One of our guiding values at the Calgary Board of Education is that Public Education Serves the Common Good. I share this value and love that public education is for everyone.
As a principal, I am asked to contemplate my commitment to this value on a daily basis. Sometimes it comes in the form of responding to parents asking me about "That Kid in their kid's class". You know That Kid. He's the one who talks way too much and can be distracting to others. Or maybe she's the one who randomly swears. That Kid may also be a bit of a bully sometimes, or perhaps even a thief.
We all know That Kid.
The truth is That Kid, like all kids, has a story.
That kid who talks too much actually has ADHD. His parents have chosen not to medicate him because his father was medicated as a child and his opinion was the drug has had negative and lasting repercussions. They are currently trying dietary changes and herbal remedies before pursuing trial medication.
The little girl who randomly swears was recently adopted by a loving foster family after years in other foster homes. While in the care of one of these other foster homes she lived with some older children who swore at her, telling her to "f#%k off" whenever she came near them or their toys. Thankfully, she's now getting some help from a counsellor.
The bully is looking for a bit of attention because his single mom is working two jobs to make a good life for her and her only son. The thief spent the first seven years of her life in a refugee camp where the only way to survive was to steal. The bully meets regularly with a play therapist who is helping him to make positive choices. Through a charity organization, the thief recently received the first toy she could call her own.
These stories may sound dramatic, but they're not. These are real stories encountered in my life as both a teacher and principal. My response to the parent asking me about "That kid in their kid's class" often comes out as what might sound like a stock, canned answer like this: "we know that this is a concern, but we assure you that we are working with the teacher, the family and others to ensure school is a safe, positive environment for everyone." I know this can come off as dismissive, but it's not. I can't relay the details of That Kid's story to you because, quite frankly, it's not my story to tell. These stories come to me in confidence from the parents of That Kid who help me to understand what's happening in their child's life.
The inquiring parent doesn't get to see the work behind the scenes. That inclusive, detailed work involving meetings, email exchanges and phone calls between the teacher / school and the family of That Kid. They don't get to experience the ways in which the teacher has planned out his or her day to make sure That Kid is accommodated and successful. They don't get to feel the positive response, love and respect from the classmates of That Kid who want nothing more than for them to be happy.
And what we don't get to see is the tears of the parents of That Kid because they don't want their child to cause trouble at school. We don't experience their sleepless nights as they wonder what tomorrow might bring. We don't get to feel the anguish that occurs when they see an email pop up from the teacher, or the school number appears on their call display.
With all this said, I would be the first to say that continual disruption, swearing, bullying and stealing have no place at school and need to be handled directly. What I do know is that your child's teacher is often the first to know and the first to respond. You can bet that by the time you have come to see the principal to talk about That Kid, that we are very likely already on top of things. Just as we want the best for That Kid, we also want what's best for Your Kid.
Public education, after all, is for everyone.