When I first became a parent, I thought my situation was completely unique. As I posted not too long ago, I am not a biological mother. Instead, I am raising two children whom I did not give birth to, but had rough starts in life. Knowing their histories made me some sort of fierce mama bear. I will admit I have been extremely tough on the people who care for my children. I have high expectations, but this is why: my children had been through situations that nobody, even adults, should ever have to experience or be equipped for. I swore as I held my tiny ones right after they landed with us that I would always, always protect them. (If you're a parent, you know what I mean, and if you're an experienced parent, your snorting at the impossibility of that statement.
So, as I often like to do, I wanted to write an open letter to my teacher friends about parenthood. I hope you'll read it and think about it when you're working not only with parents but with their children.
Thank you for your investment in my child's education. As an educator myself, I know the dedication you are planning to put forth throughout the school year to ensure that all the children learn what they need to learn to be successful next year. I know you will spend a lot of your time planning, grading, counseling, and caring for the children in your class. But there are some things I'd like to tell you about my perspective as a mom.
It was once said that "to have a child is to forever have your heart walking outside your body." In my experience, no statement has ever rung truer about motherhood for me. The hardest part of sending my children off to public school is that I am entrusting my babies to a system that I have very little control over and know very little about regarding its inner workings. You see, you may be a wonderful person. But I don't know you. I've never had a drink with you, you've never been to my house, we've never gone shopping or had lunch. I trust you're not some kind of monster with a criminal record, but there's a vast continuum between "criminal record" and "loving, respectful adult". My own experiences in school jaded me into understanding that some teachers, in some schools, can get away with anything. When I was a child, I witnessed children being verbally and even physically abused on a regular basis. I have spent the better portion of my career working to ensure that good teachers enter classrooms with the knowledge and support they need, so they can be loving and competent and respectful. But I'm not naive enough to believe this means every teacher.
For six to seven hours a day, my child will be in your care. That's literally more time than my child spends in MY care on an average weekday. I have no way of telling what your day will be like, or how you talk with my child, or even if you respect my child. I have one child who tells me very little, and another who tells me quite a bit, but through a limited perspective. I hope and pray every day that they are learning what they need from you--not only intellectually but socially as well. I hope you're treating them with respect and kindness. I hope you practice empathy while holding them to appropriate standards. Basically, I hope you're doing all the things I believe a skilled teacher should be doing with children. But I really have very little way of knowing.
I appreciate notes home that let me know how they are doing and what they are learning. I appreciate emails and phone calls, especially when they're not always talking about problems. If my children are having problems, I want to support them in solving the problem. Please understand that my support always lies with my children, not with you. I believe your support should lie with my children also. Our job in joining forces together is to make a better environment for all kids. That's what I want.
Please don't approach me, no matter how well you think you know me, with a statement that is insulting to my child's personality. I live with my children. I know exactly--far more than you do--what their personalities are like, who they are, and what they struggle with. I am an involved parent. I read your letters, I spend time talking and hanging out with my kids. Please don't insult me--or my children--by implying that I don't know how to parent, that my parenting is somewhat less than adequate, or that my child is a "bad kid". When you use terms like "bossy", "controlling", "out of control", "impulsive", etc., you've insulted one of the most important people in my world. You've also sent a message to me loud and clear--intended or not--that you don't like my child. It bristles my back like no other and my mother instinct is to get my kid as far away from you as possible. If you want my cooperation, you better be able to tell me YOUR plan of how we go about helping my kid get back on track. I cannot control my child from two or five or ten miles away. I will support any plan that encourages my child's success. That doesn't mean I will support any method you toss out. And it also means that you better have a darn good understanding of my child, and that includes his or her strengths as well as the weakness that you mentioned.
Every parent has to entrust their child to strangers in a school system. Just as I would imagine most people have, I have lived through experiences that were very painful to me. But if you want to hurt me, go after my children. Nothing hurts a parent more than seeing their child being hurt. Teachers need to understand a parent's vulnerability. You hold my beating heart in your hands seven hours a day, and I have no control over who you are or what you do.
You hold a special role in my child's life, one that they may never forget--I pray for positive reasons. I respect your knowledge and your hard work, but I respect your ability to build a positive relationship with my child even more. When you are able to accomplish that--when my child trusts you and is open to learning everything s/he can--I will be grateful to you for forever. Our family will never forget you and your kindness and your dedication.
***Thanks for reading! Click on the links and pass the blog along. Tomorrow--a letter from teachers to parents!