My view from the empty nest: Some thoughts on back-to-school

It’s once again back-to-school time. This is my second year of not having any kids in public school as my kids are all big now. I’m still getting used to not having to be tied down to the school calendar, but it’s a nice feeling! I must say I don’t miss the whole back-to-school excitement at all. It was fun all those years when my kids were in school, and that was 18 years for me. That was a plenty! That being said, I guess this time of year makes me feel a little nostalgic and reflective about those school years.

I spent 5 of those 18 years working in a public elementary school, so I also have some “inside” experience. I have seen life as a parent and as a teaching assistant, and I’ve experienced the challenges and frustrations on both sides.

I haven’t been the perfect parent, and by no means do I have all the answers, but I do think I gleaned a little bit of wisdom over the years that stands out now that I can look back and reflect on. So as I reflect on this back-to-school time, some of this comes to mind.

I learned early on not to pay too much attention to other parents’ opinions of certain teachers. Mamas tend to get all in a huff about what teacher their child is going to get, and we all want our child to get a teacher who is a good fit for that particular child. But I learned early on that mamas can get all in a tizzy about teachers and are quick to call certain ones “hard,” or “mean,” etc. We all know those teachers who have those reputations, and we all know some mamas who do the talking that get those teachers those reputations. I figured out early on that some of those “hard” or “mean” teachers were pretty good teachers, and sometimes my kid needed a teacher like that. A lot of times those teachers were the no-nonsense types. They didn’t do a lot of fawning over parents, but more often than not they knew their stuff and just had really good control of their classrooms, which is a trait I can appreciate. I remember a certain preschool teacher one of my children had, who would just come right out and tell parents at orientation not to deliver their child to the door of the classroom because she wanted to be able to greet each child herself, and she did not want to feel like she had to stop and talk to parents during that time first thing in the morning. She pretty much just came right out and said she didn’t want to talk to us in the morning! My child was 3 years old at the time, so at that age parents were still wanting to walk their child in. I appreciated her just being honest about this and blunt about the fact that she didn’t want us doing that and why she didn’t want us doing that. Some of the mamas got mad because they didn’t appreciate being told this so bluntly. I appreciated the teacher’s honesty. I can always deal with honest. This teacher had a reputation for being “mean,” but she was one of my favorite teachers. So I was glad to learn the lesson in preschool not to listen to the other moms’ opinions. I need to be open minded, form my own opinion, and not be influenced by the other parents.

So many times parents expect teachers to be the loving, nurturing, hugging type of personality, and if they’re not this nurturing type they can get labeled “mean.” But it’s not really a teacher’s job to be the nurturer / hugger type. Some teachers have this nature, and that can be great, but it’s not their job to do that. That’s a parent’s job to do the hugging and the nurturing. And teachers who don’t have this type of personality can still be great teachers.

Teachers are just ordinary people. They have good and bad days. If my child or I was having difficulty with a certain teacher, I tried to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. I tried to look at things from their perspective. Teachers are dealing with 20+ students and sets of parents. Parents are dealing with just a few teachers. I always tried to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt and cut them some slack even when I did not always agree with them. I remember one incident in particular where a certain teacher seemed to not like my kid. He wasn’t really the type that teachers did not like, but this particular teacher seemed to have a problem with him. One time she sent him to ISS for “looking at her wrong.” I thought that was kind of excessive, but hey, I figured it wouldn’t kill the kid to sit in ISS for a little while. I had him apologize to her, and I told him he had better to do whatever that teacher asked. He only had to put up with her for that school year, but for the rest of the year if she said “jump” he better jump. It was a bumpy road that year, but I figured he was learning a good lesson about dealing with people. One day he is going to have a boss or a coworker who is going to be difficult to work with. Sometimes you have to learn to “get along” and take some crap. In general, I learned not to take situations like this so seriously. I made sure he did his part to make it right with the teacher, and I did my job to support her at home. As it turned out, once she realized I was going to back her up like I did, she really got kind of sheepish about her overreaction, realizing maybe she overdid it? Anyway, I think it’s important not to take things so seriously all the time if your child has some isolated incidents. If it’s a regular thing, that’s¬†different and probably needs more attention. But as a teaching assistant I saw so many parents overreact when their kid got into a little bit of trouble at school. If your kid is perfect all the time, believe me, you are going to have some problems when they finally do something that’s not perfect and freak out about it. It’s okay if they’re not perfect.

When I was a teaching assistant, I was always surprised when parents would act like we were out to get their kid. I mean, really? I really don’t think teachers are out to get my kid at school. Sometimes certain teachers and certain students may not click, as in the above story, but if my child got in trouble at school I figured he or she did something to get there. Blaming the teacher for my child’s behavior just really did not occur to me. But it sure seems to occur to a lot of other parents!

Kids are not perfect, even the ones who make straight As and take all AP classes. In fact, I have seen many of those “perfect” kids crack ¬†because they put so much pressure on themselves to be so perfect all the time. Or perhaps their parents at home are applying the pressure to be perfect. Sadly, I think too many parents are comparing their kids to others down the street and get competitive. We saw this even when I worked in kindergarten when some parents would get anxious over the fact that their kid was not reading when some other little kid across the street was reading in kindergarten. Again, more competition going on between parents without regard to the fact that all kids are different and develop at different rates.

Don’t be afraid to let your kid fail and take the consequences. They learn a lot from these experiences, and if you always protect them it will take a lot longer for them to learn the lesson. I remember when my oldest child first went to public school in first grade. She would forget her library book, and I guess she would call me from the school office (can’t believe they let her do that, but that was a long time ago), and I would bring the library book to school. After doing this a couple of times, I had to tell her, no, I wasn’t bringing the library book. Well, with her being the first child and having that oldest child perfectionist thing going on, she about freaked out. But I had to let her freak out. She needed to learn that it’s not the end of the world to forget your library book. Nobody’s perfect. When you forget something or don’t do something right, you deal with the consequences and do what you can to fix it later and not repeat the situation. Important lesson learned that is not learned if I keep bringing the library book to school!

All this seems like common sense, but I still think these are some good basic things to think about and consider as we begin the new school year.