Imagine if at the beginning of every school year, teachers greeted parents with some variation of the following. In a plastic baggie, place a cotton ball, a tissue, and a tea bag, along with the following poem:
Dearest Kindergarten Parents,
Here is a little “gift” for you as you leave your precious one with me on the first day of school. As you hold this cotton ball in your hand, the softness will help you to remember the gentle spirit of your child. After you’ve gone home and dried your tears, make yourself a hot cup of tea . Put up your feet and relax. Remember that together you and I will work for your child to be the best they can be. Thank you for entrusting your child to me for the coming school year. I will do my very best every day to be your child’s guide in learning and exploring this bright, new world they’ve just stepped into.
Your Child’s Teacher
It seems obvious this counternarrative example would inspire much more trust in teachers on the part of families. And though this idea is typically shared with early childhood educators, I would argue parents of children at every age want to know that their children’s teachers think of them with such positive regard. This goes both ways, of course.
In my re-imagined world in which the relationships between schools and families are reconstructed and, teachers would welcome parents and caregivers in the morning with this on their minds, if not in their mouths, “You are so awesome for making it here this morning! I bet you’ve been up for hours, that you are exhausted and wanted to sleep in for 10 more minutes, that your kids yelled at you, threw things at the wall, threw themselves on the floor, refused to eat breakfast, cried about their clothes, dropped their toothbrushes in the toilet, and pulled each others’ hair the whole way here. But you made it! Welcome! Awesome! High five, and have a fantastic day because your kid is in great hands with me, and I am so excited to learn with her today.” And I want families to welcome teachers in the morning with this on their minds, if not in their mouths, “You are so awesome for making it here this morning! I bet you’ve been up for hours, that you had to get your own kids ready and out the door, that your bus was late and the train was crowded, that you were thinking about each and every one of the children in your classroom and wondering how each would be today, that you were actually excited to have 25 small people clamoring for your attention and praise all day, that you worried about whether you would have the supplies you need to do the special activity you’ve been planning, and that you already know that by 3:00 pm, you will be ready to drop to the floor from exhaustion. But you’re here! Thank you! You rock! High five, and have a fantastic day because I know my child is in great hands with you and that she will learn so much from you today.”
Skeptics will call this view naïve, but I think the real issue is we prepare ourselves for the exception more than we do the rule. Of course we will encounter difficult parents, challenging students, and unqualified teachers. But these are the exceptions, not the rule. And I would argue that when we allow the exceptions to dominate and shape our approaches to and strategies for relating to one another, we begin from a place of weakness, and we set ourselves up for failure.