My kids’ online lessons started a week before I began teaching, as we are in different school systems. So I had an entire week to observe their teachers without the distraction of my own students. What I realized was this: parents are listening to everything.
As a teacher myself, I don’t fault their teachers for a lot of the mistakes they make because I know I make them myself. (I also didn’t properly set up my breakout rooms and wasted all sorts of class time on the first day. I feel for you, 6th grade teacher!) I can’t imagine trying to teach any children younger than seven and actually keeping their attention, so Tommy’s first grade teacher deserves a real award for doing that.
I can tell they are trying their hardest, working around all sorts of new digital platforms and still delivering content. I am impressed at the extra work they are doing – something I also understand because I am doing it behind the scenes. None of us signed up to stare at a computer screen for hours. If we were going to get paid peanuts, we wanted the joy that comes with a lively classroom.
And yet, we all keep trying. We keep messing up and we keep trying.
But I don’t actually care about what the teachers are doing right now with reading and math and Spanish class. I appreciate the content, I do. But what I notice is how they interact with my kids, and how they make them feel like an integral part of their classrooms.
Last week, there was a lot of talk in online communities from parents hearing teachers refer to “your mom and dad.” This was obviously upsetting to parents in nontraditional families. I have raged plenty about this on my blog. But as a teacher, I also feel for my colleagues who are just trying to do the best they can and are still making all sorts of mistakes.
I mean, I teach American government to teenagers in 2020, so there is definitely a chance that a parent could hear something they don’t like during one of my lessons. I hope I teach in a thoughtful way and set up a thoughtful classroom but….I’m not perfect.
So I feel for teachers who are just trying their best and yet still messing up, and then their mistakes are broadcast to entire households.
I thought about this the other day as I listened to one of Austin’s lessons. At the start of the year, I wrote his teacher to let her know about what’s happened to our family over the past three years – the loss of his father and the introduction of my new partner, Chris. She was thoughtful in her response, and later she met virtually with Chris and me. She clearly loves teaching and Austin adores her. So when I peered into his room to check in, Austin’s face didn’t move from the screen. His teacher was giving him instructions. At the end, she said, “You should check with your parent–with your grown up–to make sure they got my letter.”
It was a simple slip-up, really. Of course I say “parent” all the time when talking to students, and I don’t fault her for saying it. What I loved was that immediately after saying “parent” she realized that she should use different terminology. So she corrected herself.
It was something simple. “Parent” became “grown up.” Parent implies one thing – usually a mom or a dad. “Grown up” can be either of your dads or your grandma or your mom’s partner who is supervising home school that day. There’s no confusion with “grown up.” It’s any adult that loves you and is with you in that moment.
I don’t expect teachers to be perfect. I’m not perfect, and I know I’ve said all sorts of things in the classroom that I wished I hadn’t. Good teachers are constantly trying to do more, be better, think deeper and be more thoughtful – and good teachers are also aware of how often they fall short.
So I don’t need a teacher who never missteps. I don’t need a teacher who is so careful that she holds back in a way that negatively impacts the classroom. I don’t want perfection. I simply want a teacher who is trying to make her announcements, her assignments and her classroom a better and more inclusive place for all kids.
I really don’t think Austin would have noticed one way or another. He got used to having my dad help him with homework, and would even say to his Grandpa Tom, “my teacher said to get a parent to help us.” Austin has learned how to navigate imperfect language.
But I hear it. And he hears it, too, even if he doesn’t say that he cares. He hears his teacher correct herself when she doesn’t say something perfectly. He hears that it’s okay to mess up and try again. And when she says, “your grown up” he hears that the adults in our house are important to his teacher, no matter what title they hold. He hears that family isn’t just two parents, or a mom and a dad, or whatever other stereotype he has in his head. He hears so much in those few corrected words.
He hears “your grown up.” And I hear it, too.