I am tolerant of quirks, I embrace anxiety and I cherish eccentricity. Five years ago, the fact that my daughter’s teacher was rumored to have OCD did not deter me at all. In fact I believe that certain anal tendencies are what make teachers and lawyers best suited to their professions. However, what transpired over that school year made me hate (yes hate) my child’s third grade teacher. Her need to control made her an inflexible and an unkind person to my daughter.
My daughter is considered “profoundly gifted” by the school district, which means that her IQ scores fall in the top 1% of population. This is the threshold that our school district considers significant enough to encompass an “at risk” the student population. Gifted children manifest their gifts differently. My daughter is very verbal but the verbal skills seem to come at the expense of other ordinary skills. She can’t file, she can’t write quickly, she has trouble with organization and she moves in slow motion. She was also a very tall and awkward child who looks much older than her age. We had a history of teachers that had been unkind to her because they didn’t understand that, as smart as she was, she has some significant processing disabilities. Unfortunately, this new particular teacher was very big on systems and filing and her specialty was organizing.
The teacher was renowned as an organizer; she spent many days out of the classroom teaching other teachers to be organized. She had a homework collecting system that resembled a Rube Goldberg machine. Designated children would collect the children’s homework, organize the homework in numerical order and then check off whether the children had handed in their homework, and then they would be put in a pile to be graded by a parent that helped the teacher. Every quarter, the teacher sent the parents a spreadsheet to update us on grades and missing assignments. My daughter had 32 missing pieces of work one-quarter. I suggested to the teacher that she just collect the homework directly from my daughter. It seemed a simple solution but she balked because her system worked perfectly.
One of the first writing assignments that she gave to these little eight year olds was to write an essay on obsession. This should have tipped me off. I thought it was neat at the time. The teacher also had frequent cleaning days where the children would spend entire days cleaning the shared pencils, scissors and rulers. The teacher did not allow anyone to bring in her own pencils because she wanted to control the supply. The teacher’s class room was spotless and clean. One day, my daughter was watching a commercial on TV and said “Mom, I feel an impending sense of doom every time I see this.” It took us a while before we realized that her teacher used these plug in air fresheners in the classroom.
Once, when my daughter returned from her pull out program, the teacher handed her the math book and told her that she would need to learn decimals by reading the text book that night at home. She had missed the lesson for the day. She was told by the teacher, if she did not learn decimals on her own, she would not be able to do her homework or pass the math test. The teacher explained that she was going to be away for the next few days teaching seminars on organization.
My daughter cried every day that year, she would just say that the teacher had so much filing in the classroom. My daughter had nightmares in which the teacher was possessed by an evil force. My daughter was perceptive enough to know on some level that the teacher was possessed by an overriding need to control her environment. My daughter also realized that this was a force that was beyond the teacher’s control.
For that year, I was consumed with my own feelings of helplessness. My suggestions to the teacher to help her to deal with my daughter’s inability to keep up with the organizational demands of the classroom were met with disdain. The teacher would explain that her system worked and that my child should be able to meet all of the requirements.
In the end, when I play over the school year in my mind, I can only come to the conclusion that the teacher had some kind of disability that made it hard for her to be flexible enough to meet the needs of children that did not fit neatly into her mold. Other factors were: 1. The teacher was so overwhelming driven by her ambition to be the most organized teacher in the school district, 2. My inability to be an effective advocate for my daughter. I did not know how to work the system.and 3. The teacher’s lack of empathy.
By the end of the year, this teacher had the lowest class score on our NJASK standardized test. Third grade is the first year for this assessment. As a consequence, the teacher was moved to first grade. I am told that the first graders are required to file and keep large binders. I am just glad that our disorganized family did not get her as a teacher again.
Previously Published on Open Salon July 29 2010 under Snarkychaser