Stories We Tell: Jeannie Puckett
(Installment 10 of 14)
Collected and arranged by
“We arrived at our new post in Ft. Carson, Colorado. After getting settled into our new quarters, my first responsibility was to enroll the kids in school. We had been advised to enroll in local schools, as the post schools were allegedly not up to par at that time. [This is actually] a very pertinent issue for military spouses right now . . . having to constantly put your kids in new schools, [and], sometimes, the public schools are so terrible, you [have no choice but to put] them in parochial schools. We enrolled Marty and Thomas into a Lutheran school off post. That turned out to be an error, at least for Tommy.
Tommy came home one day and told us that his teacher did not like him. We more or less laughed and downplayed it. A week later, he told us that the teacher had said his soul was “possessed by the devil.” In addition, he had a bruise on his neck where he told us the teacher had pinched him. Ralph was ready to take the school on! I talked him into letting me take care of the problem.
This went on from September through October when he kept coming home telling us these traumatic experiences he was having at school. We’ve always backed the children’s teachers, but this felt like it was getting out of hand. I made an appointment with the teacher. She was a beautiful young blonde with an angelic face. I introduced myself and explained that our son felt that she had taken a dislike to him. She informed me that Tommy was the only child in the class whose soul was not saved. I asked what she meant by that. She explained that he drew pictures of witches and ghosts on his papers. When I pointed out that it was the Halloween season, she told me that Halloween was Satan’s holiday and was not tolerated in this school. She went on with another example of his behavior: a classmate was on the jungle gym, and money fell out of his pocket; Tommy picked it up from the ground and offered it back to the boy . . . but, when the boy grabbed for it, Tommy would not give it back until the boy said, “Thank you!” The boy would not say it, so the teacher had to make Tommy return the money anyway.
I immediately went to see the principal who informed me that the teacher was young and one of their “more zealous” believers. No action would be taken for her strong beliefs. We had no choice but to remove Tommy and place him in the post school. We could see that the encounter had a lasting effect on him and his feelings about school and the church.
A few years later, we were back in the Washington DC area. [Tommy] had excelled in sixth grade where they had an “open classroom.” This was something new that Fairfax County was trying out, and it happened to work very well for Tommy. Each student had an individual contract with the teacher, and you could move at your own pace. Those who were good readers could move faster, and those who needed more help could move at a slower pace. It takes a special teacher to work this way, and Tommy was lucky to have such a teacher. When he left Sixth Grade, this teacher commented that Tommy should be put in “Special Education.” Many do not realize that this term can refer to education outside of the norm at both ends of the spectrum. Unfortunately, when he got to middle school, he was placed at the lower end of the Special Education spectrum instead of the “gifted” end. We were not aware of this mistake until the first grading period, when his report card showed C-level work. There had been indications that he was not happy in school, which we should have minded more closely. Tommy would say, ‘I hate school. I just hate it. We do the same thing over and over.’ He was so frustrated, and so were we.
We made an appointment with the principal and all of his teachers to discuss the problem. The principal greeted us with the news that the school had made a terrible mistake and had placed Tommy with the slow learners instead of in the gifted program. When we asked the individual teachers if they had noticed that he was a misfit in class, only one admitted that she had. Her excuse was that Tommy was such a “kind and helpful student to those who needed help” that she used him as a “teacher’s aide”! We were both stunned and angry. Once again, military children are asked to adapt and overcome all the time. With all the moves and different learning environments, it is easy to see how some can be lost in the process. We should do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Reflections from Amy:
I knew for three years that I had a child who was a struggling reader. While I am far from a reading expert, I knew that something was not adding up for my girl when we would sit down to read. The kitchen tables we worked at changed with each move, but the scene always ended the same way: my daughter in angry tears, hating everything about trying to fit those words together, and me at a loss after she’d stalked off to bed—head in my hands, defeated.
She was in three different schools from 2nd to 5th grade. Each school would say the same thing when I asked about testing her for reading issues: “She’s a great kid. She’ll catch up. Give us this year to work with her. She’s a natural leader.” All things I appreciated, but nothing that addressed my kid’s inability to read. Finally, I took her in myself to be tested where they determined that she was, in fact, dyslexic. Finally! An answer! With new-found direction, my feelings of defeat turned to problem-solving determination, but I still have echoes of sadness for my daughter. Like with Tommy, these challenges have completely shaped who my child is and how she views herself. We already ask so much of our military kids, and they only get one shot at an education. We owe it to them to pay attention.
Are you an active duty or veteran milspouse interested in being a guest writer for VSP? Get in touch with your details and topic interests on our contact page!