Summer vacation is over for students and teachers in Middle Tennessee. I am beginning my 25th year of teaching, and although I truly tire of riding the wave of the current trends in public education, one thing never gets old: new kids every year! I love kids, especially the “unloveable,” surly adolescents. I love that I get to be a part of their lives in their transformative, difficult years. I love how excited they get when I teach them something new or inspire an idea. In recent years, I sometimes find my eyes welling up with tears during the mandatory moment of silence when I realize just how important my role is in their lives. I often ignore the BS of state testing data, but I really take my job as their teacher very, very seriously. My mind wandered a bit today during a faculty inservice, and I thought about what we teachers would say to parents if we were allowed to express exactly what we think. Teachers, you are also going to get some advice because I’m also a parent.
1. We were not called to this vocation because we make a lot of money. We became teachers because we answered the call. Seriously, I am at the “top” of the pay scale, and Aaron will likely make more than me when he graduates in four years. My bonus last year came in the form of two students who would say, “Thank you, Mrs. L (you know who you are, GBH and EI!)” before they left the room each day. I also got mugs, chocolates, gift cards, smiles and heart-warming notes. With that in mind, it’s worth it to note here that we don’t get an extended summer vacation. Although, for me, one perk of this job is that I do get many extended breaks with my children. Our contract is over a certain number of days, but many of us choose to get our paychecks spread out over the summer. Don’t throw up the “you get summers off” comment because many of us work other jobs, do professional development, and work toward advanced degrees over the nine weeks of summer.
2. When your child has a hiccup in the road (behavioral or academic in nature), most teachers understand it is a learning process and don’t hold it against them. Teachers who take the “whole child” approach to education, understand that kids screw up. Heck, we screw up even as adults. Grace is abundant, and I clean your child’s slate on a continual basis.
3. Allow us to help you raise your child. I tell parents this at open house night, and I mean it. Your child is more than likely going to have bumps in the road, but when parents and teachers work together holding the metaphorical safety net, kids learn from their mistakes. It’s not a reflection on you as a parent if your child isn’t a straight “A” student or even if he or she gets caught cheating on a test.
Work as a team, let go of your ego, and allow your child to suffer natural consequences to grow into a responsible adult.
3. Kids often tell you exactly what you want to hear. My own two have been burned by this. I’ll hear, “I got a low grade on that project because she doesn’t like me.” Nothing upsets a parent more than when someone doesn’t “like” their child. Does your child ever tell you that he or she cleaned their room and really didn’t? Uh-hum. I thought so. They tell us what we want to hear.
4. Teach your child that he or she can learn from the “bad” teachers as well as the “good” teachers. I know there are more engaging teachers than others, and some are down-right boring, but our kids are going to have some of their worst teachers (as I did) in college and then who is going to bail them out? I tell my kids all the time: “You learn to appreciate the excellent teachers more when you have a mediocre teacher. Tell your good teachers how much you enjoy their class, but always be respectful toward the others. Your boss may be boring and mediocre, too.”
5. Take our advice the same way you would take advice from your doctor when he or she tells you that cutting down on salt may lower your high blood pressure. We are trained professionals. I have literally taught thousands of adolescents over the past twenty-four years. I know this age, and I understand them really well; however, you know your child best, but be honest with yourselves on what is working and what is not working. It’s one thing to tell adults that they need to stop eating fast food to lower blood pressure, but suggest less video game time for their kids and more time devoted to studying and oh my, it can become touchy to say the least.
To be fair, I am a devoted parent and wish I could tell teachers a few things about our kids.
1. We want you to like our kids because we really love our kids. When they were first placed in our arms, we felt like we were the first parents on Earth. I remember Tony telling my Mom that he had just become a father to Aaron, but he would gladly throw himself in front of a train for this cone-headed two day old boy.
2. When you have to tell us something negative about our kids, sandwich it between two positives, because again, did we mention that we really love our kids? I am empowered to make a change as a parent if I know that there are more positives than negatives.
3. Stop giving our kids busy, mindless work. It’s ridiculous, and it stresses out the entire house when your kid is doing homework six hours a night. Try doing the work yourselves, time yourselves and see if it’s manageable. There were times when Aaron would get an essay (which I would have been given a week to write in college) with a due date of the next day. Are you really checking these, teachers?
4. Forget Obama’s “Race to the Top” or Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and get back to the crux of why you became a teacher: to make a difference. I have yet to see a politician who knows what to do with education in our country. Our country is vast and diverse, and there’s no easy answer. As parents we want politicians and school systems to know that our kids are more than test scores. I could care less if my child measures up academically to a Chinese child. Chinese children go to school nine hours a day, six days a week, eleven months a year. They have joyless childhoods and work like robots until they die. Most American parents want their children to be well-rounded, creative thinkers and are content that their kids can’t pick out Uzbekistan on a map…who gives a rip?
5. Be patient with us and don’t judge us. We are making this parenting thing up as we go along and are learning too. Try your best not to be condescending in your tone and reassure us that we are doing a good job as parents. We care what you think about us as much as our kids care what you think of them. You have a lot more power than you realize, teachers.
I remember when I was a young teacher without kids of my own. I used to come home and tell Tony stories so that we wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of some of my parents. But it all changed when I became a parent. My experience as a teacher has made me a better parent, but my experience as a parent has made me into the teacher that I have become for almost a quarter of a century!