Your daughter was always the first to be dropped off in the mornings and one of the last students to get picked up by five. She was a tornado. She spun from corner to corner to corner of the classroom, ruining the library, wrecking the art center, and terrorizing the classroom butterfly, Marvin. She always left a trail of destruction in her wake, but ultimately, she was a kid longing for connection. The other students seemed to like her, although this was pre-K after all, so children didn’t really hold grudges quite yet. Your daughter seemed to need more attention, more moments of interaction, and my sleuthing skills could never quite discover the reasoning behind this behavior.
I was a relatively new teacher and the classroom sometimes felt too large for me. I often got so lost in the commotion of the kids and the colors of the bulletin boards that I forgot my sole purpose was to prepare my students for kindergarten. All of the students were rambunctious—they were three or four years old—but they paled in comparison to your tiny twister.
Despite her hyperactivity, your daughter’s hair was always in perfect braids, her brown skin was lotioned well, and she consistently had new clothes. She always attended school: on the snowy Connecticut days when it was too dangerous to drive, on the summer mornings when it was swelteringly hot by 7:00 a.m., and even in the fall evenings when all the kids were scared that Mommy was never picking them up because it was dark at 4:00 p.m.—thanks, daylight saving.
It was only once that she wasn’t present, on an unassuming winter morning. I won’t lie, it was definitely a calmer start to our day without the classroom tornado spinning about, but your daughter not being there created an empty space that made the room feel unfamiliar.
As I began to serve breakfast, I received a call at nine on the classroom phone.
“Hi. I’m from the Department of Children and Families. I would like to speak to you about one of your students. Is this a good time?”
As I cradled the phone, multiple parents were dropping their children off, many heckling me about what the lunch choices were for the day while the other students were snatching toys out of each other’s hands or eating Play-Doh. And yet, amid all the chaos, I was still able to hear the DCF worker clearly on the phone.
“Sure, what’s going on?”
She told me that the classroom tornado wasn’t going to be in for a few days and that she was being removed from the household for both her and Mom’s safety. Circle time was particularly quiet that morning as if the kids were also trying to make sense of your daughter’s absence.
Over the next few months, I would be the point person with the DCF caseworker, as if this would somehow relieve any of my guilt. If I was reactive now, it wouldn’t glaze over all the times I didn’t do something. But it didn’t matter, because during all the moments I wish I had helped, my mind kept thinking about the classroom tornado and you.
English wasn’t your first language, but you never really spoke enough for anyone to hear your accent. Our afternoon check-ins would always resort to me giving you updates on your daughter and you saying, “yes, okay,” over and over again. Your gaze rarely met mine. It was always low, but not low enough to meet the eyes of the students either. You were slender and tiny, but I somehow think you managed to make yourself smaller to take up the least amount of space—which was impossible in a classroom of eighteen four-year-olds. You would always sign your daughter out as quickly as possible, and if she would give you a difficult time leaving, then I would see your eyes. They would look at me with a distant longing. I thought it was normal for a parent with a child tornado to look at me like that. I wish I had realized that it was a call for help.
Eventually, your daughter returned and she seemed to be doing well while in foster care. Her foster mother was very sweet, and your daughter got along well with the other children in the house. Every now and then, I would get a call from the DCF worker with updates regarding how you were doing, and while I was happy that your daughter was okay despite the circumstances, I was pleased to hear you were safe and that you were taking the right steps to get your little girl back.
When the day finally came for your custody to be reinstated, I made sure to briefly say hello and goodbye to you when you signed your daughter in and out. The ordeal was our secret, but it was hard to ignore that something did happen, and both you and I knew it. I wish I had the nerve to say something to you.
I’m sorry I mistook your silence for peace. My gut had told me something different, but my mind insisted that I shouldn’t get involved. I want you to know that I never judged you. I don’t think what happened to you and your family is your fault, and I never will. Life goes by so quickly, and amid the chaos of work and home—and in a classroom of hyperactive little ones—we sometimes forget to check in on each other.
I hope that you and your daughter are in a safer place, and you are working a steady job and she is doing well in school. She would be in second grade by now.
I will always remember the fear in your eyes. I will not mistake the same fear in my future classrooms.
Shannon Prevost is a senior at CCSU, where she majors in English and minors in Creative Writing. She plans to pursue a Masters in Elementary Education from the University of Bridgeport and has been working with children from ages five to twelve for the last eight years. She loves teaching them about English and literacy.