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Thursday, October 17, 2013

An Open Letter to a Third Grader's Teacher - Contributor Post

We all have back-to-school jitters, and things we want our children's teachers to know, so that we can give them the best start possible to every school year. Sometimes knowing what to say, and what not to, can really help. Accidentally Mommy helps me out.


An open letter to a new teacher at the start of a new year. Since we can’t actually make our correspondence to our childrens’ educators both confessionals and on-our-knees pleas for help where we’ve failed in the past, I couldn’t actually send this. It was written, though. Here you go, Village. I wrote mine—don’t feel foolish if you’ve ever written or need to write yours. And as you save it to gather dust in the drafts folder, remember one thing: No matter your fears and concerns at the beginning of each year, sometimes just the change in and of itself is all that we need to find balance again. Dancing Queen has found her love for school again, without my tear-stained e-mail going out to her teacher after the first week.

Dear Mrs. 3rd Grade,

First off, I want to say thank you. Upon reflection, I realized when we were talking that I was pointing out many of Dancing Queen's weaknesses. You lead only with her strengths. That means a lot to me, and I wanted you to know that it didn't go unnoticed.

Dancing Queen is a very, very special person. I know every parent says that, and for every parent, it's true. I see a strength of character in Dancing Queen that I don't see in many other people, though -- adult or child. As you said, she's a very social individual and genuinely interested in being friends with just about everyone. I've had the chance in the past to observe her in a social situation that another person could have handled in a much more negative way. Instead of reacting with scorn, or suspicion, or gawking curiosity, she reacted only with a smile and an offer of friendship. While the children around her were making fun or asking hurtful questions, she was standing up to bullies and holding her new friend's hand. I have encouraged tolerance and good will in her from the beginning, but I cannot in good conscience claim to be the reason for her good nature. That would be a false humblebrag; kindness is simply a part of who she is. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying she's without fault. She's eight. She has the same quirks and frustrations that come with being eight and expanding her boundaries. She has a good heart, though.

You'll have to bear with me. I can get verbose and sometimes it takes me a little while to get to my point, which is why I wanted to email you instead of talking to you tonight. It takes far less time to skim an e-mail than it does to listen to a parent awkwardly fumble through trying to get their thoughts to come out right.

As her new teacher, you need to know that she didn't have the strongest start in school, and I feel like you need some of her history. Pre-K was marred by drama with her father and the very difficult pregnancy and subsequent birth of her brother who was very ill at the beginning. Because of this, she didn't have a parent who was the most engaged and involved. This continued into kindergarten, as I was consumed with maintaining her brother's health. We have a very strong support system in my parents and my siblings, but that can't always replace having mom directly involved. First grade found her with a teacher that was very clearly under personal strains who unfortunately took it out on her classroom. Dancing Queen is a very, very sensitive child. She's naturally averse to conflict and sensitive to what she perceives to be negative judgment. She was made to feel inadequate a handful of times, and that was enough to start the downhill slide. By the time second grade rolled around, she found that she dreaded school and everything about it. She dreaded tests. She dreaded reading. She dreaded writing. She felt like her teacher was passing constant judgment on her, and because of that often felt persecuted, even though she was reassured at home that this surely wasn't the case. Still, though, I met with her teacher early in the year to discuss these feelings she had, and I was met with a stony expression and monotone, emotionless, flat answers to my questions. Questions that I should have been asking all along, like "What are some suggestions for things I can do to enrich her at home and help her to enjoy learning again?" Questions of that nature were answered with "I don't know." Fast forward to this summer, and we have a normally bright, sassy little girl presenting herself dimmed, defeated, convinced that school sucks and she just doesn't want to go.

I don't want that for her. And I see that in your class, that won't be the expected behavior. While she will still answer when asked what she likes about school is that there's pizza and fruit-flavored water, it is my dream that she tacks on something about actually receiving her education, too.

Now that I have that said and out of the way, there are some other important things you need to know. Dancing Queen, as I said, is a worrier. She is definitely her mother's child in that she dwells on things that bother her and lets them interfere with her daily life sometimes. Her biggest school-related anxieties are centered primarily on test taking and reading/writing. Some things were said to her last year that she interpreted to mean that she wasn't good enough, wasn't smart enough, to succeed this year.

 In addition to this, Dancing Queen is also epileptic. The medication she's on can sometimes have an effect on her mood, sleeping patterns, and even her short-term memory. If she seems more forgetful, it is possibly a side effect of her meds.

(Disclaimer: I won't pull the meds card if you come to me and tell me that you truly feel she isn't paying attention. I'm not that parent. Please, please, please let me know if you feel that her behavior is questionable. I don't allow her medical condition to be a cover for lack of effort.)

She needs to play catch-up at home, particularly with her writing skills (punctuation, grammar, vocab, and sentence structure specifically,) and to discover a love for reading. I am the first to admit, though, that I don't make a very good instructor. I know I already ask a great deal of you by simply sending my child to be your student, but may I ask for a little bit more help? Can you point me in the direction of some resources  that I can employ at home that take a fun approach to these subjects so that she and I can work on them diligently without frustrating each other to the point of misery?

Thank you so much for your time, and thank you so much for your dedication to the kids. I wasn't paying lip service when I said earlier that I'm excited for this year. I'm truly  looking forward to being more involved with both her and you.


Accidentally Mommy


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