816 North Opinion

What I have learned from many years of back-to-school

“She’s quite bright, I hear it all the time. She’s already reading and should be an excellent peer role model.” It was my very first back-to-school night and I started to recite the mental dossier that I had prepared.

The teacher smiled. At the time I read her face as: “I am such a lucky teacher to have this amazing child in my class. Yes, please, tell me everything about her!”

When my first kid went off to school I felt that it was necessary and important to let the teacher know exactly what kind of girl and learner my daughter, Bekah, was. No one knew her better than I did and I wanted to make sure the teacher was fully prepared to make the most of their time together.

When middle son, Luke, went off to kindergarten I did the same thing; his teacher needed to know that he was a handful, right? That he was constantly in motion but was a happy child.

Another teacher smiling.

At my very first back-to-school night I debated and cross-checked my calendar with every in-classroom parent participation opportunity; I read the entire Welcome packet sitting in an itty bitty chair so that I could ask questions. We were in the school for about an hour.

And then I got an education.

As time and children passed into and through school I’ve reinterpreted the first back-to-school teacher smile:

“Aaaah, another parent who is telling me far more than I need to know. Rookie.”

If I was the teacher (which … hahahahano) the additional subtext to that grin would probably be, “Say ‘Hi,’ put the supplies away, sign up to bring treats to a class party, admire the bulletin boards and then move along.”

The first year we went to back-to-school night with every item from the list labeled. Everything. Individual pencils, boxes of markers and crayons; every single eraser, folder and glue stick had her name or initials on it. When I went into the classroom a few months later and saw ALL the supplies grouped together for the whole class I had a moment of ranting thought. “What?! I bought those pink flowered pencils for Bekah, not for anyone else. Why is that girl using Bekah’s dry board eraser?! Foul!”

It was as if the wise teacher could hear what I was thinking when she explained community in the classroom. She quietly shared that not all the kids can afford all the supplies and how some kids never use black crayons and some ONLY use the black crayons.

Years of back-to-school time has gone by and I’ve learned more:

▪ Learned not to buy the superhero backpack, TV-show-themed lunchbox or cardboard folder because they are going to RIP by Thanksgiving.

▪ Learned that they will always need more pencils, paper and tissues; learned to stock up.

▪ Learned not to be tempted by cooler-weather clothes because they will most likely outgrow them before they can be worn.

▪ Learned how to streamline back-to-school night to 15 minutes.

▪ Learned that my kids will act one way at home and an entirely different way at school. Bragging or warning a teacher about the kid’s traits I know may not help either of them and, for the most part, it deprives teachers of discovering the things that make our children unique.

Finally, I learned that cringing when I remember back to the elementary school mom that I was is impossible to stop, but I also learned that I wasn’t alone in my newbie mistakes.

School is an education, not just for the kids but for the parents as well.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.

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