The Day My Kids Took Me to Court
My after school program has a Supreme Court. I have already blogged about the teachable moment that resulted in our court, and telling that story would make this already long story even longer. Just know, we have a government complete with Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches. If you want to know about how our government began, click here to read my earlier blog post.
Yesterday, one-too-many of my afternoon kids were down right disrepectful to each other, and to me. Today, I noticed that we still had nearly a gallon of whole milk and chocolate sauce left over from our Student of the Month Milk Shake Party in the mini fridge, and that both items needed to be used up soon. Not in the mood to hand out free chocolate milk, I posted the following notice on our class newsboard.
WORD OF THE DAY: RESCIND
Today at store, we will be offering chocolate milk.
This offer will be rescinded unless everybody shows respect to everybody.
As the kids ran in, they began jostling each other to get at the sign-in sheet first. “Before you do anything else, you should read the notice on the board,” I warned.
Heads turned to read, and I heard Gecki call out, “What does rescind mean?”
“The dictonary is in the books shelf,” I called back.
Another voice answered, “I think it means taken away.”
“Good reading from context,” I thought, and so the day began.
For the first forty-five minutes, everything ran smoothly. The kids did their homework; they raised their hands for help; they waited their turns; they didn’t interrupt; they asked permission to play with the toys. Heck, they were even putting toys away without being asked, and pushing in their chairs. I was really able to focus on helping the kids who needed help, when suddenly everything went upside down.
Kaylin came up to me and complained, “They keep bumping my book.”
“Who keeps what?”
“They keep bumping my journal, so I cannot write.”
I looked up from helping a five year old trace his letters, and looked around to see what she was talking about. I didn’t see the accused “they” who bumped her book; however, I did see two boys across the room, hands clasped together. They seemed to be fighting over something in their hands, so I thought to myself, “One kid teasing another by bumping her journal, and two boys fighting over a toy. The offer is rescinded.”
I stood up and made an announcment using my loud teacher voice. “Okay, no chocolate milk for store.”
Everyone froze; then just as suddenly, they all demanded to know why. So I told them, “Kaylin told me that she was being teased, and I saw two boys fighting over something. I have told you all a dozen times that any fighting, even play fighting, is not allowed. If you want to play rough, you can play outside.”
Mostly satisfied, they slowly got back to their various activities, and I turned back to helping the five year old with his letters.
A few minutes later, ten year old Gecki came to stand near my shoulder, waiting to be heard. “Uhm,” she started uncertaintly, “They are talking that it was wrong.”
Come to find out that the two accused boys were huddled together in our pillow-filled-reading-hideout and complaining about my accusing them of fighting. “Okay,” I said to them both, “If you weren’t fighting over something, what were you doing?”
“Holding hands,” came the answer.
“But you had something in your hands. It looked to me like you were fighting over it.”
No answer. Just stares. I tried again to get them to explain what they were doing, but neither chose to say a word. I started to feel torn. I didn’t know if I should believe them, or believe my eyes. They weren’t talking, and I started to call my assistant over to see what she thought when I suddenly remembered, “Hey wait, we have a court. This is a teachable moment.”
“Tell you what. You have a complaint, so I think you should register your complaint with our court.”
They stared at me for a moment as if I had gone crazy, then I led them over to our Government newsboard, and reminded them that they could register a complaint with our court. “Here,” I said, handing them the half sheet complaint form we had made months earlier. “Just fill this out, and we will hear the complaint.”
They took the complaint form and, heads bowed together, began filling it in. At one point, the nine-year-old came up to me and solomly asked, “What goes in this space?”
“That’s where you put in the date. It goes like this, On this 5th day of December, 2019.
After a few miss-starts, the complaint was filed. The plaintif, a seven-year-old, had accused me, the defendant, of making a false accusation about his actions. Next I told them, “Well since I am the defendant, I will have to recuse myself.” Another wonderful teachable moment transpired as I explained what a recusal meant, and why I had to recuse myself from judging the case.
Side note, when our government was formed, during a differernt teachable moment back in February, our president was impeached by an older boy/representative who wanted to be president. Thankfully, he never could get our Senate to approve our president’s removal from office. However, it was during that presidential term that I was appointed to our Supreme Court, and I was able to explain the meaning of the words “lifetime appointment.” Luckily, a later president appointed my assistant to the federal appeals court, so since I was recused, my assistant prepared to hear the case.
All the kids were into it now. We were going to trial. My assistant was helping the plaintifs to serve me papers. Everybody wanted in. One of the kids came up and asked how to spell jury. “Oh dear,” I thought as I spelled the word for him. As soon as I was called before the judge, I said, “I believe that as the defendent, I have the right to ask for a summary ruling from the judge. I do not want a jury trial.” The kids were disappointed, but I escaped a mine field.
Court was called to order; Gecki named herself court bailiff; and the judge called the plaintif forward to be the first witness. However, standing in front of everyone proved to be too much for him. His face slowly turned from uncertain, to scared, to crumpled, and soon his whole body was sobbing and heaving out of control. My heart broke. I looked at my assistant wondering if we should call everything off. I could see that she was wondering the same, but then she had an idea. “This witness is excused. Are there any other witnesses for the plantif?” It turned out that there were, but most of them had left before the trial started. She turned to the nine-year-old, “You were with the plaintif when it happened, so tell me in your words what happened.”
Slowly his story came out, while the seven-year-old struggled to control his sobs. Next it was the defendents turn, and I told my story. The judge asked for a reenactment, as she dug for the truth. We slowly and painfully got their whole story until even I had to admit that I might have made a mistake. With a silent look of apology to me, and a nod of acceptance from me, our judge upheld the complaint. “Do you understand what that means?” I said to the still struggling to breath seven-year-old. “It means that you were found right. That you have done nothing wrong. In fact, you have been very brave.”
“But what about punishment?” insisted Gecki.
“So Miss Lynn needs to be punished for an honest mistake?” asked our judge with a laugh.
“Yes,” demanded Gecki.
“Okay, the defendent must apologize to the plaintif.”
And apologize I did, in a manner that showed the kids what a sincere apology feels and looks like. I shooed them all away, and sat down on the ground in front of him. I quietly told him that I was sorry that I had not believed him, that I knew that I had been wrong. More than that, I told him how proud I was of him for standing up for the truth even though it was scary, even though it meant standing up against me. I asked him if we were okay now, or if I needed to do anything to help him understand how sorry I was. Somehow, he managed to indicate through his heaving breaths that we were okay. I asked him if he needed me to leave him alone until he could catch his breath. With a small sigh, he nodded.
Class went back to normal, and eventually he and his nine-year-old friend were playing again. They were looking at the yard stick and meter stick that we used as pointers during our map game, and the seven-year old ventured to ask me where the broken yardstick, which we also used as a pointer, was. “I think it has probably fallen behind the table,” I answered.
Behind the table also happened to be where the Christmas Tree that we had been meaning to put up all week was stored. I asked him, “Hey, do you all think we have time to put up the Christmas Tree?” Soon my sobbing seven year was showing me his dazzling smile, as he and the rest of the kids attacked the Christmas Tree building puzzle.
Yet Gecki was still not done. She longed for some chocolate milk.
Gecki walked over to our government board and registered her own complaint, which basically read, ‘Since the frist complain was innocent, the chocolate milk should not be recined.’ After the court asked her to fix her spelling and grammer, we agreed to hear her case. I was again recused, and our judge called the case to order. This time only Gecki was interested, since the rest of the class was busy building a tree.
The judge agreed with the basic argument, but then asked, “But was that the only reason Miss Lynn rescinded the chocolate milk?”
“No,” I said. “It actually all started because Kaylin was complaining about being teased, and being teased is disrepectful.”
“So we need Kaylin,” said Gecki, already understanding the importance of witnesses. However Kaylin was off at dance class, and might, or might not be back that day.
“Tell you what,” I suggested. “Your complaint can be dismissed without prejudice, which means that when we see Kinchen again, we can reopen your case.” Satisfied, Gecki went off to earn some store points by writing about the day in our class memories book, while the kids kept building our tree. All went well, until Kaylin came back, and I asked Gecki, “Do you want to reopen your case?”
Yes she did, so yes we did. During the case, we discovered the name of the girl formerly known as “they,” who had allegedly kept bumping Kaylin’s journal. We even uncovered the allen wrench used to bump said journal. We also discovered that Kaylin had been the one who had started all the teasing in the first place; however, when her teasing was reflected back on her, she instantly came to tell on them to me, which is why she disappeared so quickly after I announced that the chocolate milk was rescinded. But that is another long story, and this story needs to get back to Gecki’s case.
This time even Gecki knew the final outcome before judgment was in. Teasing had definately occured, and teasing is not respectful, therefore the rescinding of the chocolate milk was upheld.
Upon judgement, Gecki let out a heart wrenching shreak through which the words, “I gotta get out of here,” were barely audible, and she tore towards the door so fast that I could barely catch up in time to grasp her hand and help lead her outside. I led her to a corner where I often take kids who need a quiet moment, and I sat down on the ground in front of her.
“Tell me what is wrong.” I said, but her sobs made the seven-years-old’s sobs look like nothing. “You are ten years old.” I said, “You need to breath, and tell me what is wrong. If you don’t use your words then I cannot help you.” Somehow, through the heaving, I managed to make out two words: Sentence and Unfair.
“So you think it is unfair that you are being punished because someone else was disrespectful?”
She didn’t look at me, but she managed a slight nod.
“So what do you want to do now? Stay out here, or come back inside?”
She managed to eak out, “earn points,” through a sob.
“Okay,” I offered. “How about you come inside, and write in your journal about what is unfair, and you can earn some journal points.”
She took my offer, and our afternoon trudged along. At store, I gave her extra points for a truely exceptional journal entry and for her work within the governement. As the kids were leaving, I simply had to ask, “So did you like going to court?”
“No,” was their unaimous answer.
“Nobody likes going to court,” I agreed, but I sure am glad we have one…
…Believe it or not, this story has a happy ending. An ending that restored Gecki’s belief that our laws, with a little work, can become fair. I wrote everything in the paragraphs above yesterday, wondering if any of my kids would come back, or if their parent’s had filed their own law suits against a teacher who so easily disolved their kids into sobs. So here is what happened today.
My seven-year-old entered full of confidence and declared that he would accept a fourth grade math challenge. He was only teasing, but in my heart I think that he knows he could do it with a little help from his friends.
Gecki came in and got to work right away. I was so glad to see her. As soon as I had a moment, and she was done with her work, I called her over to the government board.
“I know how upset you were yesterday,” I told her. “And I know how much you hate remembering what has upset you because it just makes you upset again, but I think I have a way to make sure that such unfairness never happens in our room again.”
She was already remembering, and already fighting tears in her eyes, but she wanted to hear more.
“You are a Senator, so you can help write and pass our class laws. What if you were to propose a law that read, ‘In our class, nobody can be punished for what someone else has done?’ If that law was passed, then whenever you saw an unfair punishement, your complaint would be upheld by law.”
“I might not remember how the words should go,” she worried.
“I can help you.”
So she wrote the law, and the law passed our Senate, and our House.
Once the law was passed, I didn’t even have to show her where to post it. She attached our new law to our government board so fast that the ink from the last signature was still drying.
Teachable moments can be troublesome because you can never be sure where they will take you, but they are also wonderful because they can sometimes take you to a ten-year-old’s truth.
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