LIAM: The Boy Who Saw the World Upside Down Chapter 1: Boys Will Be Boys Near the middle of September, I sat in my 8th-grade classroom grading papers while finishing my lunch.
“Ms. J, Ms. J, come quick…come quick!” Willow ran back out of the room. I dropped my sandwich and pen and ran after her. The chatting reached my ears before I saw what was happening.
Re-tard, re-tard, cat got your tongue? Crybaby, crybaby, you’re so dumb.
In the gym on Liam’s third day, the boys surrounded him. He stood crying in the middle of the circle. The girls hung off to the side, whispering, not knowing what to do. I looked around. No faculty member in sight. Mr. Chadwick, the principal, was supposed to be supervising the gym during lunchtime.
“Stop it. Stop it right now,” I shouted as I broke through the circle. “Free time is over. Get back to class. Now!”
“You can’t take our lunchtime away from us. That ain’t right. I’ll tell my dad about this.” Alan spoke up in his normal you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do voice. Dick chimed in, “Yeh, I’m gonna tell my dad, too.” Alan’s dad, the business manager of the school, and Dick’s father, the school chaplain, were both golfing buddies of Horatio Chadwick, the principal. This wasn’t going to make having administrative support any easier. Mr. Chadwick had continually refused to believe, or do anything about, my reported bullying incidents.
I narrowed my eyes, glaring straight into Alan’s and Dick’s. “I said get back to class, and if I get there before you do, I will speak to both of your fathers.” Students scampered, quickly emptying the gym.
I put my hand on Liam’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Liam. That will never happen to you again. Let’s go back to class.” He wiped at his cheeks, head hanging, and shuffled back to class. The students were silent when I entered, but the looks Dick and Alan shot at each other let me know the trouble was not over.
One by one that afternoon, the girls quietly told me they were sorry, that they weren’t the ones who were mean to Liam, and that they didn’t know how to stop the boys. I told them that Willow had done the right thing by coming to get me, and from now on, I was to be told if anyone bullied anyone else, no matter who it was. Several of the boys looked contrite, but not one spoke to me about what had happened.
After school, I reported the incident to Principal Chadwick. “Excuse me, but could you please tell me why there was no adult supervision in the gym during lunchtime?”
He looked at me over his black square glasses perched halfway down his nose. His silver coiffed hair and grandfather looks belied his arrogance. “Now, look here, young lady, you’re not to question my whereabouts. I have important things to do. Those kids are fine. They know how to behave. What you’re talking about is just what boys do. Think of it as sort of an initiation. Liam is the new kid. They just had to find out how he’d fit in. Boys will be boys, ya know.”
I bit my tongue. Shaking with anger, I left his office and returned to my classroom. I sat back in my chair, hands clasped over my head, thinking of how to make any headway with the situation. It wasn’t enough to have a mentally challenged student put into my already overflowing classroom. But to give me no more administrative support than that was unthinkable. Looking after Liam was going to be up to me.
I recoiled at labeling students, but I was not a special education teacher, so what did I know? Labeling Liam as mentally retarded went against everything I believed about student potential. I had checked Liam’s records that were transferred with him. They were of little help in diagnosing his particular situation. I didn’t know how to interpret the test scores, the special education jargon, and the brief personal notes gave no helpful insight.
Gathering ungraded math papers, I put them in my briefcase, grabbed my purse and car keys, and decided I needed some fresh air. Nikki, my silver toy poodle, was waiting for me at home and would be gleeful about a walk before dinner. As we walked, I reflected on the previous few days when Liam’s parents enrolled him in our school. Let it go for now. One step at a time. I need to do some research to figure this out for myself.