Dear Teacher I Barely Know

Dear Teacher I Barely Know,

I dropped my first grader off in your room yesterday.  Truth be told, I didn’t want to leave the room.  I wanted to sit with him, introduce him to some kids he didn’t know, and help him understand that first grade is different from Kindergarten.

I wanted to help him unpack his belongings, check his backpack again, remind him about his lunch, and stay with him.  I wanted to be with him on the playground during recess.  I wanted to stand up for him if I needed to, explain to the other kids how amazing he is, and fill them in on how he doesn’t worry too much about what others think about his interests, or lack there of.  I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, “I LOVE THIS BOY!”

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, please help me understand how he learns.  Help me understand his struggles, his successes, and his potential.  In return, I’ll give you insight into his world.  I’ll share his talents, his interests, and his needs.  We need each other.  We have a lot to teach each other, but even more to learn from each other.

I need to hear from you about his time at school.  I want you to hear from me that my first grader is complicated, amazing, impulsive, creative, misunderstood at times, and deeply cherished.  I want you to know how much he has colored my world with every shade of love possible.  I need you to know that I would do anything for him, including holding him accountable for his actions.

I want you to see my son for who he is…all of him…not just the blonde-haired boy sitting in the front row of your classroom.  Do you know that there is no place he’d rather be than on the lake with his Papa?  Do you know that he really isn’t into sports, but excels at gymnastics?  Are you aware that he’d rather dig up worms, and watch fishing shows than sit in front of a video game?  Do you know that he draws pictures for me just about everyday?

Do you know that he has already cried, and described his day at school as being “hard”?  Do you know that his three best buddies from Kindergarten moved to another school this year?  Are you aware that he doesn’t have a lot of friends outside of school, except the girl down the street, and few at the lake who visit when he sees his Papa?  Do you know that he asked me the day before school started to remind him again of the kids who might play with him?

Do you know how much that breaks a mother’s heart?  Are you aware that I leave a piece of my heart at the door each time I drop him off at school?

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, I don’t expect you to invite the Lord into your classroom, but I have.  I’ve asked Him to wrap each child with arms of protection.  I’ve prayed that He would be in the midst of your interactions, your lessons, and your set of challenges.  I’ve asked Him to show kindness, gentleness, and love through the actions of others.  I’ve prayed for you, other students, and my son.

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, you have a tough job.  I don’t envy you, and I certainly don’t know if I could spend my days like you do.  I want you to know that I don’t expect you to treat my son better than any other child.  I know how deeply each child is loved by his or her parents.  I know other parents must wonder how their children are at school.  I’m sure other parents worry about friendships, peer pressure, bullying, and loneliness.  Surely other parents pray for their children, and desire more than anything that their children will learn, grow, and pursue happiness.

I trust you.  I know you must love children.  I know you have years of experience with kids just like my son, but I do not.  I’m still learning how to be a parent.  I’m learning that my kids’ needs change with each year, and that life doesn’t get easier as they grow up.  I’m still making mistakes, needing do-overs, and learning not to sweat the small stuff.

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, we share something very special in common.  We are teachers, models, and disciplinarians to the same child.  We are both set out to understand, shape, and encourage the same child.  We may barely know each other, but are now connected through this wonderful boy.   I’m here for you.  I support you.  I will back you up when you need it, but I will also defend my son when he needs it.

Dear Teacher I Barely Know, welcome to my world.  Welcome to my son.

Best Teacher Ever

Here in my little corner of the world, school is getting ready to start back in session.  My son will begin kindergarten this year and, needless to say, I’m filled with excitement and a little bit of dread all wrapped up together.  We get to meet his teacher next week and I hope I see in her or him the kind of energy my son thrives on and that every parent desires for their children’s teachers.  I do know one thing though, the school district will be missing a great teacher and counselor this year.

Mr. Martin retired at the end of the 2011/2012 school year after 30+ years of teaching and counseling kids.  He was my 6th grade teacher and turned out to be one of the best teachers I have ever had.  I remember getting him for my 6th grade year and being so excited about it.  Male teachers seemed to be a little bit of a rarity back in the early 80’s.  Looking like he had just stepped off the college campus and into our classroom, it was always exciting to see how he was going to try to teach us.

I became ill early in the school year.  The morning that my illness struck, Mr. Martin noticed that my color was not right.  I was normally a talkative girl, but on that day, I was quiet and different.  He sent me to the nurse’s office to be checked out and the decision was made to call my mother.  Not long after this, I was in the ER and, of course, the rest of my story unfolded.

Mr. Martin came to the hospital nearly every day after school to check on me and keep me up to date on school work.  He was ever-present and truly wanted to know what was happening and if I was recovering.  He provided support to my parents and family members as well.  If it had not been for him I would probably have had to repeat the 6th grade.  After all, I was only in school less than a week or two before I became ill.  I ended up missing between nine and twelve weeks of school due to it.

He tutored me while in the hospital and at home while I was recovering.  I laid in bed the whole time while he read the lesson plans to me.  He would stay at least an hour at a time twice per week.  I was so ill that I do not specifically remember each time he was there, but I just knew he was.  It is like my subconscious has always known.  The image of this teacher sitting by the bedside to teach a gravely ill child brings tears to my eyes.  How lucky I was to have him.

During my recovery, he gave me the book “The Littlest Prince” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery as an assignment to read and write a report on.  Inside the front cover, he wrote a note to me that this book had always been special to him and to make sure I paid attention to what the fox says.  I remember reading the book and writing my report but to be honest, I really did not understand it fully.

Many years later, I found the book among the trinkets of my childhood and reread the conversation between the fox and the little prince. “Goodbye,” said the fox.  “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:  It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so he would be sure to remember.  “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” “It is the time I have wasted for my rose” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.  “Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox.  “But you must not forget it.  You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.  You are responsible for your rose….”  “I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember. 

A few years ago, I met with Mr. Martin at his school.  It had been nearly 30 years ago since everything happened.  I had run into him from time to time throughout the years, and gave him the standard and very brief update that I was doing well and what my job was at the time, but I really did not discuss much.  This time though, I purposefully sought him out.  He is a part of my memories of this time in my life.  It would be an incomplete history without him.

I asked him why he assigned The Little Prince for me to read.  He said, “It is a book that was always special to me and has meaning that translates to different moments.”  It is not just a book about survival, but a book about overcoming and transcendence.  I get it.  I may not have gotten it as a child, but I get it now and what great insight and foresight he had to assign this book to me.  I now see the great meaning behind seeing truth with the heart and not the eyes.  My rose, the one that I am responsible for, the one that I have spent time on, the one that I have tamed is really not a rose at all.  It is the way I have handled my life – the goodness and the tragic.  I am responsible for all of it the rest of my life.  My rose is myself.

I learned that the other children asked about me and were told I was recovering from surgery, but were not aware of all the details.  He described me as being girly, but like a little tough bull and seeing me one day like this, and the next minute close to death was difficult.  He recognized that I had to deal with adult issues and that “strange time” of my life was taken from me.  By strange time, he meant when our bodies are changing and puberty is starting.

The most important thing for me to accomplish when meeting him was to tell him that he was the one teacher I will never forget.  He was the teacher who showed care, kindness, and empathy to me and my family during a very difficult time.  We all have that one teacher who inspired us, who mentored us, or who held us accountable.  Mr. Martin was all of these things, but for vastly different reasons.  I could see how it would have been easy to either totally disengage while I was in the hospital or to just pass me along out of sympathy, but he did not do this.

He got paid a stipend for tutoring me and with the money he bought a clock for his mantle. He told me he would have never let anyone else teach me, and regardless of where I needed to go, he would have followed me.  The clock, kindly referred to as “Caroline’s Clock”, still sits on the mantle of his fireplace.  His family knows this and refers to it by my name as well.

Mr. Martin’s teachings were more than just academic.  His actions showed more to me than any school lesson he could have taught.  When we talked about this time back in our lives, both of our eyes welled up.  I had been wanting to reach out to him for years and let him know how thankful I was and still am for what he did.  When I told him how I felt, he responded “a part of teaching is showing your heart and once in a while a person or kid comes along that is special that you share your heart with, and you were one of those persons.”

I think he basically summed up why he was the best teacher I ever had and why he has left an endearing imprint on my heart and life, and I am sure, on the hearts and lives of many other children he has taught.

Happy Retirement, Mr. Martin.  Thank you for the positive influence you have made in the lives of hundreds of children throughout the years.