a child you’ve beaten the bad guy
while maintaining his illusion that there is no bad guy? Central to this
experience is the lesson that we want to teach Fred about self-respect: no
one – no child and certainly no adult – should lie to you. And if you feel
something wrong has been done, you need to speak up. Good people
will listen. Good people will support you. Things will work out, and if they
don’t, at least you will know that you have done all you could.

At the same time, how real does the world need to be
for a 7 year old? What does it do to his concept of trust if he knows that the
most important adults in his life can behave so badly?

I’m just beginning to look for answers. At the very least, I want Fred to know that for
every bad adult that’s out there, he’s got an army of good ones on his side.

6 thoughts on “Protecting your child from bad guys: when the ‘bad guy’ is someone you trusted

  1. I believe in respecting teachers. But, I know that not all teachers are good. Speaking up for your son was the right thing, the best thing. My husband carries emotional scars from when his parents did not stand up for him and allowed a teacher to treat him poorly.
    On several occasions, I have stood up for my daughter, but each time the responsible adults have acted responsibly. One apologized to my daughter immediately, in front of me. I think if the teacher did not respond in a way that showed care and concern for my child, I don’t know how I would react.
    I think it’s okay for Fred to know that not all adults are perfect. I’m sure you teach him not to trust strangers and while we feel we know teachers, if they make us uncomfortable or put us in danger, we cannot follow them blindly.
    I worry about my girls being taken advantage of. My first is so very rule abiding that I fear it puts her in danger, and we talk about the difference between being respectful and allowing things that make us uncomfortable to happen.

  2. I am continuously flabbergasted by this job of being a parent. There are challenges everywhere, even places we often think of as “safe.” I hate to rock the boat (any boat!), and I often wonder what I will do in situations like these. I hope my instinct to protect my children will override my instinct to suffer in silence. But more importantly, I’m so glad your son is okay!

  3. I believe in no respect to this teacher.

    I believe that this sends the wrong message to children:

    I know I”m in the minority but people need to listen to their children.

    I feel Fred’s anger.

    I am so very sorry, Ceci: this is just unacceptable.

    A child trusts adults, and this “teacher” took advantage of her position as authority figure.

    I am so very sorry, and I’m angry right along with Fred about this.

    I’m so glad you trusted your gut, and know your child so well.

    I am so sorry.

  4. Cecilia –

    Very powerful and well written post.

    My eldest was also seven years old when I had an “altercation” on his behalf with a remarkably offensive teacher. She was fired, though not solely because of my grievance. Her termination came after several dozen parents held private meetings with her then with her and administrators on behalf of their sons.

    Yes, this teacher *hated* boys. In fact, when I approached her respectfully and calmly she listened to my concerns, then said, “You know, I just don’t get boys. In general boys are defiant and difficult to manage.” I replied, “Then why did you sign up to teach in a co-educational public school?” She shrugged.

    In any case, we know our children. My son is a compliant (to a fault) people-pleaser. That morning in second grade when he came to my bedside sobbing because it was art day was a huge wake-up call. This was not a case of not liking art, this was a case of being called “STUPID” (in a loud, shaming tone) in front of 24 other children the week prior and being terrified of being shamed again. In fact, he didn’t tell me the gory details, he just cried himself sick until I discovered the truth from another parent.

    Bottom line, if a teacher calls any child “stupid” (my child, your child, or anyone else’s), she or he will hear from me – no question.

    I am glad Fred’s old teacher is gone. And, I think it is perfectly fine to tell Fred why. My eldest, who is now 13, and I have had a few illuminating conversations about that awful art teacher over the years. He knows that I, as his mother, will always stand up for him when it matters. Fortunately, nine times out of 10, his teachers have been worthy of respect and confidence.

  5. I agree with your approach, Cecilia. I think it’s important to always protect our children and express our support of them by defending them against those who are in the wrong, adults included. I remember several incidents when I was in grade school where it was my word against my teacher’s. I remember needing to hear my parent’s approval of my side to believe in the importance of my side.

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