Dear Mom, (an open letter from a teacher)

SheppyOur school starts in September. I’m not counting down the days or anything. The littles are going to a new school and Meet the Teacher night is soon. I’m excited for them, we’ve heard such great things about this school. But I’m nervous. Char is generally happy wherever she is. Shepherd boy is harder, and I desperately want him to enjoy learning. This year, Shep will be going to school every day, half day, with 2 of those days extended to match Char’s 2 day schedule.

Summer has been kind of rough with little Shep-man. All kids go through phases, and in the spring, he was a dream. For a few months we just cruised, so I’m not shocked to be back in the trenches with him now. But this whiney, weepy, verbal warfare is draining. Some current favorite phrases on Shep’s rotation now include, “We’re not best friends anymore! You’re annoying!” and my personal favorite, the weepy, “You are always getting me in trouble! It’s like you don’t LOVE me anymore!” Parenting Shepherd is always easy, and so straightforward. Especially when he’s being passive aggressive.

Anyone who’s worked with Shepherd successfully knows you have to approach this kid from a side angle. I’ve seen people do it beautifully, teachers, therapists…but not everyone gets or appreciates his quirks…and if you don’t… Well, let’s just say you might not be as smitten with him as I am. The old elementary school teacher in me is panicking about sending him off to school. I remember how much work kids like Shep took, how much energy, how many different strategies I tried on tricky little boys like Shep in order to get them to do what they needed to do, just to get through a day of school work. God must of prepped me, because those boys who took the most work to teach usually ended up being my favorites.  I have fond memories of a 2nd grade kid who had a sense of humor way above his age level. He got in trouble in the first grade for ditching his spelling words for a more interesting word list. He was supposed to write something like “ant” but would write something crazy like “Antarctica” instead. He was clever too, same spelling pattern, just not on the list. I loved him right away.  My very first year of teaching ever, I had a 4th grade boy who had no self control. Just, none. Getting that kid to raise his hand and not shout out an answer was like asking a race car to drive slow. I pulled out every trick I ever had on that kid. And he had such a good heart, I’d have him stand next to me while I called his mom from school and he’d have tears in his eyes. By the end of the year we’d figured each other out, and we both survived. I had grown to really enjoy him. At parent teacher conferences his mom cried, it had been a tough year, but once I began telling her the things I liked about her son her emotions got the best of her. She alluded to the fact that she wasn’t used to hearing many positive things about him in prior years.

I also have memories I’d like to do over as a teacher, kids I spent more time stressing about their test scores than I’d like to admit. When I switched teaching jobs and started teaching in a competitive Dallas school district I was stressed to the max about test scores. A boy was in my class who had battled cancer just a year or two earlier.  It was a tricky situation; his mom wanted him to be pushed and successful,  just like I did….but we weren’t sure what effects, if any, his treatments had left on his brain and his learning abilities.  Motivating this little guy was sometimes a challenge.  The expectation was excellence for pretty much all students, and I lost so much sleep wondering if that kid would even pass. (He did, by the way…by the skin of his teeth.) Failing was just not an option. But looking back on that year, I would teach him so differently. I would focus on so much more than that stupid test. And I would talk to his mom SO differently. I’d ask her different questions, ask what other goal’s she’d love to see her son reach, and I’d ask how she  was doing. I was 26 and hadn’t had kids when I taught her child; I had no clue what she’d already been through with him.

Last year, when Shep went back to school after his pool accident, I was a wreck. His first few days back were rough…he just couldn’t deal. His old teacher, who’d only taught Shep a few months, suggested he come back down to her class. It was the best thing we could have done for Shep and for me. She understood Shep, she knew how to work around his emotions and still keep him in line, appreciating his ornery streak but able to push him. She was my saving grace, without her I would have probably thrown in the towel that year. I was so fried from what just happened, I couldn’t take on much more unnecessary stress. Anyway, when Shepherd returned to school last fall I could not get this former student’s mom out of my head. I finally wrote her a note and tried to track her address down, but I never could. In honor of all momma’s sending their littles off to school with anxious hearts I thought I’d go ahead and post an open letter version of it. Who knows, maybe it will find it’s way to her.

Dear Mom,
I’m sure it’s strange for you to receive a message from your son’s long ago 4th grade teacher, but you have been on my mind a lot in the last few months. You see, when I taught your son, I was not a mom yet, and I certainly had not faced the possibility of loosing my child. Sitting across from you in conferences talking about your son, and that TAKS test, I honestly had no concept of what you had already been through as his mother. But now I do.
I am writing to you to apologize if I came off as insensitive about your sweet boy. It’s been a long time, and you may not even remember…but I just know that first year at school I was feeling consumed with test score expectations and there is a chance I missed all your child (and you) were accomplishing in other areas of life after what you both had been through. I don’t teach anymore, but as a mom of two children now, I regret that I may have missed out on all the positives about your son. If I made you feel like he was not already a success, just because I cared too much about scores that in hindsight, didn’t matter nearly as much as I thought they did… well then I’m so sorry.
This whole letter may seem odd to you.  But after we got home from our own life-threatening experience and I sent my Shepherd boy back to Pre School with lots of tears and anxiousness, you kept coming to mind. I hope your young man is healthy and doing SO well, I’m thinking he’s in 10th grade now? Crazy!

Best wishes to all of you,

One thought on “Dear Mom, (an open letter from a teacher)

  1. Allie!
    I have so many of the same thoughts! Information I’ve absorbed for my kiddos would have helped me be such a better teacher. I have many a letter to write myself…Your kids are blessed to have you advocate for them with your teacher knowledge plus your unconditional love and understanding only parents have!

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