But! Because of my limited interaction with all of the students, I was able to form and stregthen relationships with a few that I might not otherwise have had a ton of time for. In fact, I looked forward to one kid in particular who has been with us since day one. His dad is a single father, and until very recently, if I wanted to see him, I'd have to go to his house and wait until he'd grace me with his presence.
Child-rearing is still, and not just here in the DR, very gendered - moms have their role and dads have theirs. Unfortunately, the dad role has been one of discipline and violence. Disciplining a child means spanking and beatings. Add in poverty of mind and body (and wallet!) and it is a recipe for disaster. Throw in a kid who you have been saddled with, on your own in a world where men just don't do the single-dad thing.
I met this dad before I even entered formally at school - he had come, on the last day of June to pay off the entire year of tuition. He just hadn't thought to send the money, but wanted to make sure his son "wouldn't be bothering him at home next year." I took his payment, and tried to stress the importance of paying on time, hoping that we might see more consistency in the future.
Forget it. Last school year, I saw dad twice at school. He came in December and he came in June. His new "wife" had been checking up on the child, and we had seen definite changes in his personality - he was more open, loving and willing to receive affection. This woman was doing great things for him at home. But, she admitted, it wasn't a nice environment for anyone and she didn't know how long she'd be sticking around.
This fall, we hit a wall with the student. He was nervous - visually shaken more than once, and his mental walls went up. We were scared to talk to the dad for fear of his punishments to the kid. Step-mom had, in fact, moved along in her life and left this boy alone with his dad.
We talked and played and sometimes, our shy little man would stop by my office to give me a hug before he left for home, and things got better. In March, step-mom was back in the picture and shortly after, dad was visiting me in the office to pay and just to "check-in." In May, he came and asked me for a copy of the birth certificate so he could get his son vaccinated. Three days later he brought me a copy of his new vaccination card!
No matter how much our student had changed, his mental walls and probably a learning disability really held him back academically this year, and he'll be repeating second grade. And even with all of the change that I've seen in the dad...
I was so scared to tell his dad..
The abusiveness of old scared me. I would be much better off in my life if I hadn't heard of the "techniques" to punish this child for not being able to read or write or for wearing the wrong socks to school. I know that dad has changed - we've seen it in the kid's character as well - but failing second grade is a big, big deal.
The step-mom came to collect the report card, and I told her that I really need dad to come in so we could talk. I explained - in my best principal tone of voice - that it was best for the boy, that it will allow him to build his "base" and do better in higher grades. I told her that even if he couldn't come in, I would go there - but no matter, we needed to talk.
Imagine my joy when dad showed up just half an hour later - leaving his little shop with an assistant - to tell me that, yes, he understands and it is okay to leave him behind. Also, he will be attending review-weeks at school to get a little more "of that base you told my wife about." It was only more that he brought me a candy bar and told me how much he appreciates everything that the teachers have done for him and his son this year.
I had to close my door for a few minutes when he left. It's not really professional to cry in front of the parents -even if they are tears of happy.
It's hard. But slowly, step by step, we're seeing the lives of these kids change. We're growing. There are growing pains, but it seems to be working.