It’s back to school for all my kids in the morning. This is the first year in the dozen years I’ve had kids in school that I don’t want to send them back.
It seems to be commonly understood that if you can make it work financially (and can stay sane) it’s a good thing to keep your kids home with you when they’re itty-bitty. But the last few years I’ve begun to feel like it’s even more important as they get older. Of course it’s important to be there for much of their days when they’re little, but it seems almost increasingly important when they’re not. Mainly, my concerns are still keeping them physically safe and mentally curious, just as it was when they were tiny. Increasingly though, it’s also very much about helping them become good people who make smart decisions. Their decisions are getting bigger as they get bigger. The dangers and consequences of those decisions are getting bigger, too.
These school days aren’t practice for real life or somewhere to waste time until they are ready to go out in the world. It matters. How they are spending their hours and days and who they are spending them with matters a lot, and it’s already shaping the kind of people they will be years from now.
I’ve loved many of my kids’ teachers. I love it when my kids come home and teach me things or ask me questions about what they learned that day and want to continue finding out more. I love that my daughter came home last winter and asked me where to find our Edgar Allen Poe books after her teacher got her interested. She sat at the table reading to her brothers while they all ate their after-school snack. I was so excited when my son finally had a teacher who enjoyed history as much as he did and who helped him finally find some overlap between all the research and reading and history he’s fascinated with and the work he needed to do at school. I love teachers who show up at baseball games on weekday evenings and soccer games on Saturday mornings to cheer on their students even though they have a million other things to do. I love those teachers who, when I see them outside school, so obviously know who my child is and their quirks and interests and what they are doing well or need to work on without needing to consult their grade book. I love teachers who drop a postcard in the mail when they’re amazed at something my child did at school or who seek me out when they sense something is wrong.
I want all my kids to have teachers like the one who will text me at 10:30 at night to tell me to have my daughter look at the moon because they studied its phases in class months ago and she knows it's in one my daughter has been wanting to see.
I remember these things. So do my kids. We are paying attention. I love teachers who help my students grow academically. That’s huge for me. But how they go about it, the little things in between the formal lessons, that all matters, too.
So it also matters when you call my kid names in front of the whole class to illustrate the sorts of name calling the class shouldn’t do, it matters when you repeatedly lose assignments or can’t make time to update your grades more than once every six weeks. It matters when you’re rude and when you treat whole groups of kids differently than others. Even when my kids aren’t directly involved, they’re watching. And they’re coming home and asking me why it’s okay because they already understand that really it isn’t.
My kids have been luckily that they haven’t really had problems with bullying, but it makes me sad that the only times they felt degraded, picked on, or disliked it was by their teachers. My kids are pretty resilient, don’t complain much, and most of the incidents were small. In every case I’m fairly certain it bothers me more than them, partially because it’s the cumulative effect of collecting all these small heart breaks from all my kids, and partially because it feels like I’ve failed them because it’s my job to protect them. Of course it’s also my job to help them learn to deal with people who are unpleasant and unkind, but I’d feel a lot better if their teachers were helping me with this job rather than being the ones I’m trying to help teach my kids how to deal with. Though my kids rarely complain, have friends that they like hanging out with, don’t get in trouble, and do fairly well academically, they don’t want to be at school. I think that says quite a lot. Hopefully we can change that this year.
We’re lucky to have so many outstanding teachers. But outstanding isn’t even necessary. I feel like I’m constantly on my kids to be more organized, prepared, and respectful. It feels doubly hard because some of the teachers I’m dealing with are none of these things. While I love those amazing teachers, I’m even okay with those who are just fair and competent. Teaching is a really hard job; sometimes it takes all the energy you have to show up and do it well that entire school day. But if teachers can do that, if they just take their job and the kids seriously while they're there, I think we’d be okay.
So, we’ve shaved off scraggly summer hair, bought about 600 glue sticks, dug out the backpacks, bought some new shoes, and have been practicing our optimism by reminding each other about all the good things about school we've missed the last few months and all those teachers we love we haven't seen as often as we'd like.
We have new classrooms and new teachers and new chances.
We’re ready for a good year.
We’re ready for a good year.