I submitted this essay for consideration for an anthology. It got rejected 😦 in the nicest possible way. To be fair, they did request that actual teachers submit so there’s that. Names have been changed to protect the guilty, hope you like it.
I’m not a teacher nor do I play one on TV. I’m a parent of two humans, one dog, a crested gecko and carnival goldfish. Raising humans has caused me to interact with the people that are brave and kind enough to become teachers.
My first introduction to teachers as a parent was preschool which both of my kids entered at age 2 ½. I was a sleep deprived, mentally exhausted stay at home mom and I couldn’t wait to get my kids out of the house for three hours, four days a week. It felt like time off for good behavior (not that I’m personally familiar with that). I practically ran across the parking lot in my haste to get to the gym and unload the dishwasher undisturbed, (inhales deep) aaaaah, the sweet scent of freedom.
I have so much fondness for those early days of learning and structured play. Miss Colleen, Miss Cheryl, two Miss Beths and Ms. Tami, they saved my sanity and laid down the first layer of bricks, which began the educational foundation for my children. Before you can say, “pass the Capri Sun” that phase is over and you register your kid for Kindergarten.
When my oldest started Kindergarten I entered the “Zealot Phase” of parenting. I took everything way too seriously and thought that the school would improve greatly if they just followed some of my suggestions. The fact that I have no experience as a public educator did not deter me from speaking my mind (often & to anyone that would listen, mostly other neurotic moms).
My first issue was class size. There were 25 kids assigned to my son’s Kindergarten class. I lost my ever lovin’ mind. I spoke out about it at school board meetings and wrote letters, so many letters. Then I found out my son’s teacher was pregnant and would go on maternity leave mid year (Oh FFS are you kidding). At one point there were rumors of the beloved elementary school shutting down and I went full on crazy and started a petition on Change.org (Oh yes I did). I may or may not have been interviewed by the local press.
When my daughter went to Kindergarten the following year, I was panicked when I received a call from her teacher. My first thought was, well here’s where it all goes of the rails, what did she do, turns out I was selected to be Class Mom. I got to spend a good amount of time in the classroom and on school trips. Mrs. G was a tough teacher but she was also kind.
There is something so beautiful and miraculous about watching children learn to read. Some of my daughter’s classmates were ESL students; their parents couldn’t read English. By the end of that school year, each one of those kids was ready to enter first grade as a proficient reader. Mrs. G did that for thousands of kids over the course of her teaching career. What a positive impact to have on the world.
There was another standout teacher in elementary school, Mr. M, he taught first grade. He was the rock star teacher that parents prayed their kids would get. My friend Tina’s son had him and the following year my daughter landed in his class. He was worth the hype and then some. Unfortunately, Tina had cancer and the prognosis was grim. She hired Mr. M to tutor her son, Rob, who did not need any extra help. It was clear she wanted to continue the bond between Mr. M and Rob. It worked, after she passed away, Mr. M remained a close friend to the family.
I feel that I must pause here a moment to reflect on Tina’s passing. She had two children, a daughter, Cathy, who was in high school and Rob, who was in 5th grade when she died. It was of course excruciating for everyone. There was a memorial gathering for Tina in her family’s home. Half the district teachers were there as well as some of the school principals.
Mr. O was Rob’s teacher that year and my son was in the same class. He honored the family’s request to not approach the subject of death unless Rob brought it up. Instead, Mr. O hosted small lunches with Rob and a few of his close friends. He kept tabs on Rob to make sure he was OK while respecting his space. A year and a half after Tina passed, her daughter graduated high school as Valedictorian. No doubt the teachers and staff that were within their orbit helped to get the family through the most difficult of times.
My son always did well academically in school. Socially things started to get tricky in middle school. He took a lot of heat for being a JETS fan in EAGLES territory. One time he made a bet with his 6th grade science teacher. Whichever team lost, the losing fan would have to wear the opposing team jersey. The JETS managed to pull off a win and Mrs. H wore the JETS jersey as promised. She texted me a picture of herself wearing it standing next to my son, who had a huge grin on his face. It was an act of kindness that meant the world to me. I knew then that my son had someone looking out for him. She saw beyond the honor roll student, she saw a quiet kid who needed to be a part of the social fabric.
After my brief zealot phase when the kids started public school, I decided to show my appreciation and volunteer. I became the parent that signed up for every volunteer post known to mankind. Several years ago the State of Pennsylvania made it a total pain in the ass to donate your time. Here’s a checklist for people that volunteer in PA schools:
- Criminal History Request
- Child Abuse Clearance
- FBI Fingerprints
- School Personnel Health Record – TB test & physical for those volunteering 10 or more hours a week
- Arrest/Conviction Report & Certification
- Blood of a Unicorn
Only one of those is false. Those that go through the trouble to get their clearances are rewarded with being able to plan class parties, facilitate school clubs, attend field trips and chaperone dances. I had a pretty good run of it up through middle school, which is when your kids start to get embarrassed and don’t want to see you anymore (sigh).
Field trips are the best way to acquire some teacher appreciation. I’ve been on quite a few; apple orchard, pumpkin farm, minor league baseball games, museums, a walking tour of Philadelphia and the Renaissance Faire. I’ve done many of the trips two consecutive years because my kids are one grade apart.
Nothing puts fear in you like being responsible for five kids off the leash in Philly. I chaperoned my daughter and four of her friends a couple of years ago on a scavenger hunt of historical artifacts. Participants were encouraged to use their cellphones to take selfies in front of historical landmarks. We were on track the first hour until they saw a Starbucks then thoughts of Betsy Ross were replaced by cravings for Butterbeer Frappuccino.
The Renaissance Faire makes the Philly field trip seem like kittens and rainbows. You have to meet at the school and get on the bus at 6:50am for a two-hour drive to CrAzY Town. Once we arrived, chaperones were told that students weren’t allowed to purchase weapons, that’s a clue that you may be in for a rough day.
Once again you get a group of students to chaperone basically, someone else’s kids that you have to keep alive and not lose for several hours. Not an easy task when you have to mind five 13 year old boys in a place which is overrun with sharp objects; hatchet throwing, knife throwing, archery and the obligatory joust. I had to pry one kid away from a stand that let you throw glass bottles against a wall for an exorbitant amount of money. I plan to open a booth like that in my basement, college tuition is just around the corner.
This is one place where you definitely want to pack a lunch or you will spend a small fortune on a dried out turkey leg which, you will need to wash down with some bee-magnet cider. Everyone that works at the faire is in character and they make the Philly Revolutionary War reenactors seem mainstream. This is a 14-hour day and it is intense.
I’m physically and mentally exhausted after these trips and it makes me truly appreciate teachers. I get to go home after these events, maybe warm up some leftovers and call it a day. The teachers go home to their own family situations and whatever work they need to catch up on because they were out of the classroom all day.
I don’t interact with teachers as much as I used to, my kids are in high school. I see them from time to time at back to school night or the occasional school event. I do see the groundskeeper, Mr. D, monitoring car line which, is a hot mess every morning.
Last year after the Parkland shooting, I paused when I saw Mr. D standing by the cones at his post. It was the first day back at school after that dreadful day and like most parents in America, I was nervous about sending my kids to school. I wondered if Mr. D would take a bullet for my kids, notice a threat, sound the alarm in time. The next instant I felt guilty because he didn’t sign up for combat duty and he has two kids of his own.
America, we are asking too much of our teachers and giving far too little in return. Teachers went into their profession with a curious mind and a full heart, excited to share their passion and help our children learn. Now they are confined to teaching to standardized tests and worrying if they will cross paths with an active shooter and become a human shield.
I have a deep appreciation for everything educators do for our children. Thank you teachers everywhere for being on the front lines of learning, for noticing the shy kids, for quietly purchasing a book for the broke kid at the book fair, for knowing when to apply pressure and when to back off for each student. I know there are times when you sacrifice being there for your own children so you can care of mine. I see you and I appreciate you.