Care and Feeding

Should I Report a Classroom Aide Who Abused Me Long Ago?

A woman looks mournfully into the distance.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Povozniuk/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature an assortment of teachers from across the country answering your education questions. Have a question for our teachers? Email askateacher@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

I’m an adult, and I recently found out that an instructional assistant who I had in kindergarten is still working at the same school I attended. I’m very concerned because—without going into specifics—they were verbally abusive, and the abuse almost always occurred when we were alone.

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The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized how this person’s behavior was not okay. This person works with children with disabilities, which greatly disturbs me, and I hate to think about what they might have done to others over the years. That being said, I don’t have evidence that this happened, and the fact they’ve been working there for so long makes me think that no one else had a problem with this person, or that if they were reported, the administration didn’t care. Should I still write to the school about this? If so, how would I go about that?

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—They’ll Probably Retire Soon Anyway

Dear TPRSA,

I’m so sorry this happened to you! This person violated their sacred obligation as an educator to treat you with respect and kindness.

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Of course, I cannot say whether the verbal abuse ended with you; personally, I think it’s likely that you are not the only child victimized by this teaching assistant. Since the abuse happened when the two of you were alone, the TA may know how to avoid getting caught. Unfortunately, it’s also possible that the administration knows about and has ignored the abuse (although I sincerely hope that’s not the case). If you share your story of what happened when you were in kindergarten, hopefully that will trigger an investigation into the TA’s behavior. I don’t know enough about the law to give you specific details, but the school has a responsibility to ensure the safety of the children in this TA’s care. Even if they retire soon, they will continue working with kids until they do.

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You have a difficult decision to make. The abuse was unequivocally not your fault. Now that you know the TA is still working with children, you want to make sure none of those kids are experiencing verbal abuse. Of course, it’s not easy to share stories of past trauma, no matter how long ago they happened.

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Since you are writing to me, I am guessing that you want to do something about it. The Department of Health and Human Services has resources on how to report child abuse, including hotlines where you can ask questions. As a mandatory reporter myself, I am trained to report abuse directly to child protective services. That said, I would also inform the school counselor and administration so they could take immediate action to support and protect students. I realize the current school principal is probably not the same one who was there when you were in kindergarten, so you may not have a sense of whether or not you can trust them, but I typically give educators the benefit of the doubt and assume they have the students’ best interest at heart unless I have reason to believe otherwise.

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Finally, have you discussed this experience with a therapist? If not, I suggest contacting a professional who can help you navigate these waters as past traumas may resurface.

I do not know what will come of this—it’s possible that an investigation will turn up nothing and the teaching assistant will remain in their position. However, even if that’s the case, you are holding them accountable for their behavior and turning a spotlight on them.

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Take care of yourself—I will be thinking of you.

— Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)

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What should my expectations be for parent-teacher communication in kindergarten? Monthly? weekly? daily? Some sort of behavior chart? Or should I just expect semester conferences when there is an issue the teacher can’t resolve in class?

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—What’s the Norm?

Dear Norm,

I’m not sure if there is any real consensus on this question. I think it’s entirely reasonable and appropriate to at least expect weekly to bi-weekly communication, via email, a classroom blog or newsletter, or video. While this may not be the norm for some, I think it should be.

I also think this is what should happen throughout elementary school. As a fifth grade teacher, I communicate with parents via a video message at least once per week, and my wife, a kindergarten teacher, does the same via email.

It may take teachers a little bit of time to prepare and send these messages, but our goal should be to establish a partnership with parents, and partnerships require communication in order for all parties to be on the same page. The time spent crafting these messages is time very well spent. Sadly, I suspect that some teachers communicate much less frequently, if at all. I think this is a mistake.

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As a parent, I think it’s entirely reasonable to request weekly or bi-weekly updates and insist upon monthly updates at the very least. These updates should focus on what your child is learning, how you might support that learning at home, and anything else related to the goings-on in the classroom. I’m not sure if your child’s teacher will agree, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, or if necessary, insist.

If the teacher does not agree to send regular updates, I would simply send an email once per month asking about the current units being taught in class and what you might do to support the learning at home. If the teacher refuses to be proactive in their communication, you can require them to be reactive.

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—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)

My daughter is five and in kindergarten, and she writes a lot of letters and numbers in reverse. I’ve asked her teacher and pediatrician if it is a sign of dyslexia, and whether I should start getting her some outside help to assist with it. They have both said not to worry and have said that it is common for kids to do this up to the age of eight. That said, she flat out argues with me when I try to show her the proper way to write a three, for example. I worry if we wait until she is eight that she will already be behind and struggling in school, which I don’t want. I want her to have a positive relationship with learning; I don’t want her thinking school should be a struggle. What do you think? Should I pursue this now, or see if it fixes itself?

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—Reverse the Reversals

Dear Reverse the Reversals,

As the husband of a kindergarten teacher, I see a lot of kindergarten writing and math assignments. (More than I would frankly like to!)

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But my wife can’t help but feel pride in her student’s work, and she shows it to me often. Happily, I can report that reversals of letters and numbers are a constant in their writing. My wife can miraculously decode the writing done by her students even though it looks like gibberish to me, often because of the multitude of reversals. My kindergarten colleagues (including my wife) concur with your child’s teacher’s and pediatrician’s assertions that reversals through second and even third grade are quite common.

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If you want to help your daughter with her handwriting, one of the best things you can do is focus on forming letters and numbers from the top down. This is a critical step in proper letter formation and much more correctable than the reversals, which really do almost always work themselves out. You can also give your daughter opportunities to practice fine motor skills by coloring, using Playdoh, stringing beads, cutting with scissors, and using tongs. The better her fine motor skills, the easier writing becomes, and this is also something easily practiced at home.

Fear not. As the father of a daughter who reversed her b’s and d’s well into fourth grade, I can report that as a middle schooler today, those b’s and d’s are no longer a problem for her.

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—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)

My family and I live in a small, somewhat rural town. The schools aren’t bad, but they do tend to focus heavily on sports, while arts and science seem to have less focus. I recently spoke to a friend whose children are attending middle and high school in a large school district where they are taking art, foreign language, and history courses. I find myself jealous of their opportunities and concerned that our children will miss out on educational options like these. Should we supplement their education somehow? I want them to be able to relax and enjoy themselves at home after a long school day but am torn because I want them to be prepared later on. Thanks for your help!

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—Doing Enough?

Dear Doing,

I agree that it’s important for kids to relax and enjoy themselves after school. Family time is equally important! I would not recommend adding more “school” in the evenings, but you could certainly find fun ways to supplement what you feel they are missing at school. I recommend focusing on your children’s interests: if they enjoy history, you could buy them books on time periods they want to learn more about; or, if they like art, they could take an Outschool course on the weekend or over the summer.

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Like most parents, you say you want your kids to be prepared—but prepared for what? I assume you mean college and adult life. What I honestly believe will serve kids best in the future is a love of learning. Encouraging children to explore things they care about will prepare them to live meaningful adult lives.

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I grew up in a small town in a rural area, so I understand the feeling that there aren’t as many exciting opportunities to be found as there are in cities. However, small towns and country life have their own benefits! It may sound silly, but one thing I miss about living out in the country is being able to see the stars; with the light pollution in the city, the night sky is not as beautiful. I would love to take my kids out into the backyard to find constellations, which might lead to curiosity about how stars are formed, or the mythology behind their names, or even how stars can be used for navigation. I also grew up playing in the woods, swimming in lakes, and exploring a nearby creek, which not all kids are able to do so easily. I’m guessing there are unique opportunities around you, as well.

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Good luck! I am wishing you and your children a fun, relaxing summer.

— Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)

More Advice From Slate

My daughter’s sixth-grade elective teacher recently called me to tell me that my daughter is a great student, eager to learn, and very fun to have in class. Sounds great, right? But he also mentioned that he often asks her to partner with difficult students in class. When I asked my daughter about this, she said that these difficult students are often boys that don’t pay attention and don’t really want to be in the class. I let my daughter know I thought she was a good classmate, but the more I think about it, I feel like it isn’t my daughter’s responsibility to manage these boys in class. What should I do?

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