DEAR PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS EVERYWHERE,
I know a hard wind is blowing – I see the rawness it leaves on my own children’s faces when they come home from school each day. I experience the force of it with them when we sit down at our round table to brave homework each afternoon.
THE LASTING MARKS YOU LEAVE
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be you.
The you I knew was second grade teacher Mrs. Hett. She was young and fresh and approachable. She read Shel Silverstein like music and, in a class of more than 20 boys, encouraged us four girls to stick together. And we did. I inflicted playing school on my little brother every weekend. I still love Lafcadio the Lion, read Shel Silverstein to my children, and think of her.
Mrs. Hett is who I learned friendship from. She shouldered through second grade with us, so we didn’t have to do it alone.
She was sandwiched between a first grade teacher who held me in from recess for days until I could make all my shaky, handwritten letters fit on one dotted line and a third grade teacher who looked the other way when the classroom bully Selena slapped me.
In fourth grade, I was placed in remedial math, not understanding why was sent away every day, and it wasn’t again until fifth grade that a teacher saw something in me that, at that point, I definitely wasn’t able to find in myself. Mrs. Dobie. She was firm but friendly and authentic, and she saw me. I’m friends with her still today. Sometimes we pray for each other.
I’d like to say my public school education story got better through middle and high school, but it continued to be fraught with shame, followed by cycles of confusion. Every now and then, I glimpsed a bright victory but each was hard-won.
I remember facing remedial math again in high school. (What do you mean I’m not smart enough? Aren’t I doing okay?) The SATs nearly blew me off my feet. I still carry shame about the score I could never quite make.
I am amazed I survived, that I can say I like school, and that I love learning. But it was those teachers that did it, they blocked so much of the wind for me while they could. And while shielded, I was able to catch my breath, my balance, find my confidence, brace myself, gather the energy needed to march on.
Please don’t go. We need teachers just like you.
THE WINDY ROAD IS WINDIER NOW, I THINK
I didn’t become a teacher, regretfully. I can’t tell you why. Maybe my educational journey was too hard to do again.
But many years later, I find myself trudging down the same road with my children anyway. We’ve got our heads down, chins tucked tight in our coats, walking against the wind. Bearing it out.
We tried public. We tried Montessori. We tried homeschool. We tried a part-time homeschool. And eventually, for lack of options and resources, we returned to public.
It is a blistering wind.
Recently, my daughter had to sit out from recess for not giving an answer when called on in class. She froze. She does that. My daughter – friendly, curious, caring, ever-striving, painfully self-conscious. Froze and sat out.
During a field trip last week, she didn’t end up with a buddy. She didn’t understand why. No one told her.
I can see she doesn’t feel like she has anyone to “shoulder through” this year with. I can see the shame that was already there when she “doesn’t know,” when she feels afraid, is stronger now. And, since school started this year, she hasn’t asked me to play teacher yet – not even once.
I dread the annual standardized testing, and so does she. As a third grader, she literally worried about passing. And by the state’s standards, she did fail. The principal said she didn’t need extra support. I argued. Now she goes, but I hate knowing she is sent to “tutoring” and never really improves. The system isn’t working for her.
I am waiting for her to tell me she’s worried about passing this year’s test.
WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER’S SHIELD?
If all the educated, inspired, passionate teachers leave the public school systems, duck out of the storm, who will shield daughter from this fierce wind blowing? Who will give her a moment to catch her breath, her balance, find her confidence to keep going? How many bright victories will she have in the years to come?
Will she like school, love learning? Not without you.
Not without you, Wendy Bradshaw, Ph.D. We need you.
Teachers like you help us parents shoulder it out. Tell us what you need us to do to help you. Inspire us to advocate for change. Call us into the storm – I’ll go with you.
But no matter what, lean into the wind. You’re leading my kids. And I can’t get them through this without you.
With deep gratitude,
A Desperate Mom