Make a Face

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?

Hey Teach! We love building proper sentences.

Hey Teach! We love building proper sentences.

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.


21 thoughts on “Make a Face

  1. I loved this. The comparison between yourself and the preschool teacher. Do you think if you went back to teaching, would you try and be more compassionate towards your students? I think also, high school is a lot different than preschool.. it might be easier to go in with a big smile when you’re talking to three and four year olds?


    • Thank you. If I went back to teaching, yes, I would try be more compassionate. Parenting has helped learn more about compassion. I know what you mean about high school kids and preschool kids–aren’t preschoolers just darned cute? I did have a few thoughts on high school vs preschool in my first draft, but this post focused more on Miss Cheryl.


  2. One of my most treasured teachers from Jr./Sr. high school was Mrs. Walton. She was my English teacher from 6th grade until I graduated high school. I didn’t appreciate back then (I don’t think many of us did), how important the lessons she tried to teach us were, but I cherish her now. Your profession is one of least appreciated and most under-paid in our society. However, on behalf of all of us, thank you for what you do.

    If you get some time, I’d love for you to read a post of mine about Mrs. Walton. Would love to hear your thoughts from your side of the desk.

    Great story, enjoyed it!


    • Thank you. My Ms Watson was Ms Burgess. When I ran into her years later, and proudly told her my plans to become an English teacher, she said, “That’s a waste of your time and talent.” Ha! I will stop by, read your post, too.


  3. I often think back to my time as a teacher and cringe. Now that I’ve become a parent, especially being the mother of a child who is “different,” I regret the way I treated some of my students. I think about how I would have/could have done things differently. I only hope that since I saw my students so briefly that I never did any serious damage. I don’t think everything I did as a teacher was wrong, but I do know it could have been better.


    • Parenting has definitely changed how I see children and my role as a teacher. I have stories of regret, too. I wish I would have said different words, or made a different decision. In our defense, new teachers do not always get the support they need to understand the varying roles they play in their job.


  4. I used to teach high school and now teach 7th grade. Yes, a smile goes a long way. I’ve had the angry, defensive meetings as well as the “your kid is great and how can we work together” meetings, and the second kind is definitely better for everyone! It’s not always easy to get there. That preschool teacher sounds like a treasure.


  5. I wish there were more Miss Cheryls in the world. I love this. Your honesty and change in perspective make this serious food for thought. Friendly and smiling wouldn’t be a bad default state generally if you could manage it, I think.


  6. sounds like you’ve got yourself a really good preschool teacher. i think at that age especially it’s important to connect and make each kid walking thru the door feel special…it’s all so new to them. but i think you’re right, it certainly would make an exceptional teaching experience to do that all through the years into high school. they’re still babies, just big ones.


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