The Truth from a Teacher
By Jenny Runkel
This new school year will mark the first time in almost a decade that I will not be putting up bulletin boards and making new seating charts. I am in the midst of changing careers, from teaching others to write to trying the craft out myself. I must admit I am having quite a bit of trouble with not having my own classroom anymore. There was something magical to me about starting over each year with a new group of students, a new set of goals, a new set of chances.
So, the other day, in order to assuage my sinking spirits, I went into Office Depot - the respite for type-A souls in need of recharging. It is such a safe place; everything is so bright and full of promise. Even the highlighters look happy. I found myself wistfully touching a new set of fine point, soft-gliding red pens, the perfect kind for marking up papers, and I swear that I could hear them whisper, "Buy me! I'll make you feel competent and powerful." It all made me wonder why I left teaching this year.
Truth be told, I am extremely excited about my new venture, writing here with ScreamFree. But I am a bit mournful over what I will be leaving. I will miss the smell of a clean classroom and the promise that those empty desks hold. I will miss watching a student's face light up as he finally grasped a difficult concept. I will miss the teacher treats that our PTO used to leave sporadically in the teacher's lounge.
..No matter what any teacher tells you, we all hate Parent-Teacher Night. In all the schools I have worked, the format is similar. A long, drawn-out, formal address given by the principal or president, followed by a very brief visit by the anxious parents in our classrooms where we try to give them a feel for what lies ahead. We have to go over boring policies and rules when we really wish that we could spend our time being honest.
So, now that I am officially out of the industry, and on the other side of the desk, I feel compelled to share with you a list. This is a list that I have always wanted to post in my classroom for all parents to see on that most nerve-wracking of nights. It is a list that I have compiled over the years and it is one that I suspect many teachers will agree with (although they may not admit it). View it with caution, however, for once you do, you may never again see your child's teacher in the same way.
Top Ten Things Teachers Really Want to Say on Parent-Teacher Night
10. We can tell when you do your children's projects for them. No matter how old your child may be, we know their work and we know yours. You are not doing little Billy any favors when you take over his assignment for him. In fact, you are really telling him that you don't think he's capable enough or smart enough to do well on his own...not a lesson we think you want to share.
9. Just as your children tell you stories about us, they tell us stories about you. How about we strike a deal? You believe half of what you hear about us and we'll return the favor.
8. We do not take pleasure in giving your child a poor grade. In fact, many of us object to the idea that we "give" grades in the first place. Chances are, if a teacher is worth her chalk at all, she gives opportunities and the students either take them or they don't.
7. If your child ever complains that one of his teachers doesn't like him and is out to get him, there is a slight chance that he's overreacting. Really hating a kid takes more time and energy than most of us have. As fun and entertaining as it sounds, we are simply too busy to plot against 15 year olds with any real conviction.
6. Please don't swoop in to rescue your child when they forget an assignment at home, even if it is a big one...especially if it is a big one. There is great value in your child learning that she is the one responsible for her own grade. A poor grade now because of her lack of organization could be just the thing she needs to learn better habits for the future.
5. Don't try to be your child's best friend. It embarrasses them and you.
4. The ultimate goal of education is not for your child to get into Harvard or MIT. Some of the most successful people in life are C students. Teach them kindness, patience, boldness, perseverance. Allow them to trip in school so that they don't fall flat once they get out.
3. Support them in their passions, not your own. By the time many students reach high school, they are already tired of the sport or activity they once loved. The chances of you producing the next great shortstop or piano virtuoso are pretty slim. You have a much better shot at creating a vibrant, self-directed adult if you give them some space and allow them to make their own mistakes...besides, that's the kind of people the world needs more of anyway.
2. Listen to your kids more than you talk to them. Many of us forget how really hard it is to be a kid. Instead of lecturing them about how important school is, ask them what they worry about, what they look forward to, what they fear. Just listen and then listen some more. If your kid pulls the old, "I don't know" response, try saying, "Well, if you did know, what would you say?". Before they know it, they are talking away. I guarantee, you'll learn something about your son or daughter that you didn't know before and you will be one step closer to seeing them as the unique, individual person that they are.
And lastly, the number one thing that teachers wish they could say to parents is...
1. Please, please, for the love of Pete, no more apple Christmas ornaments, apple coffee mugs, or apple canvas bags. We all have enough of these hideous items to last a lifetime, thank you very much. We would much prefer a simple note of appreciation from you or your child every now and again - preferably on stationary that doesn't have yellow pencils or school busses, either.
So there you have it. My secret list. Take it for what it's worth. In my experience, parents who implement at least a few of these tips end up creating an environment where their children thrive. These are the kids who always impressed me more with their pluck than with their GPA, and they are the ones who ended up stealing my heart.
Come to think of it, maybe that's what I'll miss most of all: meeting those kids who are honest with themselves and others and who obviously have the freedom at home to figure out who they really want to be. Kids who know how to enter a room with confidence, who know how to look adults in the eye and give a nice, firm handshake. Kids who are interested in learning, even if their grades aren't the best in the class. Yep. That's definitely what I'll miss the most. Hey, do they sell those in Office Depot?
Jenny Runkel, wife of Hal and ScreamFree mom of Hannah and Brandon, has been powerfully influencing and forming children and families for ten years. She has worked with kids of all ages from preschoolers to teenagers. Cofounder of ScreamFree, Jenny has worked side-by-side with Hal in creating and refining the ScreamFree approach to relationships, and now joins him in writing, developing, and delivering the life-changing material to audiences nationwide. Jenny is also part of the eHarmony parenting team. For more information, visit www.screamfree.com.
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