Louis suddenly became pale. He stood frozen as I shared the news that I would be leaving school in several weeks to take a new teaching job in another town. I introduced the children to the new teacher who would be taking my place. I let them know that we would be working together for the next few weeks so that everyone could get to know Ms. Bannon.
Although he's not quite 4, Louis understood that it meant that I would no longer be there to greet him each morning and work with him throughout each day. Louis is always close by, asking me, "What story are you going to read today, Ms. Jones? Can I sit next to you at story time?" I'm aware of how attached Louis is to me. He can't wait to share news from home the first thing each morning. "You know what, Ms. Jones? I got a new car. It's a toy and my grandma gave it to me on the holiday. I can sit in it and drive and it's red." And when it's time to go home, Louis lets me in on his plans for the rest of the day. "Guess what? I am going to the park later, Ms. Jones."
Now when I try to approach Louis, he quickly moves away from me. And he won't even speak to Ms. Bannon! I am at a loss about how to help him with the transition.
THE PARENT'S STORY
"That school is bad! I'm not going there anymore!" Louis warned this afternoon. He has been cranky for several days, since he heard that his teacher is leaving. For the last two mornings, he has balked at getting ready. What a contrast this is to the eagerness and enthusiasm he had been showing. I guess it is hard for Louis. He does love Ms. Jones.
Fortunately, a notice had come home informing us that both Ms. Jones and the new teacher would be there for several weeks to help the children through the transition. At least we know what's behind the huge change in our son's behavior and why he bursts into tears when the least little thing doesn't go his way.
Yesterday he kicked his dad in the leg. He has never done anything like that before. When I tucked him in tonight, he asked, "Where is Ms. Jones going? Why can't she stay in my school?" I made a real effort, but I'm not sure how much got through. "I want to go to the new school Ms. Jones is going to," Louis pleaded. What can I do? How can I ease the pain of this loss that feels so enormous to my son?
Understandably, it worries Louis' teacher and parent to see him so sad and disappointed. But at the same time, they should be pleased about his loving nature and the fact that he can feel close to someone who has earned his trust. As the parent points out, Louis is able to express his feelings but not yet capable of making sense of this turn of events. Children his age are normally egocentric, so the change in teachers seems arbitrary and cruel. No wonder he is angry!
What the Teacher Can Do
It's a good thing that the policy makers in Louis' school are wise enough to make this transition gradual. Having both teachers there for several weeks, allows children time to process the idea. Sure, it will still leave certain children, including Louis, sad and angry. But it also gives them time to register their protests.
Although he rebuffs Ms. Bannon now, there are things she can do to begin winning him over. She might talk to the children, asking what they like to do in school and telling them about the wonderful activities she has planned. What's more, Ms. Bannon can invite Ms. Jones to have an e-mail correspondence with the class. Louis can be consulted about which activities to photograph and what to say in the letters. Gradually, Ms. Banon will befriend Louis in her own way, and the pain of his parting from Ms. Jones will diminish.
What the Parent Can Do
While they empathize with Louis' temporary distress, his parents have reason to be pleased about their son's ability to become attached to a kind and caring person. His parents can help by reassuring Ms. Bannon that she is welcome. But they will do the most for their son by offering him extra individual play time in the coming days and the clear message that they will always be there for him, no matter what else may change in his world.