My five-year-old, Hunter, got off the bus looking dejected and worn out. Always a source of unending energy and vigor, Hunter is only worn out when he is upset or sick. I asked him what was wrong, and he looked at me with teary blue eyes. “I got into trouble today.” I asked him what happened and he told me. He is persistent and confident. Hunter is not afraid of anything, and he doesn’t let anyone stand in his way when he wants to accomplish something. The story he told was that he didn’t finish his morning work, and he had to miss recess. He finished his work and his teacher told him to put his head down. She checked his work and told him to put it into his folder. He thought that he would be able to go outside after he was finished. Then she yelled at him and told him to put his head down. He said to me “Mommy, why did she have to yell at me?” I said, “Sometimes grown ups yell and they don’t mean to. I’m sorry that you got upset. You are a good boy, try to listen better on Monday.” She put a note in his folder saying that he needs to follow directions and learn that he can’t just do what he wants all the time.
I am a teacher. While I am taking a year off, I am a teacher in my heart. So, when dealing with my children’s teachers, I try to have a helpful attitude. Teachers are overworked, underpaid, and undervalued. My job as a parent is to act with understanding and calmness. I would never say that a teacher was bad, or assume that any teacher is picking on my child. When my children come home from school complaining about something that happened, I ask questions and try to make sure I have all the information before I act. If they get into trouble, I always ask them what they were doing at the time and what they were doing right before they got into trouble. I back up the teachers decision and talk to my child about how to correct his behavior.
The day that Hunter came home upset was heartbreaking for me. This is a child who is never thwarted by other people’s opinions. He is thick skinned with regards to emotions. Unlike his tender-hearted older brother, he does not allow other people’s opinions to sway his knowledge of himself. He is the most confident five-year-old I have ever met, and most of the time when he gets into trouble, he is unfazed. He is kind to animals, and he is a cuddly child. He was heartbroken that day.
When we are sending our children to school, we are trusting the teachers. We are trusting that everyone they come into contact with will deal with them fairly and calmly. While I do yell at my own children sometimes, as a teacher, the only time I yelled at my students was when there was a fight. I always felt that calm is strength and yelling only makes their adrenaline kick in. Yelling makes things worse. I subscribe to the thought that I don’t know what goes on in their homes. I have no idea if there is kindness or cruelty. I have no idea if there is care or neglect. While I am observant, and most of the time it is obvious when a child is not being cared for, I never really know what is going on in someone’s home. My actions could make or break that child, so I had better choose carefully how I will handle the precious thing that is their spirit.
Teachers are under a tremendous amount of stress in these “accountability” times. As adults, we are better able to deal with and compartmentalize our emotions. I am still considering what I will do to address this situation with his teacher. I am a volunteer at school, and have opportunity to observe the staff and faculty while I am there. I keep an open mind in my dealings with the school. I understand that children are often limited in their perspectives on things. When Logan was in pre-school at the Methodist Church down the street, his teacher said “I promise to believe only half of what they tell me, if you promise to only believe half of what they tell you.” She didn’t mean that we shouldn’t trust children, only that their experiences are limited and sometimes a child’s perception is not 100% accurate. This has been the underlying theme when I deal with teachers, and also when I deal with parents of my own students.
Now, with all these things in mind, the most important job we have as educators is making every child feel cherished and cared for. Children are not born being a Dylan Klebold. They are made with years of feeling isolated and unheard. While they may have a problem dealing with stress in an appropriate way, they deserve to feel welcome and wanted. As the caregiver in The Help told that little girl, “You is kind, you is smart, and you is loved.” We all must remember that every child is a gift and deserves to be treated with respect and kindness. After they leave us, they may forget how to find the square root. When they are adults in the world, they may never have to find the object of the preposition. They may not even have to use multiplication facts, given that every electronic device has a calculator on it. But they will have to navigate the world of stress and pressure. They will have to balance work and family. They will have to talk to people and relate to them. More than any academic lesson we give our children, they must learn to be emotionally educated. The legacy we leave our children is not academics, it is in our ability to treat everyone with kindness and care. Like the song in the musical “Into the Woods” says: “Careful the things you say, children will listen.” I am inspired when I think of the wondrous legacy we could all leave this world if we remembered to treat each other as the precious gifts we are.