Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Blink of an Eye

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”

- Harvey S. Firestone

Late on Sunday afternoon, I received a call to sub Phys. Ed. at my children’s school again. The last time I subbed for this teacher, a couple of days later, he saw me as I picked up my kids and said, “Subs don’t usually leave me notes.” Then he added, “I saw your name, but didn’t connect that it was you, and then the kids started saying, “Ms. M was our substitute on Friday.” I assumed that he must’ve requested me to get a second call.

Since it was a Monday, it meant that my daughter would have gym. When I told her the news, she exclaimed, “You’ve never subbed my class before!” She spent the car ride explaining the routine, and I let her even though I knew it.

When I got to the gym, a note was put on the door to cancel Open Gym for kindergarten to second-grade. Once I got the office and equipment room unlocked, I walked to the cafeteria and told the staff to let them play. As the kids began pouring in, I had a twinge of panic/regret, but they played well with the basketballs, Nerf balls, hula-hoops, and jump ropes. Even better, was that when it was time to go, they all cleaned up. The only work I had to do was to keep them out of the equipment closet (my rule) and to keep older kids from sneaking in.

It would be all young kids again: three kindergartens, two second-grades, and one first-grade. There would be no stations this time – I had to oversee actual games. First one would be “Fire and Ice Tag”, which meant three kids would be ice (blue jerseys), and if they tagged a student, s/he would be frozen, and could only be unfrozen if one of the three fires (red jerseys) unfroze them.

Next game would be “Fishy, Fishy Cross My Ocean”, which had two sharks, each carrying a foam stick. All the other students line up at one end. Then the sharks say the “Fishy, Fishy” line, and the students have to run across the ocean without getting tagged. If a person is tagged, they become seaweed, and have to sit on the floor. As seaweed, they can put their arms out and tag someone has they pass by, making them seaweed. And fishes can tag seaweed, unfreezing them. It’s a little chaotic to keep track of, so I don’t recommend it with a tough class.

I made sure to switch who was it, so everyone got a turn. There were minor incidents: head bumps, babysitting (chasing after one person too long), and accusations of the tagged refusing to be frozen or seaweed. Kids tried to sneak onto the stage, but I’d tell them to get down by saying, “We’re not acting – we’re exercising!”

One student asked, “Do you remember my name?”

I hate that question. “Basketball?”


“Ham steak?”

“If I’m ham steak, then you’re hamburger!”


We fist bumped on it – the modern handshake. And at the end of class, as students were filing into the hallway, he said, “Bye hamburger.” I replied, “Bye ham steak.”

After three kindergarten classes in the morning, I had lunch, and looked forward to other classes in the afternoon.

But as lovely as the morning classes were, the afternoon classes were less so. After the students jogged, and were getting settled on the listening line, a harassment/bullying incident occurred, that took me by surprise. It happened in the blink of an eye, and if one child wasn’t visibly upset, I would’ve had no idea that anything unusual had occurred other than the shuffling of students into place.

The victim wasn’t physically hurt. For half-a-second, I considered pretending I didn’t know, but it wasn’t the right thing to do. Even if the victim never mentioned it, it wouldn’t be fair to her and the bullies shouldn’t be allowed to repeat it to her or anyone else. Besides, I prided myself on being the kind of person who does the right thing. I acted quickly, speaking with the students involved without making a scene, calling the principal and teacher, while putting two trustworthy students in charge of warm-ups.

The incident stayed with me for the next two classes, so I wasn’t on top of my game. As a result, I didn’t state the rules clearly, and I wasn’t at good at staying on top of behavior problems. Near the end of the next class, one student refused to “take a break”. Instead of raising my voice or sending him to the office, I just told the other students to ignore him. So he ran back and forth, untagged during “Fishy, Fishy”.

I went through many stages: shock, disbelief, and worry. It could’ve happened to any teacher, but it happened to me. Although the class hadn’t been chaotic, what if I was blamed? What if I never got called back to the school?

During the class day of the day, a poor little boy got hit just before dismissal. He stayed crouched on the sidelines when the teacher arrived.

“He got hit in a special place,” I told the teacher.

“In his eye?” asked a small girl.

I smiled for the first time in two hours. “Something like that.”

Because I was asked, I wrote an incident report about the bullying, and when I handed it to the classroom teacher, it was weird. That day, I was a parent and a teacher at the same school. Even if I’m not blamed, it’s probably odd for the staff that I know privileged information. As an assistant and an ETS, I’ve witnessed student misbehavior, causing the need for incident reports. Back then, I felt confident that the administration knew my character, so I rarely felt that those episodes reflected poorly on me. But those occurred at my school – not my children’s school. I was redefined in a single moment.


  1. Hi

    How awful for you! From what I've read there was nothing you could have done to prevent or foresee this - the horrible incident happened so fast it took you by surprise.

    I hope you are ok and I'm sending you lots of support hugs that you get through this ok.

    Take care


  2. Thank you, Old Kitty. Thanks for the support hugs too.

  3. I can't tell you how many times my kids would talk about something that happened at recess, and when I asked about the teachers, they would always say, "They never do anything." How much easier to ignore than to take action. It takes courage to act. We need more teachers like you.

  4. Thanks, KarenG. Most of my previous sending kids to the office and writing them up were things that happened during recess. One time, I actually witnessed the event when I happened to look out the window!

  5. You always have to do what you know is morally right, and when you do the consequences are never bad. It's so easy to ignore but much harder to stand up for what is right.

  6. Thanks, Sheila. This afternoon, the teacher brought it up to me, and seemed to want to make me feel better about it, and now I do feel better about it.

  7. Oh wow, you were put in a tough position but definitely did the right thing! I wish bullying wasn't so prevalent!

  8. Kristin, thanks for the comment. The Cambridge Public Schools do a lot to fight bullying, but it still happens. At least the school handled the incident well.