One day last fall, I knew my hair appointment would run past my daughter’s dismissal time, so I told her she’d need to walk from the middle school to the high school so her brother could take her home. Just to be safe, I emailed her teacher late that morning in case Anna needed to be reminded, but I didn’t receive a response until well after the last bell had rang.
“Oops!” wrote her teacher. “I’m just seeing this. I hope she got home okay!”
Luckily Anna remembered the plan, but who knows how it would have turned out if she hadn’t. I mean, why would that teacher not make time to check her email throughout the school day?
Fast forward to a month later and I was subbing for the school district, mostly monitoring classrooms while quarantined teachers taught from home. When I found out that Anna’s teacher needed to be out for a few weeks, I gladly accepted the position — after all, how hard could it be? I knew many of the 5th graders, and I would be teaching language arts which is totally my thing. I’d probably even have time on breaks to keep up with Facebook, and I’d definitely be checking my email.
Boy, was I wrong.
By the end of the first day, I hadn’t even picked up my phone. We bounced from one subject to the next so quickly that after the last student walked out of my room, I realized I’d never even peed! I couldn’t believe the way I’d underestimated how busy teachers are, and I certainly understood why Anna’s teacher never saw my email until after she’d walked out that day.
Throughout the next 8 weeks, I came to appreciate educators in a way no parent could unless they stepped foot in a classroom. I spent hours planning lessons with other teachers, graded tons of assignments, uploaded slides to remote learners in Google Classroom, and got to know students better than I ever would have as an average sub. I truly enjoyed teaching, but I think I was the one who learned the most.
I learned that an “A” for one student takes just as much effort as a “C” for another. As long as they try their hardest, each child should receive praise for their individual accomplishments.
I discovered that a kid who struggles in math can be a brilliant writer, and vice-versa. A really messy, unorganized student can also knock your socks off with her creativity as an artist. And sometimes, pointing out how talented a child is at the things he excels at most can boost his confidence in all subjects across the board.
I found out that a quiet kid who never raises his hand actually knows a lot. You just have to give him a chance to tell you about it one-on-one when he’s in his comfort zone.
I realized that any time I’ve ever told my own child to inquire about an assignment after hours, the person on the other end of the phone or computer was probably in the middle of dinner with their family, or settled onto the couch after a long exhausting a day. But in order to make sure my kid understood the details in order to do their best, they chose to answer anyway.
I learned that without a supportive team, teachers would feel completely alone. It makes so much sense why educators become best of friends with the adults they work with. It’s truly priceless to be able to laugh with or vent to those who understand the same joys and frustrations.
After receiving demanding emails from parents, I witnessed that teachers take the blame for a lot. But I also discovered that when a parent asked how THEY could help ME help their child, it had much more of an impact — and so I will always choose that method when dealing with my own kids.
And finally, as much as I was ready for a break by the end of the quarter, I found that the kids I was just getting to know had already filled a special place in my heart. If I had a hard time saying goodbye after only a couple of months, I can imagine how hard it must be for teachers to part with students at the end of each year.
It’s no secret that parents have had a rough time since this pandemic began, but I hope everyone knows that teachers are truly doing their best. Just as each day in their classrooms is unpredictable, they can’t predict how or when this time will end. All I know is that after being on the other side of the fence, it’s obvious that they’re not putting in all the countless hours for an extra paycheck or even a Teacher of the Year award. They’re doing it for the one reason they chose this profession in the first place: the kids.
If you can’t grow wings and be a fly on the wall in your child’s classroom any time soon, I encourage you to do one simple thing: be kind. Be patient. Ask nicely about something you don’t understand. Send a random thank you note to a teacher to show your appreciation for their time. And for pete’s sake, don’t assume you’re being ignored if your email isn’t answered right away. Chances are it just means your kid is getting all the attention he or she deserves.