A LETTER TO TEACHERS, FROM A PARENT (WHO’S ALSO A TEACHER)

Dear Teachers,

I am one of you. I joined your ranks 13 years ago and have been in the trenches of education for these years, right by your side. I consider myself so lucky to have this job, and yet I’m also so aware of the challenges that we all face every single day. I know about the long hours, the constant to-do list, and the feeling of never being quite good enough. I spend my days wondering how I am going to do all that needs to be done, and also realizing there’s nothing else in the whole world I’d want to do.

This past school year I had the interesting experience of sitting on the other side of the desk for the first time. I was now sitting at the shiny red table, surrounded by other adults in tiny plastic chairs, at Kindergarten orientation. While I sat there, staring at this stranger who would soon become the most important adult in my son’s world, I had an awakening. As I listened to her explain how his year would go, I hung to every word she said. He was my whole entire world and I was going to turn him over to her- to let her shape him, mold him, and make or break his impression of school. I knew that she held the power to make my son love or hate school…. a belief that could be very hard to change once it was formed. As I left orientation it clicked- Oh my goodness, my job is REALLY important. Like, REALLY REALLY important. You see, not only did this wonderful woman who would go on to be my son’s world hold this power, but I TOO held this power… for someone else’s child.

I always knew being a teacher was important. Once I became a parent I became a much better teacher. I realized that every child in that room was loved in a way I didn’t know was possible prior to becoming a parent. Yet, now that I was a parent of a school aged child, I realized just how much what I do every day can impact a child, a family, and a life- long beyond the 180 days we spend together.

As teachers, do we recognize that a child has a life outside of our four walls? Are we assigning homework that we would want our own child to do? Are we providing a home-life balance we would want for our own kids?

As teachers, are we making a personal connection to every child? Especially those quiet kids who blend in to the background? Because my son… he can be one of them. And I don’t want him forgotten.

As teachers, are we facing each situation with kindness? Every year we face kids who are so challenging we stay up at night thinking about them. Are we treating them the way we’d want our child treated? Do we realize that other kids watch how we treat them and model their behaviors off of us?

As teachers, are we giving it our all, every single day? Are we not giving up on a child before we even give them a chance? Are we forcing ourselves to try something new when the old trustworthy plan isn’t working?

Above all else, as teachers, are we loving these kids? Because really, as a parent, I can let a lot slide. I can overlook many things, but I can not overlook how my child feels in your presence. Are we remembering that how a child feels about school can be the single most important factor when it comes to determining their success?

So, to all my peers out there- near and far- have a great school year! Get some rest while you still can, or take some time for yourself if you’re already back. But at the end of the day, every day, remember that to every child you encounter you are the most important factor that determines their success- academically and emotionally. It’s a lot of pressure, but you’ve got this!

All my love,
Stephanie
A mom, a teacher, and a believer in the power of kindness

REFLECTIONS FROM A BREAK

Reflections From a Break

When I graduated college a well-meaning relative gave me a gift- a wooden sign that said, “I can give you three reasons I teach: June, July, and August.” I remember the chuckles around the table as I showed it to the other guests. It seemed to be an acceptable belief that the benefit of teaching was the summers off. That, in fact, maybe the best part of teaching was the summers off. I remember leaving this gift in my closet for a year or so until I threw it out. While I see the humor, it didn’t align with my beliefs and I certainly couldn’t imagine where one would hang such a sign. For me, it did not represent what I considered to be the “reasons I teach”, and in fact aligned with something I consider to be a larger problem of public perception facing teachers, magnified now by the ever-present influx of social media posts and funny memes.

Summers off have never been truly “off” for me. Prior to having children I always worked full time, whether it was at a day camp or teaching summer school. Once I had children my summers were still busy with school work. Last summer I taught three PD classes, took 30 hours of PD courses, wrote 30 hours of curriculum, and presented at a state-wide conference. Sure, I didn’t “work”, but I still had my teacher brain on fire. I was constantly involved with education, even if I was working on it at my pool club.

This summer, for the first time in 12 years, I took a summer off. I left school in June making a decision that I needed a break. I didn’t teach PD, I didn’t present at a conference, I didn’t log on to Twitter, I didn’t read a professional book… I just experienced time off. And in it, I developed a fear. I said to my husband, “What if my spark is gone? What if this means I don’t love it like I used to?”

I used to crave teaching over the summer- I spent countless hours reading blogs and professional books, researching, and planning. When I didn’t find myself craving it at the end of July I was scared that I was losing my love. But now, now that we are approaching the mid-point of August, I can tell you that I have not lost my spark. In fact, in some ways, this break gave my spark a chance to build up the energy it needed to turn into a blazing flame.

I am on fire right now about a new school year. I cannot wait to get in that room, set up, prepare, and meet these kids. Because, like most teachers, I do not teach for summers off (although a lovely perk)- I teach for the kids. If I had to create my own wooden sign it would say “I can give you three reasons I teach- relationships, relationships, relationships.” It is all about building relationships with kids so they can see the benefit of school. If the teachers don’t see the benefit, if the teachers only see it as a means to an end, a job, a way to get summers off… how will the kids see it?

Let’s work this year on not holding kids to standards we don’t hold for ourselves. If you expect them to give 100% every day- are you? If you expect them to be excited about a new project- are you? If you expect them to be excited for a new school year- are you? And if you’re not… what can you do to get excited? The beauty of teaching is that we, the teachers, are the magic maker- if you don’t feel the magic, go make it! Find what sets you on fire and set the room ablaze! You’ve got this.

The Sunday Night of Summer

We are having a baby girl!

As August rolls into the midway point, teachers in the Northeast are on the “Sunday night of summer” as I’ve seen it labeled all over social media. There is less summer ahead of us than there is behind us. The planning, setting up, and starting fresh is looming on the horizon. The promise of a new year, a fresh start, and a chance to begin again lies ahead.

I’ve always loved those hot, sticky, frantic August days when I am in my classroom starting anew. I love cultivating beauty and organization out of the blank slate of a new year. There is nothing that gets me more excited than opening up a fresh box of Crayola, with their smooth flat tips and smelling that earthy-waxy scent. I love the clean floors and the organized shelves, the order and “just right” of it all… before the kids come and it becomes the organized chaos of our 180 days together. At this point in my career I don’t need to be in my classroom for a full week of full days setting up, and yet there’s no where I’d rather be. Because, you see… in that room lies hope. Possibility. A chance.

Every September is a chance to do better than you did the year before. Every September is a chance to revisit what went well, revise what didn’t go well, and reinvent what will set your soul on fire. I don’t know of any other profession that lets you erase the past and start new once a year. How lucky are we to have such an opportunity!

We all have a choice to frame our minds in a way that influences our actions. I have found that framing my mind to see the “Sunday night of summer” as the horizon of a bright new beginning to have a profound impact on my teaching. The beginning is inevitable, but we all have a choice on how we embrace it.