An open letter of thanks to sainted elementary school teachers

An open letter of thanks to sainted elementary school teachers

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I recently attended a concert performed by rising-to-middle-school fifth grade students who sang This is Me from The Greatest Showman, the kid anthem of the year.

The confidence of their voices made me cry.

"I am marching out to the beat I drum/I am brave/I am free/I am who I’m meant to be/this is me."

So it’s almost the end of the school year and I am once again flat out humbled by elementary school teachers. I cannot imagine sustaining the level of active engagement that pulses from these classrooms. I'm in there for five minutes, and I am immediately just unsustainably overstimulated. All. That. Activity.

The messy glitter-based crafts long ago banned from my house are hung along the walls. Second grade projects about mapmaking, weather systems, and kinds of clouds are on display. Inside a classroom, teachers are lovingly (and successfully) getting the attention of a couple of dozen second graders simultaneously.

Elementary school. Where tests may be a thing, but where teaching a culture of kindness still reigns supreme. This intent has not yet been sidelined.

In these halls I have seen discouraged children being consoled by teachers. So too have I seen kids skipping on the playground during recess.

For parents of children who struggle in any way -- all parents -- a really good elementary school teacher sets a tone of acceptance, in the classroom, but out of it too. It spills over. A really good elementary school teacher reminds parents that perfection is not the goal, is not a thing. A really good elementary teacher offers both objectivity and loving support.

Let’s face it. Parents need partners. Parental blinding love is necessary but also distracting. We cannot be objective where our kids are concerned. We are not supposed to be. But this lack of objectivity does mean that we miss things.

Families are under pressure. The worry mounts too. This can be tough to manage. Speaking for myself (maybe you too), at some point the chaos of any one day can just break me for a bit. The sheer number of the things to do wakes me up, hollows perspective, and makes me cry in the car with stunning regularity.

A friend once told me that the only parenting advice he ever received that made sense was from a woman who said she wished that she had worried less.

But it is so hard not worry. The world seems so harsh sometimes, and so unforgiving.

And the learning these kids do. It is astonishing. In a classroom full of kids with different learning styles, somehow the knowledge bubbles up in them with their teachers as their guides. There are fish dissections (imagine the stench), and geometry projects, and the Oregon Trail. The warmth these teachers embody, the belief these teachers put into the classrooms spills out at home, and then into the wider world.

Where I am impatient, they are kind. Where I get smashed up against panes of worry, and tripped up in the love, they imbue confidence.

When all is said and done, a really excellent elementary school teacher sets a tone for how a child feels about themselves as a student. And given the ridiculous amount of time kids spend as students, these teachers have a lot to do with how the kids see themselves as people. And they do so apparently effortlessly.

But we as parents are not fooled. We know you are working so much harder than is reasonable. We know you are spending your own money on classroom supplies. Our gratitude knows no bounds. You are the heroes of all children, and maybe even a little bit more the heroes of the atypical, nonlinear learner.

Because when all is said and done, you will share any credit for the good things your students do. You have a lot to do with how they enter this confused, beautiful, scary world. You too made them who they will be.

Images by iStock

Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.

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