Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Are you able to bear the responsibility?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

Second day of school. Early dismissal for preschoolers. 12 noon. Three of them wait to be picked up. Tick-tock, tick-tock. 12:10. One child helps to sweep the floor, one child dances on carpet, one colors at a table. These three watched every other child get picked up. Oh, here is a family! Down to two children. Three teachers, two preschoolers. 12:15  I lean down to tie the dancing preschooler's shoes; no sign of his parents yet. Oh, here's another family! This Mom has questions, I turn to answer her -  "yes, we need napping materials for tomorrow's full day..." and, quietly, invisibly, unexpectedly, he slips out. Elopes. Right by me, standing three feet from the door of our classroom. He, my dancer, the last child, waiting, desperately, for a Mommy or Daddy or another loving adult who never comes. He is impatient, he is three. He has just watched every classmate get picked up. 

In a split second, he was gone. 

Just a minute more, maybe only 30 seconds later, I knew he was gone, too - and I bolted from my classroom, down the hall, towards the front desk - only to be met by Mom and Grandmother, holding him firmly by the hand. Mom was livid - "I did NOT find him right here in the hall! I found him out front, coming out the front door of the school!" 

Her angry eyes will stick in my memory forever - devoid of trust, filled with hurt and anger.

I rambled,

"I am SO sorry. I am SO sorry. I need you to know, this is on ME, I am responsible. He was just here, and he slipped out, and that SHOULD NEVER EVER EVER have happened and I am totally at fault. I am so sorry. I have never had this happen in all my years of teaching and it won't happen again, I promise."

She was LIVID.

Words are nothing but nasty air when one's most important possession has almost vanished.

I continued,

"Please, this is horrible. I invite you to speak to our principal about this. It is a terrible mistake and you should report it. I can assure you it won't happen again. I'm sorry."

I moved automatically to find my principal, and I breathlessly told her, "Please speak with this family, they are so upset, as they should be - their preschooler in my class slipped out the front door of the school at early dismissal."

My principal asked with remarkable calm, "Did we find the child?"

"Yes! His family was walking right up to the school when he was walking out - they grabbed him and brought him back to me."

My principal continued to me, before talking to the family - "This is a blessing. Hear me, it's a blessing. He was found. He is safe. Now we know. We revise our plan. We continue on." 

As she walked toward the family to talk further, I dissolved into tears. 

It is hard to bear the responsibility.

Epilogue -

Even now, a whole year later, it is hard to think about this day.

My principal and colleagues gave me tremendous support and perspective, and I am so appreciative. We revised our 'end of day' routines, and there was never another such incident all year. I worked hard to rebuild trust with the family; I am very close to this family, now.

Truly, on this day, my biggest fear about working with young children happened: losing a child...that one might simply disappear, no matter how hard I try to keep my eyes on them. Whenever I hear one of those nightmare stories about a child who walks away from school, I think "but for the grace of God" - and I am filled with compassion for everyone involved. It takes a village!!


  1. It does take a village - and we in the village are all as human as each other, and as much in need of kindness and compassion for ourselves and each other. Thanks for your slice!

  2. Your principal sounds like a saint. You, dear Maureen, are not to blame in this scenario, at least not totally. Where is the responsible parent? Why do we excuse parents for their failure to pick a child up on time? I've seen so many teens sitting outside my school awaiting a lazy, late parent. It breaks my heart to see them waiting and in distress, but I'd wager their waiting began years ago when kind elementary teachers took on parental responsibility when the parent dallied around instead of making their child the priority. Shame on those parents for being so cruel.

  3. Your description of this incident that happens...more often than any of us want to acknowledge...is powerful. Your principal's words and actions are magnificent! I agree that reflecting on incidents - all of them - and events makes us stronger....