Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Back to School Tool #1: Stationery

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!


  1. I just found your blog and have been reading it! I'm not a parent (yet), and have never had to think about teachers in a parent perspective. However, now that I've graduated college, I have lots of friends who are teaching. What an awesome idea!! I will definitely have to remember to do this when I have kids! Thank you so much for writing this! I shared it with my friends, and hopefully we can encourage teachers this year!

  2. LOVE this, I so needed this reminder and challenge today. What a beautiful thing to encourage somebody before you love or even like them. I think so often we only encourage or love those that we think will reciprocate or appreciate our love but we forget that God called us to love and encourage even our enemies. you definitely encouraged me today. plus I love me some cute stationary :)

  3. Leslie, how do you do it?? Every blog post is SO inspired. You live so close to the Lord with such grace and humility. Reading your blog is quite literally changing my life, because you are opening my eyes to the true Life-Changer, Heart-Changer: our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for being such a pure conduit.

  4. You are such a godly, sweet mother and role model for young women like me. I just love you and soak in your blog posts - you are so wise!

  5. Coming from the viewpoint of a teacher(and a mama), I love this idea! Everyone needs to be encouraged, no matter who they are, what their problem is or what their profession. :)As one who deals with littles all day(& then sometimes their parents...(good & bad)....words of encouragement are always welcome in my classroom.
    Please keep us in your prayers, friend. We leave in less than a week for Central America. I'm trying not to panic:)

  6. Such a great idea! I have many friends who are now teachers, and my daughter has some of the same teachers I had twenty years ago. It's amazing how times have changed between then and now, and how much pressure is put on teachers, compared to how little support is given. Thank you for sharing this post and idea. I'll have to get out my cute stationary, too.

  7. "my child can survive an imperfect year" I am enduring a little "mom panic" as all the parents are "anti-requesting" a certain teacher this year so I'm sure we'll get her, since I don't make requests. :) This was so great. :)

  8. I love this idea! And what a gift that must be to those teachers...I think I need to stock up on some cute stationary. Thanks for the encouragement!

  9. Love this Leslie. I do the same with the notes of encouragement. Makes such a difference. I also start preparing them weeks before school starts about the teacher they wind up with..... They may get the dreaded teacher. But if that happens then I believe that is the teacher they are supposed to have. The class they are supposed to be in. We pray together about them and I feel my kids are more prepared and armed for whatever case scenario happens. Love your wisdom as always.

  10. "I wrote her note until my heart changed"

    Can't tell you how much I love this!!!! Most of the time it is me that needs the changing. Thanks for the reminder!!