I remember walking into my elementary school and scanning the list of names outside the teacher’s door to see who was in my class. At some point, it became for me more about who was in class with me- and not just who my teacher was. As a parent, both are concerns for me. Which is why last year was so troubling.
I was out of town the day that families at our school received “The Letter”informing us of our child’s teacher. Thankfully for me, a friend went by my house to get The Letter, then texted me with the name of the teacher.
Friend: “You got _____.”
Me: “Who is that? I don’t know that teacher.”
Friend: “I don’t really know that teacher either. I think they are kinda new.”
Other than the initial blow that we hadn’t gotten a teacher I had heard of, I wasn’t yet concerned. My fingers quickly texted other parents to see if their children would be in my child’s class.
Me: “We got ___! How about you?”
Friends: “No, we got ____. How are you feeling about your teacher?“
I began to get that panicky feeling. Not only would my child have no friends (whom we already knew) in their class, but apparently this teacher wasn’t on people’s Top Ten. I panicked more when I heard from fellow educators about how this year “might not be your child’s best year, but should be ok.”
For a week prior to Meet the Teacher Night, I was a hot mess. I continued to ask my husband what he thought- which he (patiently) responded to me each time with, “Why did you ask people what they thought if you didn’t want to know? Our child will be fine.” I entered the school that night a ball of nerves- and, mind you, my child was fine. We had kept our issues to ourselves (well, really to MYself), and our child was not fazed.
During our initial meeting, I wasn’t sure what to think. I had done the grown-up thing after those earlier texts and Google/Facebook
stalked “researched” the teacher. The teacher seemed okay. The teacher had degrees. We had mutual friends who, of course, I quickly texted to say “What do YOU think of ____?”… all who responded with favorable texts containing LOTS of smiley faces and exclamation marks. And yet at that meeting, I still felt myself in angst- wanting the teacher to miraculously prove their worth to me.
School started and my child seemed just fine. More and more as I volunteered in the classroom, I saw that the teacher had nothing to prove. This teacher was competent, engaging, and my child was doing better than “just fine,” my child was excelling. Whether or not this same love of learning would have blossomed with someone else remains to be seen, yet what we know is that my child speaks about the upcoming start of school in a way that is positive… the only catch being that they know they won’t have the same teacher this year. They begged to have the same teacher!
I know this isn’t always the case. There are bad teachers. And by “bad” it could mean a number of things from “not the right fit for your child” to “lazy” to “not what we would like to see in a teacher.” Whether we have experienced them first hand or we have witnessed them through the experiences of our friends’ children, we know they are out there.
I had friends whose children were in tears nightly because of “bad” school experiences. Like any profession, all teachers aren’t always good. However, my huge lesson learned this year is to give a teacher a shot before assuming the rumblings are true. If I ever let my child know what my fear had been going in to this year, I feel certain they would laugh and wonder why I had believed a word of it. Their teacher was just right for them- whether or not they would have been just right for other kids should not affect me.
Back mid-year at a gathering with friends we all started sharing experiences of our kids’ school year. One friend- who is an educator herself- talked about her child’s classroom and how they, unfortunately, had been handed a “not great” teacher. Someone asked her why she didn’t ask to have the child moved, especially since she taught in that same school and would likely be able to bend the principal’s ear. Her response was that the lesson she wanted her child to learn was that you don’t always get what you want and sometimes you just have to learn to live with where you are placed. This is a beautiful lesson, hard as it might be, and one that so many of us blow right past these days. We tend to ask for our child to be moved prematurely- as I was tempted to do even before getting to know our teacher.
And a word on “not having friends” in my child’s class: as it turned out, there was only one other student in there that we knew, and that was someone we only knew tangentially. This ended up being no big deal at all. My child did notice that other friends were in the same class, but didn’t seem as bothered by it as I imagined they would be. It led to far less drama, far less behavior issues in the classroom, and gave my child a chance to make 20+ new friends.
As the days get closer and closer to getting The Letter again, I am thankful for the experience of last year. I am hopeful that I won’t read it and feel discouraged if it’s not The Teacher I want, and I am hopeful I’ll remember that it’s ultimately not what I want that matters. I will commit to making my child’s school year the best it can be- starting with my attitude. I am also committing to getting my child to school a little earlier this year so they’ll be able to pop in last year’s classroom for a quick hug. My response affects their experience, and I am committed to being not only their number one cheerleader, but their teacher’s, too.