It's far easier to understand how children make mistakes navigating their own emotions and behavioral choices than it is to give adults, who hopefully have learned from years of experience, any kind of similar pass. Particularly, it's almost impossible to fathom how anyone who chooses as their career to guide, instruct, and nurture children can abuse that trust. But it happens. I believe that the vast majority of teachers are good people of strength and integrity, and work very, very hard to make the lives of their students better. But there are some bad teachers, and there are some whose behavior is unforgivable. Unfortunately, one of my children experienced one of the latter teachers many years ago, and struggled for years to shake off what she'd done.

At the time, I was pretty stressed out, juggling the needs of a preschooler, a grade-schooler, and a middle-schooler, all in a new town with no friends, family, or social support network. Perhaps it took me longer to realize what was happening to my child than it should have; perhaps I should have took more decisive action earlier. I guess sometimes you just can't believe what you are seeing and hearing, because it seems so outrageous and you want to believe you are mistaken. Finally, near the end of the school year, the teacher's actions towards my child became so flagrantly horrible -- throwing up her hands and telling my child "You are lazy! Stop being so stupid! I give up on you," right in front of friends, other parents, and me!  -- and watching that small face crumple and eyes fill with tears, that I took action. As to not further humiliate my kid in public, I chose to speak to the principal. He listened, nodded...and did nothing. I never found out why. His inaction, his choice to allow a bully teacher in his school made it impossible for us to remain, especially after finding out we weren't the only family affected, and this had been happening for years to other children

My final call went to the teacher herself, one of the hardest phone conversations I have ever had. If you have children, I don't have to tell you that when someone hurts your child deliberately you burn with an anger and hurt so deep it makes the fires of hell look like the weak glow from a nightlight bulb. I wanted to screech and scream and swear until my throat was raw. I wanted to pound the phone into the wall until it was dust. I was truly shaking with rage. But I wanted my words to be heard; controlling my emotions would ensure she wouldn't hang up on me and dismiss me, so that is what I did. I reminded her of her slashing words towards my child, her impatience, her yelling in class, her pounding on his table, her pointed cruelty over the months. I told her how my child, sunny in nature, sweet and friendly, became withdrawn and dejected to the point where school became a place of pain and shame and fear. I told her how she had damaged my child, and asked her how she ever could have done what she did. She was silent. I told her she had no business being in a classroom, ever, and that we would be leaving the school to try to rebuild our lives, now with a child who was consumed with worry that rejection from other teachers would be how school was forever.

She finally mumbled out a reply. "I...didn't realize." My head nearly exploded. What a goddamn LIE. She was a serial bully, picking out a couple of kids per year to take the brunt of her anger, usually the ones who were shy or quiet and unlikely to say anything, as to not cause trouble. Oh, she knew very well what she was and what she'd done, but wasn't going to take me on. She was going to take my call, listen, and then hang up and keep doing the same thing after our family left. 

It took about four years before my child wasn't frozen in fear with schoolwork, terrified to even begin to try, lest it brought on more shame. Four years.

Fast forward from the time we left the school to now, about eight years. My kid is doing pretty well now, likes going to school, likes the teachers, has friends, all the regular stuff you hope for, so that's the most important thing. I had wondered over the years if the awful teacher had retired or had been fired. My question was answered the other day as I dropped off one of my other kids at a camp renting the school's grounds for the summer. Six feet away from me was the teacher. She was still there. Amazing how old wounds can be open up again so quickly...I immediately felt agitated and ready to go into full fight mode, surrounded by another group of happy, giggling kids and their parents.

What was I going to do if she acknowledged me, or talked to me? I kept running it through my mind, tumbling with possibilities. In a world with no consequences, I admit that I would've had great pleasure delivering to her a delicious and weighty knuckle sandwich. OK, not realistic. Would I tell her how what she had done ruined years of my child's school life and self-esteem, and how her name in our family is associated with nothing but disgust? That would cause a scene for sure, would be upsetting to my other child and everyone else in earshot, and could result in my kid having to leave a very fun camp program. What was the right thing to do? She had definitely spotted me.

The right thing to do, again, was to think of what was best for the others. I decided that if she had the BALLS to talk to me, I would simply tell her to not address me, ever, and I would walk away calmly. It would be horribly hard for me to do, but I would do it. She would know she was not EVER going to be OK with us, but no one else would be involved. But it never happened. My kid ran up to me and gave me a hug, and when I turned around, the teacher had hightailed it out of sight. Smart, for once in her pathetic life.

In looking back at the whole thing, I deeply regret that I wasn't proactive enough on my child's behalf earlier, wanting not to seem entitled or that I thought my kid was deserving of special treatment. I should have gone into the classroom more -- I should have insisted on it, even though the teacher strongly discouraged it (another red flag). I should've insisted on a classroom switch right away when I felt something was really wrong. I should have asked for every penny and more of the tuition refunded, and even more to pay for counseling. I didn't do things right, and could offer excuses that, of course, don't mean anything in the end. The best I can do is advise you to be more on the ball than I was as a parent, should you find yourself facing a bully sitting in front of the classroom.

The best advice I can give myself is to enjoy the fact that while I still have that old semi-buried parental rage towards the teacher, my kid is now perfectly OK. Not angry, doesn't think about it very much at all now, and understands, after much kindness and patience shown by other wonderful teachers, that everything is going to be just fine; no, IS just fine. The best revenge, and one that doesn't land Ol' One-Two-Punch Mom in the pokey, yes? Yes.