I am an educator, but I am also a parent, and I am writing this blog post as a parent because I just figured out two things: 1) How to support the teachers in my kids’ schools doing hard and challenging work and 2) How to celebrate Valentines Day.
I just met with a couple of other parents from our district. They want to support increasing rigor and higher academic expectations. For the most part, they see careful steady Common Core implementation as a way to do that. I agree. Reading harder texts; reading more non-fiction; doing multi-step, multi-standard math problems: I am all for those things. The Common Core pushes teachers to do them and so, as a parent, I am all for it.
As one of the other parents noted: If Common Core was an option, not a mandate, and a school could choose the harder, college prep program, and our district then said ‘no’ to it, we’d all be massed outside the district offices holding placards and shouting. But even if I am for it, I recognize that the changes that fall to teachers with the Core are stressful and difficult. They are asked to figure out something new and more demanding with limited guidance. They do it knowing some kids will struggle. And they do it for the first time while being evaluated for it. Of course they feel some tension. And yet, it is still worth doing.
So how, as parents, do we best support teachers in doing that hard and mostly thankless work of making the difficult, tense and sometimes uncertain changes in their classrooms that are both challenging and utterly worthwhile?
Mostly, I think, we should write thank you notes. Teachers are often trying to manage what’s best for kids, what they’re required to do and in good faith what they think parents want for kids. Or what, based on the data they get, they believe parents want for kids. There are certainly parents who are communicating that there’s too much homework or that they think their child’s grade was too low. So of course, that’s what many teachers think parents want. But I, for one, want rigor for my kids. I love it when their teachers push them and give them super-challenging texts to read or pack the history classroom with rich content. I love it when the math problems are hard, even Dad-I’m-not-sure-I-can-do-this hard, because they soldier through and figure it out in the end. I love it when teachers say, “re-write this.” But I don’t communicate that to their teachers much. I appreciate and am grateful to my kids’ teachers. Often, I sing their praises to my neighbors and colleagues. But I don’t tell them that very often and more importantly, I don’t tell them why.
I realized all of a sudden that what I ought to be doing is sending emails saying “Thanks, that was a really demanding history test. I’m so grateful as a parent when you push my child to learn that way.” Or “Man what a tough problem set last night. Thanks!!” Such a simple way to show teachers what I value as a parent and, in particular, show my appreciation when they take the risk of pushing themselves to do new and rigorous things.
Anyway I was thinking about that when I got an email this morning from Erica Woolway, my colleague and co-author. Her son goes to SAUW (Success Academy Upper West) and she loves that school. If her regular emails about all the great things they do didn’t tell me that, her email this morning did. It began, “In the spirit of Valentine’s Day I was thinking of writing a love letter to my son’s school….”
As usual she was one step ahead of me. I mean, of course, we should be telling the people who are important in our lives how much we appreciate them. And there’s no one we should appreciate more than teachers. So 1) I thought I would share Erica’s thought here and suggest that you haul off and write a Valentine’s Day note to the most rigorous, excellent, always-trying-to-give-her-best teacher that you know and that you tell her exactly what she does that’s so great so that she knows not only that she’s appreciated but WHAT parents really appreciate. And 2) I thought I’d share Erica’s note, which is pretty fantastic and is a pretty good model for how to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Here it is.
Thank you so much for all that you do for my son. Just yesterday he came home from school and the first thing he said to me was “Mommy we learned about robots in science!” His enthusiasm for the topic was heartwarming and his early grasp of new technical definitions was impressive for a kindergartener. He wants to be a scientist and science teacher because of his science teacher Ms. Robinson.
Every day he wakes up excited to go to school. And every day I am excited because I know with 100% certainty that he is going to learn something new. I wish every parent in this country could experience that feeling. He loves how everyday he is greeted at the door by his principal and then again by his energetic and caring teachers. And once inside those doors he is held to high expectations for all that he can achieve by every single one of the teachers in the building. He doesn’t know how lucky he is, but I do. He is getting the kind of education that all students in this country deserve – a world class, free, public, and rigorous education.
He especially loves his classroom teachers Ms. Chalmers and Mr. Waiyaki. Mr. Waiyaki teaches him reading in small groups. Just yesterday I overheard my son asking his three year old brother, “Do you know what a non-fiction text is?” He then taught him to read it by instructing him to “first look at the pictures to find an interesting fact.” And Ms. Chalmers is the kindergarten teacher that all students will remember fondly many, many years from now. She listens carefully to her students and creates joy in each and everything they do in class. I love her for that but I also love her for how she cold calls with ease in order to make sure all students have understood her lesson. I love the pictures and updates she sends of all that is happening in class so that we can talk about it, share it with grandparents, and work on it at home.
We love the weekly sight word tests and his no hesitation math quizzes that hold us accountable for daily practice in a manageable and fun way. We love the “books” he is publishing in writing – most recently the how to book on how to wash the dishes (an important skill because “your mommy mite hav a babe an your dad mite go on a chrip so you ned to help.”). We love the sculptures he has been working on in art, the teamwork he is learning about in gym, and the joy he gets from each snow ball fight he has at recess. He has loved the field studies to the Natural History Museum, cooking class, Central Park, and the New York Hall of Science. We are so lucky to have his school treat the city itself like one giant classroom. He loves his classmates who represent all walks of life in the city we live in. And as a mom, I love how welcome I feel every time I come to school, whether to bring in soft pretzels as part of their project on bread, chaperone a field study, or to help with a Halloween party.
This Valentine’s Day I just wanted to let you know how much we love you Success Academy. I love everything that you do for our son, for us, and our community. Thank you and happy Valentine’s Day!
PS I even love that you instill a healthy amount of fear in us each morning to arrive on time, teaching our son (and re-teaching us) the importance of being prompt.
Ok, I’m getting out my stationery. Are you?