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A Reminder as You Send Your Kids Back to School: Please Be Kind to Teachers

(This is in honor of all teachers and moms, but especially teacher moms. For those of us who have opinions, but hold back to avoid inviting more conflict and drama into our school day. If only all our students' parents could hear this message. Wishing all a calm and pleasant year.)

After college, I worked on-set feature films and television shows and after years of 18-hour days, I was ready for a change. I opted for a different life, one with less ritz and more balance, so I applied – and got in – to law school. I would specialize in entertainment, always in love with that business, or public interest, super keen to help people. And then, before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, I did some research. I interviewed those in the profession and consulted my therapist.

“Do you want to go to law school to say you went to law school, or do you want to go to law school to earn another gold star on your resume?”

He had a point.

Northwestern would shine brightly above my University of Michigan undergraduate degree, but to what end? There were no doors I hadn’t been able to budge without the law degree, and if I simply wanted to change the world, wasn’t there a cheaper, more direct route?

Becoming a teacher had always been part of the master plan. I’d have Hollywood adventures before settling into something more predictable, reliable and stable – and something where I might have a lasting impact. And although it was easy to become a teacher, I can tell you it has not been simple to stay one.

My first few years, I worked all night planning. I loved making the Silk Road come to life and inventing games like grammar basketball. I was out to prove – to administrators and parents – that I could conduct a classroom of dozens, all ability levels and quirks, orchestrating learning and cooperation.

Now I am a veteran. Like a soldier who has served and been through a lot, I, too, have stories, some uplifting and inspiring, others I’d rather not relive. And although each year in the classroom has been different, they have all had one thing in common.

There are always guardians – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

To the good, thank you. For showing generosity and integrity. For backing me up and never letting me down.

To the bad, please reply, call back, and show up, or at least do one of the three. Your child needs you, and I need you to meet me halfway.

And mostly, to the ugly – the challenging ones – the ones who question and attack my every move – we are not the Packers and Bears. We are the Parents and Teachers, on the same team, wanting what’s best for your children. In light of this, please keep in mind:

  1. We are professionals with expertise. Please value my opinions, especially when we don’t agree.

When I don’t recommend your child for the gifted program, it’s not because I don’t like her or that I don’t want her to be successful. It’s the opposite. I want the instruction to be at the just-right level, the workload manageable. At the same time, I don’t want her to lose confidence when she falls short and peers notice – because they will, and she will. Yes, parents know their child, but teachers know capabilities best compared to peers.

  1. Your child’s success – in class and in life – is my job. Please be respectful.

Just because we make less doesn’t mean we are worth less – or worthless. We aren’t curing cancer or making laws, but everyone who is doing those jobs needed teachers. We’re molding minds and shaping character, spending more waking hours with your children than anyone. When I don’t email you about the project or the assignment, it’s not because I’m irresponsible. It’s because I’m teaching your child to take charge. And also, to follow his dreams. To find his happiness. And I’m doing my best. Please don’t put me down, but instead help your kid step up.

  1. Before you send me that email, ask…Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Please be nice.

There’s not much worse than starting the day with a pit in my stomach from a message in my inbox minutes before putting on my happy face and working hard to maintain the attention, for hours at a time, of my young audience. (Who knew how handy my entertainment background would become?) Of course, all performers face critics. Just try, if you can, to remember we’re human. Tread gently.

In return, I will be your child’s everything. I will raid the nearest department store and come each day wearing my million hats – from therapist to scientist, judge to referee. I will be ‘on’ even when feeling off, and I will show up even when feeling down.

Because I’m a teacher. I don’t receive accolades or bonuses, and I don’t brush shoulders with fame. But – whether you choose to be a friend or foe – I do make a difference.

Let’s have a great year.

(Teacher) Mommy On.

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