My post is late. It isn’t surprising. I’m always late. I’m one of the world’s greatest procrastinators, but this time it really isn’t my fault. You see, I had a really tough time coming up with something to write for the #HoldOntoTheLight campaign. I don’t identify myself as mentally ill. Nor am I a survivor of domestic abuse, severe bullying, or sexual assault. In fact, friends in college used to tease that I was so well-adjusted that that in and of itself was neurotic. I even have imposter syndrome ABOUT having imposter syndrome. I’m always afraid that I am inadvertently inflating my own little issues and thereby cheapening someone else’s struggles. “I’M FINE” is a particularly favorite mantra. Then something happened on Sunday morning and this post hit me like a lightning bolt.
Sunday morning I was having a perfectly normal conversation about my niece with my sister. Apparently, there’s some conflict between the teacher and some grading policy—blah blah blah—it doesn’t matter. Being a former classroom teacher, I was offering suggestions as to why the grading policy worked out that way and perhaps everyone should just calm down. “It’ll all work out in the end.” Then the conversation took a more aggressive turn and my devils’ advocate position started to close in until I felt that I was two feet tall and being pummeled with sticks. So I just stopped talking. I was irrationally angry and nauseated at the same time. Then later, I was depressed. I spent the whole day either sleeping or being weepy—completely wasting my Sunday. Bummer.
It didn’t occur to me until later that maybe I’d just had a PTSD panic attack.
I always get the question, “Why don’t you teach anymore?” And I always make up some long, noble answer about not believing in the education system anymore. Or sometimes I say something joking and flippant like, “I like being able to go to the bathroom whenever I want.” But the truth is, and it’s really hard to admit, I was bullied out of it. Don’t get me wrong, I never really felt that teaching was a permanent career for me. I got my teaching certificate because my mom and dad wanted me to “have something to fall back on.” So I’d been considering getting out of it for a long time, but in my last year, some things happened that made up my mind for me.
At the very first open house I should have known this person was going to be a problem all year. She flat out told me at this first meeting that she wanted her child in another person’s class. I’m not sure why: my test scores were good, my students had always been happy, I was tech-savvy, and my class was heavily arts-integrated. But she had been told that this other teacher was the bee’s knees with all the best students (they did tend to give me rowdier kids because my classroom was more active) and it was a smaller class and she wanted her child in that class, NOT MINE. Remember, this was the first time this woman met me. But I reassured her that her kid would be happy in my class, went over all my policies, and I thought she left happily. Weeks go by. Her child is a delight, but talkative. I mean, she’s seven—all seven year olds are talkative. She’s a smart little girl, but not a prodigy or anything. I think we’re all having a great year. Then when the first mid-semester report comes out, this woman blows into my room like a hurricane, complaining that her child got an S instead of an E (in primary school we gave Es (excellent), Ss (Satisfactory), and Ns (Needs improvement)!!! An S!!! Her child wasn’t an S! Her child got all Es in 1st grade!! I spoke to her calmly, showed her all of her child’s work and explained the grading policy AGAIN. I also said that if it would make her feel better, I’d send her child’s work home weekly instead of bi-weekly as I had been doing for the last TWELVE YEARS of my career. Again, she was grudgingly satisfied and left.
All was well until just after Christmas. I remember it extremely well. It was the Wednesday after we’d come back from Christmas break. I was happily walking down the hall to the ladies’ room when my principal caught me. She asked me about the student with the nutty mom. How was she doing? What was her reading level? I answered her questions, still oblivious to any problem. She went on to say that nutty mom had been to see her and was very unhappy with me as a teacher. That I never sent home any graded work and that her child was failing and it was all my fault. I was flabbergasted and caught off guard. I explained that I was sending home graded work regularly and that the only reason I hadn’t in the last couple of weeks was that it was Christmas vacation! The principal, nodded and said that’s what she thought (at this point I assumed she was still on my side). A few mornings later, I come into the office to sign in and the principal catches me, beckoning me into her office. She then proceeds to rake me over the coals (with the door to her office open with teachers and students rushing by) about this child’s work. The nutty mom had faxed her copies of all of this graded work (I might add that she had picked and chosen the things that served her case) where the child had made a grade less than what she thought it should be. There was also a math test from before Christmas that had I had mistakenly left out of their graded papers before Christmas (the child had made what equated to an A). Apparently, I should have just thrown the test away rather than sharing it with parents because this was all the evidence she needed to determine that I wasn’t grading papers and keeping track of progress. At any rate, the principal scolded me like a child in her office for about twenty minutes over a policy that was GRADE LEVEL-WIDE and neglecting to consider that I was a TWELVE YEAR VETERAN TEACHER. But apparently my judgment didn’t matter. I was then told that she “just didn’t know how to defend me” on this and that she would set up a conference with this parent and keep me posted. I left her office crying.
Fast forward a week or two. Nothing else had been said about the incident, no contact had been made from nutty parent, so I’m hoping that it’s all blown over. I’m walking down the hall after having taken my students to P.E. class. The school secretary rushes up to me and says, “You have to get up to the office RIGHT NOW for your conference!” Naturally I’m surprised. I didn’t have any conferences scheduled that day and no one had told me about any meeting. The secretary notices my stunned expression and says, “that nutty woman is up there and Ms. So and So wants you to bring the kid’s portfolio and your grade book.” I almost threw up right there. I was blindsided. No one had said anything to me about this meeting. At all. I go into the meeting alone, sitting on one side of the table where nutty mom and her husband and my principal are all facing me. What transpired was a forty-five minute session wherein my principal scolded me in front of these people. I wasn’t allowed to defend myself, so I just sat there silently. Feeling about two feet tall and like I was being pummeled with sticks. When it was over, I picked up my class from P.E. and tried to pretend nothing was wrong. Another week later, the principal came in during my planning period to tell me that she was moving the kid out of my class. That I had made her parents feel that I didn’t care about their child’s education and moving the child would be in her best interest. All I could say was, “Whatever you think is best.”
For the rest of the year, I avoided the office. I made copies after school when I knew the principal would be gone. Every time I saw her in the hallway, I’d keep my head down and pray she didn’t stop me. I started getting sick before school. I cried often. The kid that got moved from my class came to see me every day, hugging me and saying she wished she could come back. I hid in my classroom. Every time I had to go to the office, my heart would pound in my chest and I’d break out in chills. Meanwhile, I asked the new teacher how my former student was doing and her comments were exactly the same as mine. I began counting down the days until I never had to darken the doorway of the school again.
I left my twelve year career with no plan whatsoever (not wise, btw). I thought about applying at another school, but the thought of going into the classroom again was sickening. And still is. I miss the children. I miss my old friends and the community that I just don’t feel part of anymore. But I still dream about sitting at that conference room table, alone and feeling worthless. I don’t miss that. And I’ll never be in that position again.
I never considered the fact that I had PTSD from that experience. Isn’t PTSD something that only happens to soldiers and abuse survivors? It never occurred to me that well-adjusted, boisterous, always in control Lexx would have PTSD from being bullied by two small-minded idiots. As an adult. And I think that if I had actually done anything wrong in that situation, I’d be over it now. Sometimes I second guess myself and think that maybe I did. Maybe I wasn’t doing enough for that child. Maybe I should have tried harder. Maybe I was just overly-sensitive. Maybe.
But one thing’s for sure. I’m still shaking while I write this. I still cry when I try to tell someone about it. I still feel like a failure sometimes when I think about it. And the other day when I was talking to my sister about her child’s teacher, I was right back there. Feeling just as small and powerless as I did that day. Will it ever go away? Will I ever just forget about it? I don’t know. But maybe me telling you all about it is the first step to getting over it.
#HoldOntoTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOntoTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/.