Monday, June 11, 2012

The end of the elementary school era

It doesn't seem so long ago that we took the girls to their first day of kindergarten.  I remember that day clearly.  Mike and I made sure the girls had everything they needed.  We walked them into the school, made sure all was set and then (I reluctantly) left.  The tears were streaming down my face, Mike's arm around my shoulder.  The other parents looked at me walking with my head down and sniffling, and made their sympathetic "oh, kindergarten parents" comments.   It seems very long ago.

Being an elementary school parent has been an interesting experience.  The girls have had far more homework than I expected.  They've had wonderful challenges and experiences, too.  We've all met people along the way who have affected us permanently.  The girls are now fluent in French, love music and art and have had to learn to get along with others.  It's been an overall good experience.

It never occurred to me that I would meet teachers who didn't like my children.  My kids are fun and cool and eager to learn.  What's not to like, right?  Um, no.  My kids also talk in class, pass notes, daydream and don't always turn in their homework.  Still, I had no idea what to expect when I had parent-teacher conferences. I learned to dread them.

Most of the teachers loved having A in their class.  She's a voracious reader and is eager to please her teachers.  I wasn't so lucky with M.  She's super creative but daydreams.  In kindergarten the conference was so-so.  It didn't improve in first, second or third grade.  Each year included statements like "She's a smart girl but...."; "She invents a lot of things which is interesting but....".  Rarely did they say anything positive.  I dreaded teacher conferences.

Some teachers were more patient than others.  M's first grade teacher understood that M was smart and had a different style of learning.  When I asked if she would allow the entire class, not just M, to do 10 jumping jacks between subjects, she agreed.  At the end of the year she told me what a difference it made for the entire class.  A little activity, something different and physical, makes a big difference and helps all the kids!  No teacher after that would agree to it.  We had a few long years in there.

Then came her fourth grade teacher.  I will never forget this woman for as long as I live.  She started the conference with "M is one of my favorite students".  I wasn't sure if she knew who my kid was.  But she did!  And she liked her!  I cried right then and there.  Seriously.

My children changed that year.  A had Mme Thompson for one class, M had her as her main teacher.  Both kids thrived - they never wanted to disappoint her. M talked to her.  This was a hard time for my kids - their dad and I had separated and their grandmother was dying.  M trusted her.  So did I.  This teacher who had 20+ kids in her class took time to have lunch with my daughter, to listen to her (and me) talk and cared about us all.  I know everyone has a teacher in their life who, at some point, leaves an indelible impression.  I had my teacher - a few, really.  I thought that was over when I graduated.  I was wrong.  I get to have that experience all over again as a parent.

Fifth grade has been okay.  The year started tearfully with the girls realizing this was their last year of elementary school, the last year of being the big kids of the school.  It didn't hit me until May. At the promotion ceremony A was honored for her outstanding grades and attendance.  M was given a Presidential Achievement Award. But now it's over and middle school will be here soon.  I can't even imagine what this is going to be like.  It's going to start early.  That's going to suck.  It's supposedly the worst years for mean girl behavior - also going to suck.  But they'll learn new things and meet new people and continue to grow.

And I'll be the mother of middle schoolers.  God help us all.

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