In the nearly two months I was away from my students I wrote several posts as a way of processing my feelings about what was happening. Those feelings and what I understand/understood about what was happening have changed a lot in the past two months. That’s noticeable, at least to me, as I reread these. I’m sharing the posts as they were written because I want to remember where I was emotionally then. In addition, if anyone else has been through a similar experience or might in the future, I feel it is important to be open about it. There was a period of significant shame (and is still some shame) for me and not talking about the situation just increases the sense that it is shameful.
The short story, so that you don’t have to read all the other posts, is that a parent accused me of harming a child. I was placed on administrative leave while an investigation was completed. It took a far longer time than I had anticipated. Some of that was the fact that the allegation came just before the winter holidays. Some of that was, I believe, because Child Protective Services has far more cases than they can manage easily. They are seriously overworked in a job that is already seriously hard. I was finally interviewed by CPS one afternoon and got the call the following day that I was cleared to return to work.
To some extent, I went through almost a cycle of grief through this process. It began with guilt and feeling awful. It took some time (and help from others) before I could distance myself from the allegations enough to recognize that I didn’t do anything wrong and get past those feelings. I felt a lot of fear about losing my job and my entire professional sense of self. There was frustration at how long the process was taking. Anger was the one emotion I had very little of. I waited to share this story because I did not want to put the student in a rough position in any way. I have lots of thoughts and theories about what happened and why, but I do not have any anger toward the child or the mother. I don’t have any anger toward CPS either as I am grateful there are people out there listening to children and investigating to keep those children safe.
That said, I am immensely grateful to my union and the support I received from it. I’ve had little to do with my union in the 22 years I’ve been a member. I initially joined in my first year of teaching for exactly this reason. I wanted to know I had support if I were accused of something. I remained a member because I believe in the work they do in many different areas of education. I am beyond grateful that I never let that membership end.
I am not glad to have been through this process by any stretch of the imagination. But I did get a lot of things done at home that have been on my to do list for months (or even years). I had the time and energy to be a more present parent for my children for a bit. This time gave me a chance to see things, as a parent, a bit differently and I think that will be helpful for the future. I also learned something about how the process of investigating such accusations works.
That said, I’m so thrilled to be back at work and back with my students. They are fabulous even when they are exhausting me. I am lucky to have a job I love, a job that fulfills me and brings me joy. That is a gift.
The posts I wrote during the process are linked here:
Wow, Jennifer, I had no idea you were going through something so devastating. Like your husband, I admire your strength and resilience. I respect you for your lack of bitterness and your eagerness to “get back on the horse.” Also, good for you for getting projects checked off your list. I may have just curled up in a fetal position!
Wishing you all the best.
Anna, thank you for these kind words. It has taken me so long to respond to comments here because I was simply overwhelmed with emotion.
I’m pretty sure there was at least a brief period of curling up in the fetal position!
I had no idea you were going through this, but I’m grateful you decided to write about it at the end. I’m also sorry for how difficult that must have been. As always, appreciate the reflection and perspective you offer for all of us.
Thank you for your support. Writing is always helpful to me and I hope sharing this allows it to help others.
Oh my gosh, I just read this and I’m floored. I’m so sorry you went through this. I’m so sorry your student with through this. I’m just so sorry to hear about it. So much love and support. You’re a shining star and gift to your students and your learning communities. I’m glad you’re back in the classroom, where you belong. <3
Reading this brought me so much joy. That you can be empathetic to me and to the child involved says so much about you and makes me so grateful I’ve had the opportunity to get to spend time with you over the years.
My heart goes out to you for suffering the pain of false accusations. In my teaching career there were some times I needed to take a stand on an issue with a parent and was acutely aware of the destructive power of a false charge even with no basis. I distinctly remember 10 years later the flood of relief that I was never directly accused of any misconduct and that I would no longer have to carry that dread. I knew of two teachers in my district who were falsely accused and saw the great pain they felt. I admire your ability to be glad for the power to accuse as children must be protected. I hope you find peace with this behind you , Jennifer. I have always thought very highly of you and have benefited from your various teaching observations. Thank you for your passion and commitment to the children in your care.
Thank you, Bonnie, for these kind and supportive words. Having shared this, I am learning how prevalent these fears are and how often they come from having been a part or near an accusation. It is fascinating but also painful. I don’t have a good idea for how to improve the system to be sure kids are safe but so are adults. It is tough.
[…] reality is this year has been tougher than any I’ve ever known. I missed almost two months with my students in the winter. I was barely back for a month before this hit. I did the math and I […]