Robin Williams' death prompted me to go back and re-watch clips of my favorite role of his: Mr. Keating in Dead Poet's Society.
Mr. Keating was that teacher. He was the unorthodox instructor who quoted Walt Whitman—“Carpe Diem, my friends. Carpe Diem.”—and encouraged his students to “suck the marrow out of life.” He told them to rip out the pages in the poetry textbooks that, quite frankly, sucked the marrow out of learning about the beauty and elegance of poetry. He ever so brilliantly showed them that words could do mighty things—maybe even change the world, one human being at a time. He wanted them to be that human. He wanted them to "contribute a verse to the world."
And when the cranky ole Headmaster kicked Mr. Keating out for being such a dang good teacher—of poetry and of life—his students stood on their desks for him.
Stood on their desks, I say. O Captain, My Captain.
Oh, to have a teacher like Mr. Keating.
I sent my six-year-old son, Mac, to first grade a couple of weeks ago.
First grade is a big deal.
You have to tuck in your shirt and wear a belt in the first grade. There are several rules the must be followed, like keeping your hands and feet to yourself and being responsible for all materials and homework. It seems there should have been one that requires all first graders to ask before eating off of his neighbor’s plate in the lunchroom, as well. If there had been, though, Mac may have swiftly gone from green to red on the behavior chart, so that omission made last Wednesday his lucky day.
But the biggest “deal” about first grade is: you have to be there a loooooong time. Until 3:00. Every. Day. Of. Your. Life.
When Mac asked if he could go to work with his daddy today instead of going to school for the eternity that it is, I reminded him that I could get arrested if he didn’t attend school.
He didn’t seem to care.
It is hard to explain to a first grader the magic that may await him in school. The clever ways that teacher’s teach that ensures a love affair will ensue between student and knowledge. When a teacher hits that button on your child, igniting something inside of him he didn’t know existed, he is transformed.
And it takes a special kind of person, a uniquely gifted man or woman, to first search diligently for that button in every child, to then discover it, and finally to push it—and to keep pushing it, over and over and over again.
Teachers are an underpaid, over-worked, glorious bunch of mind-shapers who don’t get enough credit, who don’t have enough done to lighten their loads, and who don’t get thanked enough. Professional athletes are paid millions of dollars to throw a ball, but the people who spend the bulk of their time with our children—yours and mine—putting up with their petulance and worse while doing everything they can to help them learn, to help them maximize their strengths and overcome their deficiencies—make dismal salaries. It seems so wrong.
We as parents may not be able to give him or her a pay raise, but there are things we can do for them….and we should. After all, that teacher, even as young as kindergarten or elementary school, could be the very reason your child loves to read, values history, is so intrigued by science that he finds a cure for cancer, or even becomes a teacher herself, God bless her. The value in what they are capable of igniting in our children is limitless.
My son Mac's First Day of First Grade
We have a little tradition when Mac goes to take his supplies to school and meet his new teacher for the year. We head up to the flower shop on the square where Mac is allowed to go into the cooler and pick out whichever buds he wants to take to the newest lady in his school life…and the first. We always take one flower to his 3K (and we were lucky enough to have her again in 4K, too!) teacher, the first person who was not family to whom I entrusted Mac, Ms. Lori. (You can read my love letter to her, written on the last day of 3K, here.)
If she wasn’t family then, she sure is now.
When Mac proudly delivered his flowers, Mrs. Jenkins went on and on about how sweet and special they were. Ms. Lori snapped a photo and sent it to her husband to make him jealous. I hope he doesn’t feel threatened. He’s a big guy. I don’t think Mac can take him.
This is one little thing that we do each year to simply show the people who will be molding Mac’s little mind, body and heart that we love them, that we appreciate them.
But it made me think: what else can we do as parents for those priceless men and women who give so much of themselves for OUR children? So I asked. I put the questions out there to my friends who teach—anywhere from kindergarten all the way to high school—the following questions:
1. What is the best thing a parent has ever done for you?
2. If you could make every parent know one thing about you, the way you teach, or what you need from them, what would it be?
3. Which supply can you not get enough of (that all of us parents could stock you up on?)
Overwhelmingly, the answer to #3 was Clorox wipes.
Lysol and hand sanitizer came in at a close second. From the mama of one grubby little boy, I can’t say I was surprised.
I also hear they could use:
- Colored copy papes
- There were several votes for Kleenex.
- Books for the classroom library
- And I love these two: Coffee and Diet Cokes. I believe these are for the teachers, not the students. ;)
Tracey and Linda, both former teachers of mine, pointed out that any kinds of supplies you can bring—above and beyond what is on your own child’s list—is helpful because most teachers spend their own money on extras for the kid who always forgets. Tracey said, “I swear my kids eat their pencils! I have to give each one a new pencil every day. Where I teach, most students live in poverty, so I buy all of their supplies.”
Backing up, the answers I got to question #2—what do you wish your students’ parents knew?--were telling. I think it would do all of us parents good to read them in their own words (and there are some jewels in here):
Mary-Rollins, currently teaching 1st grade in Georgia (16 years experience):
“I am human, therefore I make mistakes and I have feelings (pretty sensitive ones when it comes to being misunderstood in my craft.) I will show my humanity often, and I will make mistakes. When I do, know that I did so with someone’s best interest at heart. I am highly qualified and experienced, but I believe there is always room for improvement. Therefore, when I screw up, or if I make a decision that you do not agree with, come to ME. Talk to ME. I promise I will listen, and I am pretty sure I will then see the error of my ways, and we will come away from our impasse respectfully and peacefully. If you do not trust in me and go somewhere else with your troubles, it will chip away at the relationship that is so vital to our success together as we share your child.”
Kathleen, currently teaching junior high math in Mississippi (10 years experience):
“The students must participate, ask questions, and complete their homework. I will stay after school or find time during the day to help a student if they or parents will ask. Only 5 % of 7th graders will do their best just because it's in their makeup. The other 95 percent will do what is expected from their parents. Please set high expectations and follow through.”
Tracey, currently teaching reading and language, 4th-7th grades, at an alternative school in Mississippi (28 years experience):
“I am human and I make mistakes. If I call about your child, he or she has obviously done something wrong. (I make positive calls, too.) Don't blame it on someone else.”
Linda, retired after teaching 4th grade for 41 years in Mississippi:
“I tell parents that I will believe only half of what they tell me about home, but they have to return the favor. Parents who believe everything that child tells them is not doing the child any favors. You should talk calmly to the teacher about anything that happens at school.”
Ashley, currently teaching 7th grade language arts in Mississippi (14 years experience):
“When students feel comfortable and wanted, they will be open to what I have to say and more likely to learn. So first and foremost, I want my students to feel loved.”
Alesha, currently teaching 9th and 11th grade honors and regular language arts (11 years experience):
“I am trying to make your child reach his or her potential. If I'm going to do that, I can't always be "fair." I will, however, be equitable. Always. And please, if you have a problem, talk to me before you talk to your friends or the newspaper.”
Andy, currently teaching several levels of science to 11-18 year olds in England (14 years experience):
“Every person is different. Don’t compare your child to others too much. I won't. I'll do my best to help them understand, achieve, have fun and become a better person.”
Kate, currently teaching 7th grade language arts in Mississippi (9 years experience):
“I really have prayed for their kid and I do love them, but I'm not going to get it right every time.”
Alice, currently retired from teaching all things science for 23 years in Mississippi:
“I wish every parent could've known that all I wanted to be was fair and consistent. I have always wanted to treat every child the same as far as interactions and discipline. I also wanted to teach responsibility to prepare their children for college and the real world. With my policies, I tried to teach that deadlines are important and that, most of the time, excuses don't fly! Rules are rules, and I was there to enforce them. I never wanted to make an exception for one that I couldn't/wouldn't make for another.”
Beverly, currently teaching K3 in a church-sponsored preschool in Mississippi (12 years experience):
“I have always wanted my parents to know that even through the tears, I will always take care of their little ones and love them unconditionally. I care about every child that comes through our doors, whether they are in my class or not; I care about the families, too. They are a huge part of my life, and if I can make just a small difference in their lives, then my job is complete. These children over the years have definitely made a difference in my life!”
Beth, currently the Coordinator of Studies at a private school in Mississippi (30 years experience):
One thing to know is we are all in this together--mutual support is essential for optimal growth--and the main thing-education is a journey, not a race--enjoy the ups and downs along the way because you cannot recapture days your child is in school. Enjoy them!
Mac's First Day of Pre-K
And finally, when asked what the best thing a parent had ever done for them, they said:
Kathleen--Verbal or written praise expressing how I helped his/her child
Tracey--A parent wrote a letter to the superintendent about what an outstanding teacher I was and how I went over the call of duty to help her child. Anytime a parent praises me, I am very pleased.
Ashley--A simple "thank you" goes a long way.
Linda--I love it when parents let you know that you are having a positive impact on their child's life. Positive notes are always appreciated, but any way you acknowledge your child's teacher is always appreciated.
Alesha--There have been so many things over the years, it's hard to pick one. Every "thank you," every small gift, pictures of their kids years after graduation...all these things remind me why this is a calling & a profession, not a job.
I'm not sure this fits exactly, but my favorite phone calls are those when the parent says, "John/Jane had changed her major. He/she has decided to teach, & he/she says it's because of you." I've been privileged to hear that 3 times.
Andy--It's not what the parents do that matters, it's the pupil that you're responsible for and "thanks" is fine for helping them achieve, or in some of the more challenging schools I've worked in--for caring.
Kate--Any affirmation from parents is appreciated! I've been so fortunate in that department. I do love getting emails or notes telling me that I've made a difference to their child.
Alice--Just last week, Dees (my daughter) was eating at a restaurant in Jackson and one of my former chemistry students was her waiter. He told her that he never thanked me for all that I did for him and asked her to tell me. He reminded her several times during the course of her meal. This was a student that I had NO CLUE I had made a difference in his life. This has happened many times over the years, and it means SO much. Sometimes these are the A students and sometimes the ones who really struggled are the ones who thank me. I am always so glad that all my lectures, labs and crazy antics were not in vain and that I maintain relationships with many of my former students.
Beth--When a parent writes a note and lets you know the impact you have made on their child---priceless, and makes it all worthwhile.
Sense a pattern here? Dang, and it is SUCH a little thing!
But Mary-Rollins does offer one gesture by a parent that certainly went above and beyond a simple "thank you":
A parent of a former student read my Facebook post last year that I was at home with a fever and sore throat. I was complaining about feeling badly, not having time to be “down,” and the usual woes of having a husband on the road rather than at home to help. Within 2 hours, she was on my doorstep with homemade chicken and rice soup (she knew I was following a gluten-free diet, so she veered away from her usual chicken and noodle recipe) stored in single-serving Mason jars with a “get well” note.
Bottom line: Our children’s teachers ask very little from us parents. As Alesha noted above, most every one I know firmly believes they were called to teach; therefore, the passion they have for their subject matter and for their students is uncontainable. They certainly don’t fight the good fight every day, through bureaucracy and our kids’ sometimes intolerable behavior, for the money. They do it because they can’t not do it.
And you never know which teacher may very well be your child’s Mr. Keating. He may discover his verse to contribute to this world all because of that teacher. Is there any dollar amount we can assign to our children's verse?
Nope. Not a one.
I challenge our Camp Makery readers to find ways to creatively show gratitude to our teachers. If all they want is a “thank you,” let’s give them that….and a whole lot more. I say we do it big.
I say we stand on our desks.
How do you thank your child’s teacher in creative ways? What do you plan to do to show the teachers in your life just how much they mean to you? Share with us on our Facebook page!