God in heaven knows how much I love school supplies. It's possibly the only fun part of going back to school. That, and new fall clothes (wishing I was still a student somehow). So while we are in the midst of buying new backpacks and closed-toed shoes for our kids, I thought I'd share some less traditional Back-to-School Tools with you that I have in my arsenal - ones you may not have considered before.
Tool #1: the cute stationery you never use (because who relies on snail mail anymore)
Let me explain. A few years back, one of my kids had a teacher that I was not loving. I didn't know her prior to that year. But within the first week, I had had an earful of her complaining and whining over everything. She had a very negative attitude, and would even ramble about personal problems to the volunteer mothers during class time and play the victim in some unfolding drama in her mind. As if I needed another person complaining and whining in my life, next I had other parents gossipping about her to me. Even though I knew I didn't want to gossip or jump on the complain-train myself, I grew increasingly nervous about the quality of teaching that was taking place and started to feel mom panic. If you're a mom, you know what that is.
I confided in a friend who has no connection to our area and she gave me some of the best advice I've ever received. Basically, it boiled down to "love your enemies." But with stationery.
My friend is quite the card writer. I'm sure she, personally, is helping to keep the USPS alive and well. She suggested that I do what she does. She has kids older than I do, and so has had more hard-to-love teacher experiences. During the most difficult year, her strategy became writing the teacher notes of encouragement. WEEKLY. She shared how shocked other moms were when, at the end of the year, this icy, old crag of a woman whom her son had as a teacher threw her arms around my friend's neck in a big hug.
UGH. I thought, thinking of my own situation, "What in the world would I write to this woman? I can't think of anything she is doing right to encourage...." So I started simply. It went something like this:
Dear Mrs. __________,
I just wanted to send you a note of thanks for the hard work you are putting in daily to know and nurture each of the children in your class. It must not be easy to start off a year with a whole new bunch! I'm sure I'd have no idea how to manage that many kids, much less teach them well. I look forward to helping in the class, and please let me know how I can best help. __________'s favorite thing to do so far has been the art. It's going to be a great year.
You get the idea. I'm not sure I maintained a weekly note delivery, but I can promise you this: I wrote her notes until my heart changed. Until I began to see her as a fellow flawed human being, not simply for what she could give to my family. I began to observe that the gossipping moms saw the teacher as merely a tool for gaining something. She wasn't a person to them; And I'm ashamed to say that she wasn't to me, at first, either. And after my heart changed, I kept writing those notes, but for different reason: I truly cared about her.
Think of the numbers of complaints teachers much get each year. Now think of the numbers of notes of encouragement they receive when it's not a holiday or teacher appreciation week when everyone does so out of etiquette. Maybe zero. And that person is likely spending more hours with your child than you are! Isn't that fact alone a reason to extravagantly LOVE on them?
So my whole perspective on my treatment of teachers has changed because of that small bit of advice. Now, whether I like them or not, I write teachers notes. Lots of notes, to all my kids' teachers, regularly, throughout the year. Sometimes the notes have baked goods attached. Or Sharpies. Or nothing. Or whatever I have around the house when I feel inspired to bless them.
When my own complaining spirit starts to build, I write a note. When it's a challenging week of testing, or she's being evaluated, or I know she's under extra stress, I write a note. I use empathy, and make an effort to see her as a person with a life outside of school. She's probably a mother. You can even ask about her own kids. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I acknowledge her world does not revolve around my child, nor should it.
It was altering once I decided that my child can survive an imperfect year, and I will be mom enough to help him/her navigate any social or academic turbulence. I say "decided" and not "realized" because it took an act of my will to remove inappropriate expectations from the teacher and put some more on myself as the parent. I want to communicate to teachers that I see us as a team.
Teachers can often be seen as enemies, by parents and children alike. I say this year, love your enemies. Model love for your kids, even if you also let them see your disappointment in a teacher (the demonstrated love will be all the more powerful, won't it?). If your child gets an unfair grade or gets overlooked in some way by that teacher, handle it in truth, but with grace and mercy. Remember that they will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35).
I'm putting my cute stationery to good use, starting on day 1 of school. Instead of sizing up the person in charge of schooling my kid for the next 9 months, I will give him/her the message that we are in this together and I'm grateful to have the help.
In this weary world, a person just can't have too much encouragement.
linking up with my girl Jami today!