Dear Teachers of my Kids,
When I was very small, very, very small, I wanted to be a teacher like you. I thought it would be great to help kids learn to read, write, and calculate how much sales tax would be on the toys they wanted to buy with their allowance. My mother was a teacher and, later, a substitute teacher and she often talked about how much she enjoyed her job.
After I turned eleven and experienced a few years of babysitting, however, I realized that my patience for a large group of children was minimal and that ultimately the only lesson I’d be teaching a classroom full of kids involved profanity and throwing things out of frustration. I’m great with a few kids and not-great with a large group.
What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that I have a great deal of respect for what you do for a living. I can’t imagine trying to keep the attention and enthusiasm of 20 (or more) kids in a classroom while trying to teach them anything meaningful. I can’t imagine what it’s like to spend your day in the chaos of children’s lives when those children are not your own. I am often in awe of your compassion and kindness.
But.. I have some issues to bring up here.
Let’s start with the kindergartener’s teacher.
Earlier this year, I had the chance to observe my son in your classroom. I was in absolutely flat-out awe of the way you’ve structured the class and activities. The kids were all contentedly moving through various activity stations, proudly sharing with each other, doing some basic counting and patterns. I was thrilled to see each child being encouraged by you, individually.
I was thrilled, too, when my son came home with new skills – whether counting by 2s or singing “O, Canada!” – and he has been completely enthusiastic about going to school each day. No faking sick, no complaining. He loves his friends there and he’s learned some great social skills, too.
When I mentioned that my son has been having some problems with listening and following the rules at home, and then asked whether you were having any issues in the classroom, I was asking because I wanted to make sure he wasn’t making your life harder. I don’t want him to be “the problem child” in the classroom and, if he were, I’d want to take some action now.
Your assurances that he was “normal, if a bit stubborn” made me feel better. I can handle some rebellion at home if I know he’s still on-task at school. He’s a stubborn kid in many ways, and that’s okay with me because, well, I’m kind of stubborn myself.
Given your quick assurances that he was “fine” at school, I was certainly not expecting you to leap to the conclusion that my child needs therapy. And yet, you did.
Yes, I am frustrated by his behaviour, but my quick Googling and chatting with friends has told me that many five year olds have problems with “listening” and “following rules” and that it’s not really something to worry about unless it gets extreme. It’s a phase, like the one where he was biting and the one where he kept talking to his invisible friend “Layson”, and when he outgrows this one I’m sure there’ll be another.
(I feel I should assure you that he’s not killing our pets or sneaking into our room at night to draw mustaches on our faces with permanent marker. There have been no death threats and he has yet to carve his toothbrush into a shiv.)
All joking aside, he is snuggly and loving. He is happy and sociable and loves to dance and he’s outgoing and he even eats the crusts on his sandwiches and tells me that they’re “yummy!” which is more than I can say for his brothers. He’s curious. He’s funny. He has a lot of energy.
When he’s in trouble, and there’s a consequence, he is sad and (generally) contrite. He assures me that he will “listen better!” and that he won’t break the rules again. Sure, that may only last an hour or two, but he’s learning all about autonomy and the fact that he can sometimes get away with breaking rules (and not getting caught) and about trust and all sorts of other ‘lessons’.
This seems quite normal to me.
So, when you suggested I find him a therapist, I was kind of flabbergasted. I believe I stammered something random like, “Oh! I like waffles. Hey! Sunshiney day, huh?”
Later, though, I wondered how much of that stemmed from your knowledge that he’s adopted and whether you hold some biases about older children who are adopted. Do you imagine my kid is going to grow up to be an axe murderer?
If he’s “fine” in the classroom, and you’re not seeing any big red flags, why would you suggest therapy? Why would you plant that little seed of doubt? Do you doubt that I’m handling things well? Or is it that you feel all adopted children require therapy?
I assure you that, if/when my son needs therapy, I will take him for therapy. No problem. No hesitation. But I’m going to suggest to you that you never mention the words “perhaps a therapist would be a good idea?” to a parent again unless there’s a really big problem AND the problem extends to school.
See, many of the kids in your class are the first/only child for their parents. And they’re likely as nervous and stressed out and confused by some of the school “stuff” that I am (I have other kids, but this is my first child in kindergarten). We all trust your knowledge, sometimes too much, to guide us.
You have years and years of experience with small people and if you (with your experience and expertise and knowledge and observations) tell us our kids are having problems with X and Y we believe you because, after all, you’re with our kids all day. We panic. We worry. We wonder.
If I weren’t confident in my parenting, for the most part, I’d have come home to Google “therapy for five year olds” instead of sending an annoyed email to my husband. I would have been in tears, wondering if I had fucked up the kid forever or if he was majorly damaged by being adopted and ohgod, how can we fix this?
I am begging you: please don’t toss out those judgments so quickly. If there’s a problem, talk about it and explain your concern and, if the parent asks for advice on what to do, then you can suggest therapy.
You have been a great teacher to my son this year. You’ve encouraged him and comforted him and he’s learned so much from you. Please remember the power that you hold and, too, how small and how quickly these little people change.
Now, teacher to my 9-year-old, this part is for you.
We’ve talked, you and I, about the challenges he’s been having at school and with his literacy skills. You were really supportive of our attempts to work with him at home, and from his side of things, he says you’ve been really encouraging of him at school.
When we told you that we were looking into psychoeducational testing for him, you let us know that you’d be more than happy to speak to the psychologist or fill in forms or give your insight and perspective. We told you that it would take a while to get an appointment because the psychologists all had long waiting lists, and you said you’d help in any way you could. This was a good example of teamwork and it made me feel really confident that my son was not falling through the cracks or being simply tossed aside as “difficult”.
I understand that having even one child in your class who is significantly behind the rest of the kids can make life difficult. I also understand that a child with attention issues or who needs repeated reminders to stay on task can be frustrating.
And I want to thank you, most sincerely, for staying on his side.
He thinks you’re kind of mean, honestly, and that pleases me. By “mean”, I know he means “strict”. Last year he loved his teacher and he learned nothing. We had no indication that he was struggling to the extent that he is because, last year, his teacher kept making excuses like, “Oh, he’s just adjusting to a new school.” and “Oh, being adopted must be difficult for him.” which was well-intentioned, I’m sure, but not helpful in the long run.
I want to thank you, too, for pushing to have him included in the after-school
tutoring Writing Club that’s sparked his enthusiasm – in part, because it’s a class full of boys his age who are all struggling in similar ways, and in part because you’re making it fun for him. And thank you for moving him up in reading when you’ve noticed progress.
In short, thank you for supporting him.
Now then, it’s time for the teacher of my 11 year old.
When we met by chance in the hallway, and I asked how he was doing, you told me that you were really impressed with him lately. Like me, you’ve noticed that he’s starting to put effort into his work and doing it neatly and properly. You noticed, like I have, that he’s been handing in his work and not forgetting parts.
Then you confided that my son has been “chatting” in class more than he should – with the kids around him – and that while you had to make him stop (because you’re the teacher), you secretly thought it was amazing that he was doing it. I loved that you recognized the shift in him, the comfort level increasing, and that you understood what a huge thing it was for him to come out of his shell even a little.
Thank you for providing an environment where my kid feels safe enough to speak up and be a part of things. He’s still shy, of course, and he’s still uncomfortable talking in front of the class. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be the “class clown” or the kid who puts his hand up to answer every question, but man, you’ve helped him see that he won’t die if he has to talk to someone other than his BFF or his family members.
There are many times, teachers, when I worry about my kids. I don’t just send them out the door and flop down on the sofa in a cloud of happiness that they’re gone (okay, well, some days I do) and when I know that you’re on their side – that you’re aware of their challenges and that you support them – it gives me a huge amount of comfort. I like that we’ve got a partnership of sorts going on and that you welcome my questions and my notes to you.
There’s that famous saying about it taking a village to raise children.. and I believe that very strongly. All children should have a crowd of people standing behind them, supporting them and encouraging them. Their parents, yes, but also their extended family and neighbours and friends’ parents and teachers and principal and the Scout leader. The more, the merrier, as far as I’m concerned.
I love when we all work together.