and that is what it takes for me…
This will be the 9th school -not counting preschool- that one of my children has attended...before you inhale at the thought that I am a crazy school jumping parent, remember I have 5 kids, 3 of which are college age or older. In the course of the last 20 years, if my math is correct, I have navigated 3 school districts, 9 schools, and built relationships with 21 elementary school teachers. Following that, the math gets a bit fuzzy for me, but even a conservative estimate puts me at an additional 60 middle school teachers and 35 High School teachers (we had lots of repeat teachers with all 3 big kids attending the same high school).
A friend once told me a great story I have never forgotten. It was her first parent orientation at Bing Preschool, the highly regarded lab preschool program at Stanford University. As a new parent it is always a bit foreboding going to your first parent meeting EVER! (So much so in fact, I wonder who the new student really is). Anyway, there she was looking around the room when she suddenly had an overwhelming feeling of relief. In the room, there were a few people who looked familiar to her… not familiar in she actually knew and recognized them… but familiar in ‘I think I could know them kind of way’. The best part of this story, however, is that when the parents went around the room to introduce themselves, every one of the people she had picked out as her “kind” of a person, every last one of them was one of the teachers at the program.
Teachers ARE my best friends. Not only because a myriad of my best friends actually are teachers, (hey I rarely hired employees at my own schools who wouldn’t end up my friend as well as my employee), but also because for that one, two, or three years a teacher has my sons or daughters in their classroom, they are my best friend, they are my partner, they know my child in a context I can't dream of knowing them and thus through my child they know me in a context I really don't know myself.
One of my all time favorite teachers who taught 3 of my children during the amazing years of K/1 always ended her Kindergarten back to school night telling parents; “Never let your child see or hear anything you don’t want me to know about, because by the time the end of the school year comes around, I’ll know everything”. And boy did she. Sometimes she knew even more than I did, especially when my last was a Kinder and his siblings were all in high school or college…he was sharing stories galore...
Teachers have shared some of our family’s greatest trials and tribulations, and at the same time they have attended or enjoyed hearing about some of our greatest celebrations. They have played roles in a divorce, a remarriage, three re-locations and the blending of the family. They were among the first to know and tell my three oldest children that their siblings were born and Mom and baby were doing well. They helped me monitor emotional well being and medication dosages, and even once in awhile made the dreaded call, your kid forgot to put on underwear today.
You might be telling yourself right now that I am making it up, but I’m not… for at least a year at a time, if not for many more years, teachers are part of our day to day life. I have had the privilege to have my kindergarten teacher from 1972 be my first two kids’ kindergarten teacher in 1996 and 1999 and I have had the joy of trading places with a former parent who ten years after her stint at my preschool she was sophomore math teacher for my 3 oldest. These 2 particular teacher relationships may have been coincidence of time and place, but the friendships are no fate. The friendship between parent and teacher is available to any of us when we take just one first step towards relationship building. Out of the 100 plus teachers we have entered into a relationship with, only 4 and 4 alone, ever caused me to take action to make a change in the best interest of my child or other children in the classroom. Only 4! The choice is ours.
For one of my sons, the teacher relationships usually started with my late summer warning about how incredibly difficult my child with ADHD might be in the classroom. Every year I’d worry about whether it was better to jump right in and tell them or just let them find out on their own. And every year I would side with being up-front and honest (because of course they were to be my best friend for a year and up-front and honest was the best policy for friendship)…and every year I was pleasantly surprised to find I had braced them just enough for the fall out that they were relieved the first 3 weeks of school when he appeared the perfect angel. Of course, by the time the 4th week arrived they were so in love with the little charmer, that when the comfort level finally allowed the ‘real kid’ to show up, all they could do was continue to love and guide him in the way only a lovingly attached teacher can.
It is the same with all my kids, they were never the easiest kids in the class… (okay my step son really was the easiest kid in the class, little guy was lucky not to get my genes, I guess)…but they were well loved, respected for their individuality, and allowed to thrive as the learner they were meant to be. And as a teacher, myself, albeit early childhood, the same experience happened the other way around. Year after year, parents I could partner with continued to be among my friends… and usually those parents were not parents of the “easiest” kids. (If there really is such a thing, but alas, that would take another whole blog to address.) And let me tell you, not all of the parents and teachers I call friends, have agreed with me… more often than not we have differed greatly in our approaches… but the communication and respect is what forged the friendship; communication, respect, shared expertise and joint attention on what is most important...the CHILD. One of my former parents would say “Maybe if we all point at it, it will all go away”, and though it never quite works that way, something magical always happens when kids know parents and teachers are working together. And it is in our hands, not our kids’ hands, to make it happen.
So, as the annual Teacher Appreciation week comes to a close tonight, remember this week is just a radar blip in a whole year. It is a week which makes us feel better as parents knowing we did something tangible to recognize the individual who often spends more waking time with our child than we do for those precious nine months of learning we never get back. It is a fun week for teachers as they get breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner. (I have even seen a school provide chair massages and latte truck!) But again, this week is only a blip on the radar of a school year, the true appreciation, the true gift, is the gift of friendship and partnering to create the best possible learning climate for your child.
As Dewey put it:
“All learning takes place in the context of relationship.”
The best gift you can give a teacher is the gift of communication, and it can not happen just one week of the year… it must happen every day, of every week, of every school year…
*In memory of Anne Kyle, 3rd grade teacher 2001-02, Lydiksen Elementary School, Pleasanton, California. Anne, I hope you know you changed one gentle giant genius wild boy's life when you gave him My Side of the Mountain to read that year as the winter holiday gift... he never stopped reading from that moment on, and he never learned to stay still in his seat or stop blurting out either...
but he did grow up and I wish you could see and know him now.