Monday, October 22, 2012

Teachers Make My Kids' World Go 'Round

Parent/teacher conferences were last week.

I always go into a teacher conference with a combination of excitement and dread--these people spend more of each day with my boys than I do.  What if . . . all kinds of scenarios flit across my brain.

Hyrum's conference was first.  That first kindergarten conference is always a little touchy, a little unpredictable.  Kindergarten sets the stage for learning the rest of their lives.  Not to sound melodramatic, but it's the truth, right?

Luckily, all six of my kids have had stellar kindergarten teachers, Hyrum included.  Since Micah had Mrs. J three years ago, I knew that this was the best place possible for him to start school, and once I sat down across the desk from her, I knew Hyrum had what he needs--a teacher who loves him for his inquisitive mind, yet tolerates his excessive energy and frequent outbursts of excitement. 

Mrs. J has the unique combination of creative teaching through music and song and structured teaching through rules and high expectations.  I could tell she loves my son, faults and strengths and all.  She understands his need for structure and predictability.  She knows he needs challenge to keep him from descending into naughtiness, and she provides it often.  My favorite part of his conference was when we discussed how he could improve. She explained that he needs to slow down and think and not race to finish first, but that I should approach telling him this in a way that didn't make him feel like she was unhappy with him.  She concluded our visit by saying, "That little boy has me wrapped around his finger.  I have to be really careful to not let him see it."

Flying high from this discussion, I walked to the other side of the school to Micah's classroom.

Mrs. S is a little bit of an unknown to me this year.  When I chaperoned at Science Camp last year, I watched Mrs. S direct volatile sixth graders with her quiet voice and calm demeanor.  I was impressed with her ability to control their attention without raising her voice and how the kids respected her soft-spoken approach to teaching.  I wrote her name down as my request for Micah's teacher, a little apprehensive but trusting my instincts.

To say I love Mrs. S doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about her and her approach to teaching.  I could tell, from the moment she began talking about Micah, that she not only was teaching him, she also knew him--knew him in ways that come only through deep concern for how a child learns.  She talked of how he was improving--not shouting out answers but always raising and waving his hand.  She talked of how he was a positive encouragement to others in her classroom.  She proudly showed me his test scores and commented on each individual area.  She discussed with me ways that we can challenge Micah to think--not me, not her, but both school and home together.  I listened with great curiosity--rarely have I heard so much understanding and care from a child's teacher.

What struck me the most was her statement about Micah's writing.  Micah reads so much that he has a hilarious vocabulary and he can spin an oral story full of creativity and adventure.  His brain, however, travels at speeds that outdistance his hands by miles, and he rarely takes the time to write all of his thoughts on paper.  I have tried to work with him on this--all of his siblings have actually suffered from this problem to some degree and I have yet to find a satisfactory solution.

When we discussed his writing grade, Mrs. S pulled out a writing sample from the first few weeks, a hilarious recounting of when Micah broke his leg, and we both laughed at his word choices and his voice.  I commented that I knew he could write more if he could just slow down.  Her statement will always stick with me.  She said, "Micah could probably write more, but we will never make him into something he is not. And why should we try? It will just frustrate all of us with no better result."

Only a teacher who knows her students well could make such a heartfelt and caring analysis.  And I, the mother of many, have been fighting against my children's natural weaknesses for decades now, with no better result. 

Oftentimes as the mother I get caught up in the grades--the outward manifestations that reflect learning.  Mrs. J and Mrs. S reminded me that there is so much more to school, to students and teachers.  Grades are a benchmark that reflect growth--how children change and what they learn over the course of nine months.  Grades are not the child, and good teachers understand that.

Great teachers are few and far between in today's world.  How we lucked out to hit two for two this year, I don't know. 


  1. What a lovely analysis of your children's teachers. It is so wonderful to know that the person who spends so much time with your child genuinely likes them. I have to say that your last statement doesn't match my experience, though -- I've come across many great teachers in my sojourn as both teacher and parent.

  2. There are a lot of great teachers. It is your positive attitude and openess that allows you to see how great your kids teachers are. A different parent could take the comments they said and twist them into something negative. Trust me!

  3. There are a lot of great teachers. It is your positive attitude and openess that allows you to see how great your kids teachers are. A different parent could take the comments they said and twist them into something negative. Trust me!

  4. I love it when you said that Micah's teacher really knew him....that's my favorite kind of teacher for my kids!

    It sounds like your boys have a great year ahead of them!

  5. I love that. We have been struggling with one of our grade schoolers and I needed this reminder. Thanks, Jen and teachers!

  6. I still have PTSD from Parent/Teacher Conferences.
    I good teacher is really the best gift.

  7. Great teachers are golden. How lucky are your boys to have each hit the jackpot this year! You must be one happy mama!

  8. I have heard those things about your children before (mine too) but I am so glad they have teachers who are willing to put in the time and the effort to keep them occupied and learning. As we both know that is not always the case!

    Good job to Hyrum and Mikes! Seems weird that Lil doesn't get conferences this year - I have to say that still freaks me out a little!

  9. I love your perspective on both of these teachers. Loved it so much, I read it twice. Getting the right teacher sure can make or break a school year. I'm so glad Hyrum and Micah are in for a GREAT year!

  10. That was lovely, Jen. I'm glad that I no longer have to go to parent-teacher conferences - the times I felt that my children were in good hands were equal to the times we simply endured. A teacher with a vocation is a gift!

  11. Good teachers are a wonderful thing!


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