Dear Teachers

Dear Mr Finlayson,

I know it was your first year teaching and you were sent up to the boonies – High Level, AB – cold and miserable with no friends. Thank you for seeing that there was a little girl in need of a hug and a laugh. Thank you for telling your grade two class “Kids, if you ever need to talk to someone you can talk to me.” Because I did. And you sat with me on a park bench and listened to me talk about my parents divorce. I don’t remember what you said, but I remember how you made me feel. Not alone. Valued.

You were the last teacher to tell me I was brilliant at math. But the first to split his pants in class.

Dear Ms Brathwaite,

I can remember your laugh and your crinkled brown face. Your dress you wore and how you smelled like sweat and baby powder. I was the whitest child in a new country, finding out that I was no longer the star pupil but actually a year or more behind in learning. Your hand on my shoulder as you explained that “naught” meant “zero” made me feel like you wouldn’t let me fail and I wasn’t stupid.

Dear Ms Carroll,

No teacher in their right mind would let their grade one student come home with them nowadays. I don’t remember why I did. But you had a beautiful home with huge sunflowers and your smile was just as bright and I remember you being the tallest woman I’d ever met. It’s no wonder I loved school when I had such a giant sunflower of a teacher to set me on the right path.

These are just a few of the teachers I can remember who made a difference in my life as a child. There were others, many others. I did “ok” in school despite my belief that I have a learning disability of some kind (or it’s just called being a scatterbrain full-time working mom now, I’m not sure).

As I watch my children make their way through school I see the entire system in a much different light. Things have changed. The hows and the whys of all these changes seem to be above my pay grade. The system needed to change as we learned more about educating (and protecting) our kids, but it comes with consequences.

Were teachers always this stressed or did I just not see it because I was a kid? Did so many kids fall through the cracks, or did I miss that because I wasn’t one of them?

What has NOT changed is that teaching is a profession I think one must be called to perform. To be a good teacher I think you must believe that it’s WHAT YOU DO. It’s WHO YOU ARE. I’m in a job where I feel that way about my profession … so that even the stressful days are just a drop in the bucket of a career filled with mostly good.

Teaching can’t be just a J-O-B, you know? I know a few teachers personally and I don’t want to speak for them, but I’ve never, ever gotten the impression that this was “just a job” to them. And as such, I have no doubt that they are good teachers.

(A post on what a ‘good’ teacher is and how it’s all about your perspective is for another day … You just have to visit to find every opinion you can imagine…)

But if there’s one thing I could tell every teacher called to teach, it’s this:



On the good days and the bad days, you matter to every kid in class.

You’re going to validate their beliefs about themselves every day. This could be the belief that they can succeed, or the belief that they are stupid, or the belief that they matter or they don’t.

Your smile may be the only smile that kid gets today.

You may be the only one telling that kid she’s going to be ok because other adults don’t have the courage.

The “good” kids in the class need you. The “bad” kids in the class need you. The “difficult” kids need you. The kids who just float under the radar need you.

The C-student needs you. The inattentive kid needs you.

They all need you to know that you matter to them even though they will likely never tell you.

It’s a tough job finding out what kids need to be successful and then teaching them –  I don’t know how you do it … and not all of your peers are as capable as you. Not all of them really understand how much they matter Every Single Day.

But maybe those teachers just don’t know … you really, really matter.

To This Day

Have you heard of Shane Koyczan? He’s a spoken word poet and … well, his recent video blew me away.

Please watch it … I know that you might watch it and then not come back to read the rest of my story, which will follow below … but that’s ok because he can say things better than I can anyway.

But just watch:

Amazing, right?

It is very easy for many people to pretend that they are OK despite their childhood or school experience, but just having to say DESPITE says more than enough. It is very easy for many people to look out into society and think that childhoods are just happening, schools are just teaching, people are just getting older … it all just happens and we remain oblivious.

But if you’ve been a bullied kid, you know, that school at the end of your street is absolutely terrifying for more than a few kids.

Every.Single.Day they have to go somewhere that they find terrifying.

And what of the kids who also find home terrifying?

Gah. I actually have nothing else to say that is as powerful as that video. Watch it again.

School Daze

Yesterday I spent the day with a fellow EMT at a local high school. We had four classes to talk to about CPR, what it looks like, how to do it and how to recognize an emergency. I think it’s an important thing to talk about because these kids totally have the ability to sustain a life until higher care can arrive … they just need to know that others know they can do it!

The day was pretty tiring and I did leave with a renewed respect for teachers.

But I really, really had a renewed respect for my own kids! I think about my son and all the times someone has told me he has had a “rough afternoon”. No kidding. Our morning presentations were pretty awesome, but by the afternoon I was ready to shove a few cell phones down the throats of a few select teenagers. The saving grace was that some kids were really tuned in. We had videos and cool stories and, well, my buddy and I are pretty awesome.

But how in the heck does my kid pay attention in the afternoons? I was tired! Cranky! Yawning! My mind struggled to focus and my temper was short.

No wonder he has rough afternoons… I didn’t want to be in school either.

It would be wonderful if school really adjust to the individual learner.

It would be wonderful if I didn’t know what teachers REALLY say about kids in the staff room.

It would be wonderful if I could say angina in a room of teenagers without the accompanying chorus of giggles!

All I could think was how tough it is to buckle down and learn. There are so many competing subjects these kids need to worry about. Math, science, health, gym, social, humanities… and here I sit, making sideways googly eyes at my A&P books, knowing I need to finish up this post and study.

Yet I’d rather nap. I’d rather go for a run. I’d rather go to the grocery store.

Competing priorities again.

How can my kid do it if I struggle myself?

Love Thursday for Mrs. L.

Dear Mrs L,

When my son was in Kindergarten it was your first year as principal at our school. I was a little weirded out by you because you were simply too sweet. You seemed to be patting me on my head and smiling just past me all the time. I was never really sure that you knew what was going on in the trenches.

But M had a great and wonderful teacher who had been teaching for three decades. I didn’t really have to worry about anything because Mrs S had things covered.

And then this year things with M really seemed to take a bit of turn for the worse.

But, Mrs L, you’ve been a surprising new discovery. You love children. When I had to come in to the office and talk to you and I got all weepy because if M’s difficulties, you saw right through me like my skin was made of glass. You started telling me about how it was when your kids went to school and you were so busy working full time and trying to manage kids and how now you just hired a wonderful teacher and you didn’t even know until she brought it up that she taught your kids grade one during that first difficult year of being a working mom.

The compassion you’ve shown for my son is simply unmatched. You’re so concerned about his self-esteem and you see this amazing brightness in him that I thought perhaps I was the only one to see for a while. You see his compassionate side and his desire to be liked and you are the first to stop me in the hall and tell me that he’s had exactly 3 wonderful days in a row at school. When he has bad days you make sure you note down the time and what was happening, not just to tell me, but to try and determine what exactly is causing it. Could it be food related? Transitions? Just being tired?

And knowing that you raised five children (one that just graduated from Harvard) is just another reason that I know you get it. Having five kids turn out well isn’t a fluke. You did something right. At the literacy night this week, your stories of the way you read with your kids was inspiring and made me want to scoop up an armful of new books and sit down with my son and read until we fell asleep.

Yes, this year I’ve gotten to know you and I’m so very thankful that you’re in M’s life.

So you can understand why I’m taking your retirement so very hard. I can’t even talk to you about it without getting big fat stupid tears in my eyes. I hate that. But I hate that you are leaving even more. I don’t want you to go. Don’t go, ok? Please? Yes, you have more than earned your retirement, but in just two and a half more years we’ll be moving up to the next school and you can leave then, ok? Because we need you here.

We need your passion. We need to hear how excited you get when you are telling the kids about the play coming up and when you are extolling the virtues of newspapers and their role in literacy to a handful of parents and when you are congratulating a child on just getting through a week without a major incident.

Just please don’t go, we still need you.

I Have Broken the Flux Capacitor

At this moment in my life I believe I am operating at full capacity. I don’t think I have room for one more thing. Perhaps that’s why Jordan Sadler’s article, An Open Letter to My Son’s PTA really struck a chord with me.

Some of us need to work full time. Some of us even need to work more than full time. For the past year and a bit I’ve been revelling in my abilities to work from home while raising my kids. You could say that I might even have been smug about it. I tried hard not to be. After all, I’d been a full time working single mother for a while so I knew that we all do the best we can at the time.

But even last year as I wrote my book and I juggled a full slate of columns and articles, I squeezed in a piddly four or five volunteer mornings in the Kindergarten classroom. The teachers were very accomodating and let me bring my daughter in while I volunteered. But it became apparent that we were more of a distraction than anything.

And I tried to get to the PTA meetings, I did. But, um, they coincided with my Thursday night off. And I love my Thursday night TV line up, it’s my night to relax and veg and maybe even drink a beer glass of wine while hanging out with my husband.

And I admit, that activity had priority over listening to moms with pet projects complain about the lack of funding for security cameras/rubber bits for the playground/paint for walls… It seemed that there was already a clique of moms who had either raised their kids next door to each other, had their kids on the same team or volunteered at the same preschool. I did not fit in.

I tried. But I couldn’t get revved up about their projects. I asked questions about why they were necessary or why we needed to paint the library wall two months before the end of school when a) the walls are covered in posters and b) the unionized maintenance staff will get around to it one of these years.

Anyways. I thought maybe I’d get involved this year.

But now I have n+1 projects on my plate where n = the maximum amount I should have and remain sane.

I now work from 6 am to 2 pm and let me tell you… me going around and saying I had “better hours” is somewhat of a pipe dream. Sure it’s nice to leave the office at 2pm… but it’s not so nice to leave the house at 5:45 am. They say I’ll adjust.

I have one proposal sitting at four publishers. I have a query into my current publisher and I’m waiting to find out if they want a detailed proposal or an outline.

I have an article due on the 12th.

I also fly away for four days on the 12th.

I got sucked into going to a golf tournament for work on Monday. Forgetting that it’s been four years since I’ve golfed…

I just begun my Pampered Chef training.

I am late in sending out my eNewsletter.

My juggling act is wobbly. My hold on sanity is tenuous. My veneer is cracking. I may be at maximum velocity, Captain.

(Cross posted at Mama Needs A Book Contract)

School Prep

At the end of last year the Kindergarten teacher told me that M. has issues with printing. I knew, of course, that he was a bit wobbly. However up until that final report card she assured me that it was normal boy behaviour.

Then I saw the words “will experience difficulty in Grade One due to poor writing skills”. (Or something along those lines, I have already translated the teacher-speak for you here!) I realized that I’d been blissfully believing his printing would get better on its own. So as soon as school was out I started asking M. to print things for me every day. We started with a sentance and I let him choose what to print.

At first it was “I like my baby sister” and “I like to play outside” but soon it became “I like toys” and “I am cold”… shorter sentances that could get him out of his printing duties faster.

I smile. Then go buy lined printing paper so he can practice the ABCs.

And maze and connect the dot books so he can strengthen his fine motor skills.

I encourage him to color and draw me pictures.

But it dawns on me that my love of school and my love of writing is not genetically passed on. He is the lover of cars and spiders, the bike rider and Jedi Knight, the video game player and part-time Transformer.

I have, however, fostered a love of words. He has a huge vocabulary (which he uses mostly to impress friends and get out of trouble) because we read three books ever night.

I’ve tried explaining to him that I know he’s smart and I love when he explains things to me, but in school you also have to explain things by writing them down to show the teacher. He accepts this and has just now accepted that you should also write in a line. Very often his words would all be there… just in their own order. Three letters, line break, three letters, line break. Last letter. I could read it, he could read it… but unfortunately that’s not How It’s Done.

So today he was practicing his c’s and d’s before he could play his video game and he was complaining about why he had to do it. I said that it’s good to practice, that I’m proud of his letters and I want to see him write. He complained again.

Then I heard it come out of my mouth.

“I’ll give you a quarter for every line you write.”

Shoot. I didn’t even think before that came out. I started adding up the number of lines he might write. I started thinking about whether or not it’s unethical to pay your child to do his work. Will I start paying for A’s and B’s next? (We don’t do A’s and B’s in Canada… we do percentages…) Will I end up with a kid that says “what’s in it for me, show me the money?”

Hopefully not. I think I’ll put a stop to it. Soon we’ll have homework to do… I just have to vow not to pay him for doing his homework. Goodness… I’d be broke by grade three!

Christina Katz, Writer Mama, has a contest on. Check it out!

The Last Day of Kindergarten

Oh my eyes shall not remain dry today. Today my son has his last day at Kindergarten. How did this happen. How did I have a baby boy and blink and have a child who will soon be really and truly “school aged”. I’ve tried to keep him a child, my child, my boy. I refer to him as the Kindergartener, unwilling to think that he’s really “in school”.

And he is still so small. I watch him walk and he’s all knobby knees and elbows. All toothy grin and dirt around his mouth. All full of life and ready to do battle at the drop of a hat with my ruler as a sword and stick for his opponent.

Yesterday his school work came home. I cried sitting at my desk and looking through his writing. I laughed at the answers. What do I like best about kindergarten? “I like to play with the sticks.” What I didn’t like about kindergarten. “I don’t like to do work.”
He grew 4 cm and 1 kg. (1.6 in and 2.2 lbs) and he gained a whole new vocabularly and skill set. I’ve learned a lot from his teachers. I have always spoken to my son like he’s a small adult, but sometimes I still don’t give him the credit that he will understand what I’m saying. Oh he does.
I was explaining that he had new cousins once I married Major Man. He said “What do you mean?” I said “Oh, cousins are …” he interrupted, to say “I didn’t ask what a cousin is, mom, I know that…” He was just wanting to know how he got them and who they were.

Can you tell a difference between the first day and the last?

Day One

Last Day

A Low Spot

There are many, many boys in my son’s Kindergarten class. All of them full of snails and puppy dog tails and mischievious looks as they shoot bad guys with their fingers and spray spittle around the room.

My son, as I may have mentioned before, is the shortest in the class. He had a rough beginning at the start of the year. He has my temper but not the three decades of anger managment work under his belt. (Well, almost three decades.)

Yesterday he was supposed to go to a playdate with another boy in his class. He’d never been to this boy’s house. I just met his mom for the first time last week on the day the two boys decided they liked to hang out. She seemed ok, so we said that Thursday my son would go over to their house. There are three brothers all together and I thought that perhaps my son would enjoy the rough and tumble afternoon. He’d probably come back with a war wound, but it’d be a long way from his heart, I’m sure.

But yesterday, Thursday, came and went and I just sort of forgot. I remembered half-way through the day but I figured my son had forgotten and there was a little boy here I was watching for the day, and, well, I just didn’t think about it. My mom picked up my son and brought him home and he didn’t remember it at all.

Except I found out today that the other boy did. He asked over and over when my son was coming.

I found out today that this other little boy has been having trouble in school. Suddenly his friends don’t want to be friends with him. Suddenly they push him away and say “we don’t want to play with you”. And apparently his teacher (not my son’s teacher) isn’t much help.

She said sometimes he comes home from school and cries. He doesn’t want to cry at school, even though it would bring attention to his distress. The teacher just doesn’t believe that he’s gone from the popular kid to the outcast, it seems (there are always many sides).

But where my son wears his feelings right out there on his sleeve, this little boy keeps them hidden in his pocket.

I feel horrible. I can only imagine that this poor guy felt rejected when we didn’t show up, with no explanation. In my defense, I couldn’t find his mom’s number, but I could have looked harder. I found it today.

I asked my son to go say sorry to his friend and to promise that we’d get together next week. I need to fix this.