It was only this time last year that I sat in your classroom during parent orientation fighting tears.
My oldest son would be starting kindergarten in your class in a few months, and I was besides myself. I struggled to grasp how the last five years had flown by and that it was time for my little one, my first-born, my whole heart, to start school.
Though he had be going to school part-time since he was 1 year old, this felt tremendously different. Five full days away from me, his mother, his first teacher — five full days with you, the one who would now take over in being his guide.
It felt suddenly real. And I was worried.
I wondered if his classmates would understand his silliness. I wondered if they’d respond to his hyper-focused interests or if he’d be the odd man out. I wondered how he’d relate to others, if he’d be the kind one, or if his constant chatter would get him in trouble.
I sat there in your classroom the evening of that orientation and patiently waited for another parent to ask the inevitable question: how much homework will there be? I held my breath and waited for your answer hoping it would match mine. It did. “None,” you responded. “Six hours of school is enough. They need to play.”
It was then you had me.
As an early childhood teacher myself, I know I have exceedingly high expectations for my children’s teachers, and I also have incredible amounts of respect for them.
After all, I’ve been there.
I know what you do, what work you put in, the thoughts that consume you when you lay in bed and try to sleep.
I know how you spend your spare time cutting things or prepping lessons, reading children’s books to make sure they’re appropriate, contemplating how to reach that one student you can’t seem to get to. I know how many times you take a deep breath during the day to jump-start your endless patience, how you defuse situations, how you can re-direct students without skipping a beat.
I know how you look forward to those smiles each morning, how much pride you feel when they’re able to show what they’ve learned. I know how often you laugh at silly knock knock jokes that don’t make sense. I knew then, and I know now.
I knew I could feel secure that he would learn from someone who would show him what I would about real learning — that it is intrinsically motivated, it grows with curiosity and exploration, and it comes from the heart.
But, I still worried – I wondered if you would see him for who he is.
I hoped you would uncover all of his quirks — the same ones I’ve come to love — and love them too: his incessant dinosaur knowledge, the way he starts sentences with “Well, actually” and “Speaking of,” the way he hums “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton under his breath when he’s working on something.
After knowing you and watching my child flourish in your care, my gratitude for you is endless. My respect for you knows no bounds.
Because of you, my sweet boy has learned all sorts of new things. He learned how to be a part of a group and how to show respect to the things and people within his care. He learned how to listen and not just hear. He learned how to consume information and make decisions for himself. He learned to give and not just get.
But beyond that, what he’s gained is the knowledge that he is capable, resilient, and determined. He’s uncovered things about himself that both he and I did not know. He’s grown confident and resourceful and he’s understood how to be kind.
Because of you, the light shines from his face as he announces, “School was awesome!” when I pick him up at the end of the day. Because of you, he’s felt heard. Because of you, he’s felt understood. Because of you, he’s felt loved.
To see how much he’s matured in one short year simultaneously fills me with pride and sucks the wind out of me. I could never thank you enough for helping him become who he will be.
On the first day of school, I hesitantly shooed him into the school. He was nervous and excited and scared. I pulled into a parking spot after I dropped him off and sobbed. Five years suddenly seemed like a flash – if I closed my eyes, I could still smell his baby smell. I could still feel his impossibly tiny fingers in mine.
“How did we get here?” I wondered aloud through my tears.
It is a painful kind of bliss to watch your child grow up — to see them transform right before your very eyes. Day by day nothing seems to change; then all of a sudden, everything is different.
That day, I sent you my baby. Today, he is walking out a boy.