Ever since Phoebie, my firstborn, started attending primary school at the beginning of the year, I have been bracing myself for what is ahead. Compared to her kindergarten, the primary school is much bigger with children of a bigger age range.
Having been through the school system myself, I know that there are all kinds of children from all kinds of background. There will be those who will perhaps become Phoebie’s lifetime best friend, and there may be some who will pick on her for no reason.
I have said this before, and I will say it again that I’m very thankful for Phoebie, because she tells me about what happens in school every day. However, I don’t think I prepared myself to hear what she went through late last week.
(The names of Phoebie’s classmates have been changed.)
Apparently, Phoebie’s pencil sharpener was not working, so she approached David and asked him if she could borrow his. David said no, but Phoebie reached for his pencil sharpener anyway. David was enraged, so he used his sharp pencil, poked it into Phoebie’s hand and scratched her.
Phoebie cried. As her teacher entered the class, she went up to the teacher, and before Phoebie could say anything, her teacher said, ” Problem, problem…” It wasn’t until the teacher saw Phoebie’s hand that she realised how serious the matter was.
According to Phoebie, her teacher immediately took a photo of her, and that of another boy who was apparently also injured by David earlier in the same way, and the teacher called David’s mum in front of the whole class. David was made to acknowledge that it was wrong of him to injure his classmates and apologised.
As Phoebie told me what happened, she showed me her hand.
As Phoebie showed me her hand, my heart broke. My sweetheart was scratched so hard on her hand that the carbon from the pencil was still stuck in her hand. Yet, at the same time, I knew I had to do the right thing.
“Phoebie,” I started, “Why do you think David scratched your hand?”
“I wanted to borrow his sharpener, and he was being selfish and didn’t want to lend it to me. So I still tried to take it and then he scratched me,” she said.
“Phoebie, while it was wrong of David to scratch and hurt you like that, do you know that it was not right of you to still take his sharpener after he said no?” I told Phoebie. She was quiet.
“The sharpener belongs to David. He has the right to decide whether he wants to lend it to you. It’s just like how you have some things that you don’t like to lend to your friends too. So next time if your friend says no, go to another friend. David is not the only person you can ask to borrow a sharpener from,” I said.
“Okay,” Phoebie replied.
“Now, here’s what you did right. I like that you went to your teacher for help. I have always told you that when we are at home, Papa and I are the ones who will protect you. When you are in school and if you encounter any incident like this, you should always approach your teacher for help,” I affirmed Phoebie. “Your teachers are the adults in school, so I want you to continue to go to them for help if things like this happen. Your teachers will know what to do, like what your teacher did today.”
Other than the injury that Phoebie sustained, the other thing that bothered me was what Phoebie said was her teacher’s first reaction when Phoebie approached her. What was “Problem problem” supposed to mean? I mean, I get that with 30 seven year olds in the class, teachers probably hear all kinds of complaints and problems all day every day. But the reaction from the teacher would deter the children from going to her if they encountered serious problems.
I decided to send a text to her teacher, even though it was a very busy day for me. I thanked her teacher for taking immediate action and for calling David’s mum on the spot. When the teacher replied, she assured me that she had also reported the incident to the class form teacher. Then, she said she would like to call me and follow up on this incident.
When she called, she started by saying that she knows how much we love Phoebie, because we would write little notes for her on her snack (I have to be honest, I was questioning why she had to bring this into the picture). She also said that she had found out from Phoebie that I am a strict mother.
Then she started to fill me in on Phoebie’s “flaws”. “Phoebie likes to hang out with the boys in her class, but the boys are very rough, so Phoebie tends to cry and complain a lot when the boys get too rough with her. She complains almost every day about every big and small thing that the boys do when they play together. I keep telling her to hang out with the girls because the girls are gentler,” said the teacher.
“David’s mum was informed at the last parents-Teachers-meeting about David’s reactive behaviour, and the mum said that David is like that. He can be quite explosive when provoked,” she added.
A lot of questions marks went off in my head. While I agree that Phoebie may tend to complain when she feels she is mistreated, I didn’t understand why Phoebie must hang out with the girls if she felt okay hanging out with the boys.
“Ma’am,” I started, “Thank you very much for looking out for Phoebie. Again, I really appreciate that you called David’s mum on the spot and addressed the incident immediately, even though it took up your precious lesson time. I’m sorry to hear that Phoebie complains a lot, but perhaps it is because of how my husband and I taught her to be since young.”
“My husband and I have always taught Phoebie to speak up, so she is a very outspoken child. We taught her that if someone at the playground was being too rough, she should tell the person that he or she wasn’t being nice and to please stop it. We also taught her that if we are around, we are the first people she should approach for help. If she is in school, she should approach the next adult of authority. In this case, you are the teacher, and so she has chosen to approach you.”
“I’m not sure why Phoebie chooses to hang out with the boys more. It can be because she has a younger brother at home, so she is comfortable hanging out with the boys. But I must say, Phoebie always mention girl names when she tells me who she hangs out with at recess,” I poured it all out to the teacher.
I think the teacher was a little stunned by my reaction. “Phoebie told me that your first reaction to her was “Problem problem”. While I really appreciate you addressing the issue, I hope you understand that Phoebie chose to come to you because she knows you are the adult in the classroom and can help her. I don’t want her to feel that going to you for help is the wrong thing to do. Also, while it may be annoying that Phoebie likes to complain, I think she is also still learning and maturing. At this point, she may not be very good at handling certain things yet, so the sensitive child that she is, her first reaction is to cry and then to complain. Perhaps by next year, she will be able to handle these things better. I will also talk to her about it,” I said.
After this, the teacher started telling me how sweet Phoebie is and how much she likes Phoebie, and she would never want Phoebie to feel that Phoebie cannot approach her for help.
My conversation with the teacher took almost 30 minutes. I wasn’t sure what to think or feel after that but I knew I had to talk to Phoebie again.
Later that night, I asked her if what her teacher said was true, that she cried in school almost every day and would complain a lot. Phoebie said that she would cry sometimes, and it was usually because her friends had used unkind words on her like calling her stupid or ugly.
“I feel hurt when they say those things, so I cry, and then I go and tell teacher,” Phoebie explained.
“I can imagine how hurt you must have felt, Phoebie,” I told her, “When I was in school, it happened to me too. And you know what? As you grow older, you will meet more people who may say unkind words to you. Some people will say the most awful things to hurt you.”
“Here’s the thing though, do you agree with what they say? Do you believe that you are stupid and you are ugly?” I asked Phoebie.
She shook her head quietly.
“That’s right, you are not stupid and you are not ugly. So here’s something I want to teach you to do,” I said, “The next time someone says such unkind words to you, say this to yourself in your heart, ‘I am a beloved child of God. What they say is not true and the words shall not hurt me.’ Say this with me.”
“I am a beloved child of God. What they say us not true and the words shall not hurt me,” Phoebie repeated after me.
I gave Phoebie a big hug and continued to encourage her, that approaching her teachers for help is the right thing to do, and that when her friends said unkind words to her, she can remind herself that those words are not true, and that she is well loved. I also reminded her that because she knew how hurtful unkind words can be, she should NEVER use them on her friends.
I can only pray that my little girl remembers how to protect herself and grow to be more resilient. As she grows, she is beginning to see some of the uglier sides of people, but I pray that she will always know the right thing to do.