Confessions of an Urban Principal
by Frank Murphy
Installment (8 of 8)
I met again with Ms. Miller today. I started off our conference by apologizing for her son having to suffer such an assault. I assured her that the other boy would be moved to another classroom. Her response wasn’t what I expected.
“Thank you for taking care of it. I was really mad yesterday. I didn’t think anyone was listening to me. I had to leave. When that other boy came down, I couldn’t help myself. Mr. Nottingham told me not to talk to him. I understood that I shouldn’t have. I wouldn’t want some other parent talking to my children when I’m not here. But I had to ask him why he kicked my son. I asked him three times. He wouldn’t answer me. If I didn’t leave when I did, I would have choked him.”
“I appreciate that you controlled yourself. It must have been hard. I’ve seen you when you’ve been really mad.”
“It was hard, but I promised myself that I wasn’t going to act like I did that last time, when I took Armand out of school in first grade. I was wrong then.”
I was impressed by her effort to control herself. I was also touched by her admission that she had been wrong when she blew up on me when Armand had been in first grade.
She continued, “It doesn’t matter anyway that you are moving that child. I’m going to home-school my children. I think that’s best. I’ve got hold of some people who are going to help me. They’ll give me a computer and stuff. All of the work will be on the computer. They’ll give me everything I need. I can’t remember their name.”
“It sounds like an on-line Charter School. Is that what you mean? That is different than home schooling.”
“Yes that’s it, a Charter School but I can’t remember the name. They’ll give me everything. They will send a letter to the School Board.”
“Is it the Pennsylvania On-Line Virtual Charter School?”
“Yes, that is it.”
There wasn’t any anger or bitterness in her voice. She sounded happy. I was concerned by her desire to take her children to a whole new level of isolation. I believe in being honest and direct with people. True to myself, I told her what was on my mind.
“I know you really deeply love your children. I also know how afraid you are that something will happen to them. I greatly admire your devotion. But do you think it’s a good idea to keep them home like this? Don’t you think they need to learn how to live more on their own?”
“I know what you mean. I wanted to give them more room this year. I was going to let Armand walk his sister to school on his own. I was going to go out and get a job. But on the first day, some man tried to get Armand into his car. I decided then and there that I needed to stay with them.”
“That was a great idea trying to let them be on their own. It must have been very difficult for you to decide to let them walk to school on their own. Maybe you started with too big of a goal. Starting smaller might have been easier. You could walk them to the corner of the school where the crossing guard is stationed. They could then walk into the schoolyard on their own.”
“Nope, I’m not going to do that.”
“No disrespect intended, but I think you need to give your children a little space. My children are grown now, but I understand about loving them and holding them close. I’ve been afraid at times that bad things might happen to them. It’s hard to let them go off on their own. But if you don’t give them space, they will feel smothered. They will go away from you when they are older.”
“I hear you, but I’m not listening to you. I don’t mean you any disrespect either. You are saying the same thing my mother and sisters tell me. I don’t listen to them either. My kids will never leave me. We are a three pack. We will always stick together. I won’t let them stay over my mother’s house unless I stay with them. We stick together. They want to be with me. Where our apartment is, there is a nice courtyard where the children play. I tell them to go outside and play. After a minute or so, they are back knocking on the door. They want to be with me. They have their toys and games to play with in our apartment. Armand has a miniature basketball backboard which he likes.”
I could see that there would be no convincing her. I apologized to her once more. “Well I’m really sorry that Armand had to suffer like that. I can see that you have made up your mind concerning what you have to do. If you need any help, call me”.
She didn’t get up to go.
“Do you know what really pissed me off? It was that the boy kicked Armand in the butt. That really made me mad. It reminded me of when Armand’s father kicked me in the butt. It really hurt. I was pregnant then with Armand’s sister. He almost made me fall down the steps. I had him arrested. He went to jail for three years. I’m not holding any grudge now. He paid for what he did to me, after he was arrested. He hurt me again before he went to trial. He came over to my sister’s house and beat me. That’s what that boy reminded me of. It made me really mad.”
I was taken back by the intimacy and honesty of her remarks. For a moment I was gripped with sadness. She had been deeply hurt by the abuse she had suffered from the father of her children. I felt that I needed to say something.
“He really touched your hurt place.”
“That’s right, my hurt place…He really reminded me…”
Her voice trailed off into silence. There was a distant look in her eyes. I waited for her to speak. She remained silent. I sensed that our conversation was done.
“Well, if you need any help just call. We’re here for you.”
She stood up. I walked her to the door. We departed peacefully. I was wondering how long it would be before she returned her children for another brief stay in our school. I drifted back into my own thoughts after she left. What a wall she has built around herself and her children. The father of Ms. Miller’s children was a bully. The time she has lived with him has left her emotionally raw. She has been betrayed and abused. Her anger still engulfs her at times in a blinding rage. The only two people in the world who she can relate to are her children. They are her life. What ever she needs to do to protect them from hurt she will do. I don’t think Ms. Miller means any harm to other people. They just need to stay out of her way. Ms. Miller has been my teacher this day. I am looking at my world a little bit differently after her lesson.
The disruptions to our instructional program posed by the hurts of emotionally injured and disempowered people are not considered in the calculations of school reformers. There are no points to be gained towards adequate yearly progress by helping parents to deal with their hurts and frustrations. We help them because it is the right thing to do.