Now, I'm aware that kids' feelings tend to oscillate - I like you in the morning, I don't like you in the afternoon, I like you again tomorrow - and hence their words aren't the most reliable at times. Hence, it wasn't what he said that I was most concerned with but how he said it - urgent, fearful. I have never seen him like that before and it alarmed me. Plus, other parents had issues with this teacher before.
I continued to probe for more clues over the next few days. Took some time as he tended to be distracted by his toys and I could get more out of him only during bedtime.
1) (Why would Teacher H be mad at you?) Teacher H is always mad at me. (Is she mad at other children?) No, only me. (I've since learnt that that is not true - she has also been mad at others. The power of connecting with fellow mummies at the gate!)
2) (Why? Have you been naughty?) No... (This is admittedly iffy...) (Then why is she mad at you?) She is a good person. But she is always mad at me. ... But sometimes she is happy with me. (Now, isn't that a familiar line?)
3) (What does Teacher H do when she is mad at you?) ... silence ... (Does she punish you?) ... nods ... (How does she do that?) She hit [sic] me. (Where does she hit you?) On my hand. (She hits your hand with?) Her hand.
4) (Do you like Teacher H?) No. (Why?) Because she is always mad at me. (How about your other teachers? Do you like them?) Yes.
I sense that he wants to please Teacher H. There were a few occasions in the past few months where he came home to say happily that she was happy with him when he made a truck or something or another in school. But it is one thing to want to please someone and another to become fearful of said someone becoming angry.
I'm not too concerned over her hitting his hand because we don't spare the rod at home too so I don't think he is afraid of that. That said, bodily punishment in a group setting could be detrimental to self esteem so it should be meted out in an appropriate manner. The need of such punishment should depend on the offence - unfortunately, I can't tease out from him why the teacher is mad at him.
And arising from this, I wonder if he has caught bad phrases from her. I mean, it could have been other kids too but...
a) We don't say "I'm mad at you" at home; we say "angry".
b) He tends to give a rude/irritated "what?" in response to us calling his name. We have asked him to reply with "yes?" but he said Teacher H would say "what?"
c) He recently told Sito, "stand to one side, don't talk to me" - so rude! We don't say that at home too.
So I asked to speak with the principal and Teacher H last Tuesday when I was texting the principal on some other matters. She called back and asked for more details. I was hesitant as I preferred not to snitch on Teacher H as I've had direct contact with her. But the principal said she would investigate first. So I told her. That evening, she called to clarify and I asked to meet up to clarify further.
Sito and I discussed our approach before I went down last Wednesday to speak with them and a director of the school. So apparently, Teacher H asked the whole class on Thursday to show their parents the communication booklet to book PTC dates. On Friday, only Kai and another kid's parents failed to look at the booklet so she reminded them.
Actually, I wasn't there to find out what really happened. No one can know for sure what had happened. Only the teacher is in the class. If she had been up to no good, I don't expect her to say ya I threatened your kid. Else, Kai could have perceived her words and action in a negative way too. Simply put, I think the teacher was not experienced enough so I wanted to tell her how: Take an age-appropriate approach, use more concrete terms, be consistent.
A four-year-old kid may be young but anyone will feel self-conscious to be singled out for a reminder. And if you say you would be mad, or just show anger, what does that mean? Anger is kind of abstract for a child of this age; he needs more concrete ideas, like specific consequences - naughty corner, removal of privilege etc. And even if you don't say you're mad, he may perceive negative vibes. And to be happy now and mad later sends mixed signals to the child - there's a need to explain different treatments at different times or he might just want you to be happy with him all the time, creating stress and fear.
Still seems happy in school
But of course, my kid is in school all the time so I need to do this amicably. There's always this fear, right, that raising an issue with the school might end up being detrimental to the kid. So I positioned my concerns from Kai's perspective - that he just had a new brother so he might be more sensitive etc - and asked the school to be more mindful when interacting with him, taking note of the three how's. At least, the school is aware I'm aware too.
This incident made me feel very sad for Kai. I don't want bad school experiences at this early age to affect his subsequent schooling life. It also made me reflect on how I treat him. Have I taken an age-appropriate approach with him? Do I confuse him? Does he think I treat him well and fair? Sometimes, I'm pretty harsh on him - it is partly due to this reflection that I decided to let go at dinnertime. Sometimes, he's so naughty or whiny that I lose my shit. Need to remind myself that I'm the adult - I have greater self-control and can handle this better!