Tuesday, October 01, 2013

BTS series, Lesson 5

The kids have been in school for about a month now, right?  They've adjusted to the new routine. You've adjusted to the new routine. The dog has started waking up early on Saturday mornings again, thinking it's just another weekday...or is that just mine?

It has only taken a month, but everyone has already established his or her opinions on the friends, teachers, homework and lunch menus the fall season has delivered. With my kids, I've found that each year unfolds differently than the last, and the dynamics of each classroom is totally unique. Most years have been amazing. A few have been woven with struggle. None have been perfect, that's for sure.

A handful of years ago was one that started off rocky; my child's teacher, I think, was suffering from some sudden changes in the district and in the administration that were making her job much more difficult. And she was bringing that stress and a lot of negativity into her classroom. She was continually complaining, and was also emotionally reactive when things or people weren't living up to her expectations. Upon my first few interactions with her, I was tempted to panic, go into protection mode, and be that "advocate" for my child. But parenting is not my only responsibility. I realized I have a responsibility also as a follower of Jesus to see my kids' teachers as not only servants of the school and of my child, but also as women (or men). Before they are teachers, they are first human beings who have flaws and carry stress and endure painful seasons, just like I do.

That year, I shared with my cousin who is four years ahead of me in parenting, the concerning things I observed with the negative teacher. She had a quick and lovely solution. I've written about this before (last fall, I think) so I apologize if this is old news to you. Finding herself in the same shoes in the past, my cousin decided to write an encouraging note to the troublesome teacher weekly. I was somewhat resistant, at first, to adopt this strategy; I couldn't think of anything nice to say to that teacher. But somehow, I knew that was exactly what I was supposed to do and, more importantly, exactly who I am supposed to be.

I committed to writing this woman an encouraging note once a week. And I committed to myself that I would only write things I could firmly stand behind. No false flattery, no fluff. For example:

"Dear _______,
I just wanted to send a note to say thank you for all your efforts. It must be incredibly challenging to start a new year with so many little ones to care for. My (son/daughter) really enjoyed the Dr. Seuss craft and is clearly improving in math already. He/she is having fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing how much he/she grows this year. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Wednesday mornings are a good time for me.
With gratitude,
Leslie Padgett, _______'s mom"

Oftentimes, when I couldn't say many complimentary things about her as a teacher, I stuck to statements of empathy and focused the attention on my child and his/her feelings about the class. Once, I left the note with a latte. Sometimes when I made muffins, I'd bring her a few to snack on during breaks. What if - I mean, really think about it - what if my words were the only positive, encouraging ones she heard all day? What if there were really far more difficult circumstances in her life, ones about which I knew nothing, taking place? What if this woman just needed a little grace and a muffin to get her through another day? She is in charge of my child, for heaven's sake. The least I can do is support her, no matter how I feel about her personality.      

I will never know if it changed the teacher's, but my cousin's simple suggestion totally changed MY heart. That teacher and I grew to have an excellent working relationship by Christmas. I think she even considered me a friend, and I saw her soften a lot to her own job conditions. In fact, I began to believe in the note-writing so much that my own gratitude for these important characters in my children's lives just grew and grew. What started as a strategy to cope with a difficult teacher has become a loved habit for me. Every year now, with every teacher, I write notes and bake muffins and offer my help. I think it's safe to assume that for every bit of encouragement I can offer, they get ten negative and critical bits from other parents. I don't want to be those other parents. I want to love on the people to whom I'm entrusting my precious children.

I'm not EVER entitled to a perfect schooling environment for my child. (Let's face it: even if I were in complete control, let's say homeschooling them, the environment would still never be perfect for them, because I'm not perfect.) However, I'm required to parent my children through all circumstances and love everyone involved, as far as it depends on me.

So my take home message is this. It's time; we're one month into this deal. Love on your kids' teachers and school staff. Particularly if you don't like them. Even the grouchy receptionist. Seriously. And if you don't have words of encouragement yet, buy him/her a coffee. Bake some muffins. They have charge of your child; and the more we can do to build partnerships with teachers and staff instead of just complaining about the problems, the better the whole learning experience will be for our kids. I really believe that. And more than that, I really believe that people need grace, a generous, loving dose of unmerited favor. That's what God gives us and tells us to pass on to those around us. They will know we are Christians by our love.

It takes discernment - a lot - to know when to step in and advocate for your child when a serious problem is at hand. But I know you know, in your gut, when that is.

Most of the time, muffins may as well be peace treaties.



  1. This is such a great reminder. We struggled last year with one teacher, and I felt that same way. We realized were there to love her and pray for her. And we still do. While at first I wanted to take my kid and run, the more I prayed about it the more I realized God had something else in mind. In it all, he covered us and I hope that the teacher was blessed too.

    I never did bake muffins, but I might just put that strategy to work this year!

  2. A really moving, inspirational book I read about this was
    A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life, by John Kralik
    If you haven't read it, I absolutely recommend it.
    It's one to read and pass along, my copy is making it's way along.

  3. Oh my goodness, I loved this Leslie. This is only my second year as a mom of a school kid, and he is only in Pre-K. But I have several friends who are teachers. This is such wonderful insight here. I substitute taught for a brief period and was so thankful for that time because it too allowed me some insight into the "life" of the teacher. I loved loved loved your words here. I love the intent behind them.

    "They will know we are Christians by our love."

    Thank you for this.

  4. What a great idea!! I was a teacher for a few years before I became a mom, and I would've loved that kind of support from a parent! (And I even taught in a Christian school.) It's too easy to just assume that someone else will encourage the teacher. Teachers could always use more encouragement!!