Secrets from a forgotten co-parent with eight-hour custody of your child
Imagine a day spent with sixty-five different teenagers, all eccentrically beautiful darlings with their acne crises, their Instagram addictions, and their life-threatening surges of estrogen and testosterone. Doesn’t that sound like a dream come true? [Did I really just say that?]
Now, add to this euphoria a pay that is laughable and work hours that are never-ending.
Yes, I am living this American dream. [Again, did I really just say that?]
I am a teacher — possibly a teacher to your own special baby. This, my fellow child rearing comrade, is why you should be afraid. Very afraid. As a matter of fact, you should work to make me a very good friend, a BFF even, and I’ll tell you why.
We know everything.
Now if I may brag a bit, as a twenty- two year veteran English teacher, I know quite a bit. Shakespeare? Been there, done that. Grammar? I’m the champion. However, this is not the knowledge I speak of. I know everything — about you. At least from your child’s completely unprejudiced and totally eloquent expressions on the matter.
Thanks to our study of Fahrenheit 451, I know about the hours you spend on Facebook instead of sitting and talking with your teen. Thanks to our discussions on an article related to alcoholism, I know that you drink three glasses of wine when you get home. Thanks to my part-time job as on-demand teen counselor and psychologist, I get the juice on all the embarrassing [and unfortunately even heartbreaking] mistakes you make as a parent.
For example, I cannot count the days when I walk to my room in the morning with a teary-eyed adolescent waiting at my classroom door. They tell me that they didn’t sleep last night because their parents were fighting, and the cops showed up. They tell me that you chose to go on vacation with your new significant other instead of staying home for their birthday party. They tell me you kicked them out of the house when you told them you were pregnant, and now you have nowhere to go.
This is quite a bundle of information with quite flammable possibilities. Certainly, I would report you to the proper authorities if I heard anything harmful, but most of your secrets are simply parenting faux-pas or human errors in judgment created in the midst of the chaotic moments of child rearing. I understand; I’ve made a few of these myself.
Don’t worry; most days, we take your perspective into account and remind your children that parents are people too, that they make mistakes, that there is no way they meant to hurt you. We remind them that no matter what happens, you love them more than anything.
We argue for you because we know your children need to believe in the solidarity and unconditional acceptance of their family at a time when their “second families,” i.e. their friends at school, are often brutally betraying, bullying, or self-centered.
We work to make your children better people.
As an English teacher, my goal is to teach your child to become better readers, writers, and thinkers, yet just as many times I find myself trying to make your child a better person.
They come to me so many times with so many problems. Maybe they feel too embarrassed talking to you about boys, about the pressures they face, or the emotionally driven moments where they are barely holding on before they explode into violence, apathy, or something far darker. They fear you will overreact, roll your eyes and “blow them off” or hold their thoughts against them.
We are somehow softer ground; they know we are adults that they trust and yet we are far enough removed from the situation to see things in a more three-dimensional light. So, we guide them, pull out a tissue, and close the door to the other students anxious to come pouring in for the next class. We listen, and we try to speak for you.
We tell them things like “step back from your anger and think before you act,” “No boy deserves you if he is not willing to respect your body and your decisions,” and “Those bullies? Don’t pay any attention to them. You are beautiful, smart, and will do amazing things in this world.”
We echo your words and support when you are absent, co-parenting almost, to be a second voice for your message and a second cheerleader when you can’t be there.
We push, when they pull; we ask when they don’t offer. We notice, when everyone else ignores.
Now I have heard your children’s tales of those teachers, you know the ones who supposedly scroll social media and throw a worksheet their way to keep them quiet and busy. I’m sure there are some of those [Shame on you all, you know who you are], but most teachers are not like this.
While you kiss them, give them a hug, and send them on their way each day in that chaotic anarchy that is family mornings, we get time to see the things that often unintentionally pass your attention.
For example, “Johnny, you don’t look so well, have you checked your glucose monitor?” “ Your eyes look really pink, sweetheart, go see the nurse.” “ Taylor, you seem so gloomy lately, what’s been going on?” “ Lindsey, your grades have been dropping, want to talk about it?”
Frequently, these small gestures from teachers take potentially large problems, whether health, emotionally, or academically related, and lessen or alleviate them. We work for you when you can’t.
The funniest part is we really don’t have to. After all, some of those teachers [shame again] only see their job as to give students the work to make them learn. So what, they say, if little Susie came in with her eyes red as rubies from crying? She’ll get over it; I mean, we all have bad days. So what if Ethan hasn’t turned in an assignment in over a week? He will obviously just have to learn the hard way. It’s his own fault, they say, or they blame you. After all, aren’t you the one in charge of parenting him? They don’t pay me for that, they say.
Yes, again, we do have those teachers, but rest assured, the majority care deeply and will give up morning coffee to help your child with a subject he is struggling with, give up sleep pondering how to best help your child overcome his challenges and give up their lunch when your child says he forgot to get his lunch money from home. We’re on your side, and we deserve some recognition for those duties that technically go beyond the call of duty.
In this age of school-related shootings, we are the people who may be forced to make a choice between our own safety and your children. We can run for our car or sit with your children in danger and quietly encourage them to be brave, to be quiet, or to fight if needed.
I’ve asked myself this terrible question time and time again: Would I do the right thing? Would I sacrifice myself for these children who oftentimes scorn me, roll their eyes at me, or even threaten me with violence for a simple thing like sending them to the principal’s office? Somewhere, somehow, in this imagined moment, I don’t see them as your children, I see them as my own. With this vision, there is no question about my actions; I believe I would fight for these beautiful innocent beings who were unfortunately born into a world of violence.
Their dreams are my dreams; their futures are my main priority. My job is just like yours, to keep them safe and secure in a world that sadly has few hiding places.
One last thought:
As I write this article on the reasons you should be kind to me, I find myself doing something I frequently tell my students to do, which is to look at the study of the topic from all angles in order to completely understand the issue. As I do this here and now, I realize perhaps it is you who deserve some special treatment from me. I’ll tell you why.
A connection between people is very rarely one-sided. I am sure that just as I have heard of some of the skeletons in your closet, perhaps you have also heard some of mine.
These children also see me at my worst; they see me when I have just come from a quarrel at home or when I am flustered and unintentionally say the wrong thing to the wrong student at the absolute worst moment. They tell you that “I called them out,” that I embarrassed them, that I refused to listen to what they had to say.
Yes, I will admit, there are those times, and I sometimes lose sleep over the damage that I may have caused by that moment of carelessness.
Your children are in many ways my teachers, just as I am theirs. They have heard intermittent stories of my own life, and oftentimes, they manage to change and shape my life with the stories they tell me of your family. “Trust me, Mrs. B,” they say. “If my mom can get her Master’s degree working and juggling kids, so can you.”
When I tell them the struggles I have with my own children, they offer advice on how their family works the issue out. They remind me of my purpose and my place in the world when they tell me that I matter, that it was me that helped them get through this or that or that it was my class that made them look forward to school every day.
They are my counselors, just as I am theirs. Your stories and your children’s stories affect the things I do every day at home and at school. They save my relationships with my own children in the same ways that I maybe save yours.
This is a secret that binds us all: parents, teachers, and children. This is what makes us “the village” that can save a child or doom him to shame, fear, and alienation. We are all puzzle pieces in each other’s world, so we may as well learn to like and respect each other. If we can work together and harness the love we each have for our children, we can surely make it an amazing world for them all.