One hundred and eighty days.
That’s what a teacher is afforded to significantly impact, change, encourage and instill knowledge into the
20 30 or 150 students assigned to him. And today – Day One – sets the pace.
Sarah and Kristen begin making the transition into kindergarten – a big one, please remember – smooth and as easy as possible. In a room of 30 other anxious and scared and even crying little friends. Mary, Michelle, Lindsay, Jessie, Nicole, Jenna, Allison, Tabitha (and countless more) get a new class of little ones who, though they’ve been in school before, this grade is new to them. Their excited and nervous little selves chatter about who is in class with them, where they sit, and wonder aloud when recess and lunch will happen. They’ll probably wonder that aloud at least 12 times. Before lunch.
And the poor souls who take on that angsty junior high stage… Carol, Wendy, Apryl, Kelly… many prayers to the heavens on your behalf. Compound the first day excitement with raging hormones, not to mention that these individuals keep the lives of hundreds of students close to their heart. A student will walk in the door, say something that tugs at their heart, and this teacher gets 50 minutes each day to try to meet that need. Fifty minutes. One hundred and eighty times. I don’t do a lot of math, but I can tell you that’s not much to try to encourage the change and meet the challenges that we parents expect of them.
Of course, JJ, Dan, Leah, Matt, Marianne and Kathy take on the numerous high school students that opt into their classroom. Same story, different pace. Given 50 minutes, 180 times, to instill in each of the hundreds of students a love of literature or an eye for art or the gift of self-expression or the ability to compute the square root of an insignificant number. A small piece of the larger puzzle of preparing students for “the real world” – which doesn’t, I might add, give them equal credit for late work or near as many do-overs to “try a little harder this time” and rarely an exam review day.
Each student that they enter into their ProgressBook lists brings through the door a story. They bring the baggage of moms and dads who love, but fail. They bring their worry and stress about not being “enough” or not fitting in. They bring academic needs of more – or less – challenge in comparison to their peers. They wonder, deep somewhere in that precious little body, if they’ll ever have enough, do enough, be enough. And they sit among
20 30 others that feel similarly but yet it’s seldom spoken.
And these teachers bear in themselves each of these stories. They take each student to heart. The stories keep them up at night, send them to their classroom early and provoke calls to principals, fellow teachers or anyone who might have an idea on how to help this student “get it.”
I may have some doubt about the public education system. But I don’t doubt teachers (okay, I do doubt the ones that coach, sometimes. And sometimes I’m right. But more often, coaching teachers care as much as the class advisors). Teaching means taking on children that are not your own and giving them everything you’d want your own to have. It means being under-resourced and over-burdened. It means having each parent walk through the door thinking, “but this is my precious!” and never understanding that they have 30 – or 150 – preciouses.
Today, take a picture of your kid’s first day of this grade. And then say a prayer for the teacher (or 8 teachers) who will be welcoming him or her at the school door. Find a way to team with her and encourage her and honor him. Be short to point fingers and quick to ask questions, starting with “what can I do?” In 3 weeks put it on your calendar to bring a cup of coffee or a french crueller. At Christmas time, don’t buy a candle or a bottle of lotion. And in 93 days, when everyone is tired and the new and shiny has worn off, bring a cup of coffee then, too. Because these teachers are still trying to teach the standards, prep for tests and spend hours grading that which your child has complained about, not because they want to but because they’re trying to help them formulate, express and evidence they’ve mastered the material.
School’s in session. Hug a teacher. Or buy her a drink.
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