Here’s what my daughter’s preschool teacher taught me:
Make a face that says, I’m happy to see you. Show off those teeth. Wrinkle those eyes. Smile as if you’ve been waiting all morning for Max/Brittney/Lola/Jack/Josh to come to school. Say, come on over here, you, we’re going to finger paint.
Before I had kids, I taught senior high English. I loved my content. I thought that was enough. I didn’t greet students. I didn’t stand at my door and smile. I was getting ready to teach. Sit down, I’d say. Quiet down. Kids, open your books to page 161. We’re reading the second scene from Romeo and Juliet. Seriously, quiet down.
Miss Cheryl greeted us with a big, warm smile–one she had saved just for us. She’d say, oh, look at the picture of the spider. Your daughter drew it? Isn’t that lovely!
I liked Miss Cheryl as soon as I met her. I liked her trendy, brown glasses and her Skecher shoes that always looked new and dressed up her casual clothes. My daughter liked her, too. I noticed our minute exchanges at pick-up and drop-off times affected me a lot. I’d give my daughter a kiss on the head, and walk back to my van, ignited with an I-can-do-Monday energy.
Now, I wonder if I could’ve done that for my own students. If they could have—no matter what crap they said or did—counted on me to still be happy to see them, would they have, in turn, liked English more?At parent-teacher conferences, Miss Cheryl showed my husband and me a drawing, a self-portrait Melisandra created with bright red hair and pinwheels for hands and feet. Miss Cheryl said it showed maturity and intellect.
I sat at this meeting, my first as a parent, waiting for the concerns or areas of improvement. A nervous swell emerged from memory–that time in the van when Melisandra sassed off. I shoved her to the floor to shut her up. She made a weepy face that still haunts me. I had failed as a parent. And Miss Cheryl was about to confirm it.
She showed us a three-page checklist of outcomes. At the top of the Cognitive Development page, Miss Cheryl wrote in the margin, wow! Under Self-Help Skills, she wrote, very independent. Under Social and Emotional Development, she checked off all items except follows class rules and 2-3 step directions.
Michael and I felt victorious. We had a smart kid who thinks for herself.
I didn’t know parent-teacher conferences could be positive. Most meetings I had with parents happened after a power struggle and a few choice words. I’d say, here’s what happened and here’s what needs to stop. They’d say, you’re picking on her because she’s a Johnson. They’d say, you must grade too hard.
We did not discuss their child’s awesomeness.
Miss Cheryl could’ve dismantled the biggest project of my life in a few judgmental statements. Those parents I met with had big projects, too. They felt angry, defensive even. Of course they would when they sat across the table from me, someone who mirrored them rather than assuring them I was doing everything I could for their kid.
Compassion is not my forte. Miss Cheryl made compassion look easy. And there’s a lot of power in kindness. No education class I took modeled that as well as my daughter’s preschool teacher.
Writing (and revising) with other writers on the Moonshine Grid. Thank you for stopping by this weekend.