As we enter another school year, I want to take a minute to write you this note and let you know how much I appreciate what you are about to embark upon with my children.
But first, a little story.
My favorite, and most influential, teacher of all time was my 5th grade teacher, Miss M.
Now back in, gulp, 1978, on that first day of 5th grade, I wasn’t so psyched to be in her class.
She was strict.
She sat us in rows.
She laid down the law.
I’m not sure she cracked even one little hint of a smile in that first week of school.
She pretty much scared the crap out of me.
But over time, when she knew we were ready, she loosened up.
She even gave us hugs.
She expected a lot from us, but she also encouraged us to be creative.
Every year she had her students do this project, and every kid in 5th grade knew about it.
If you were in Miss M’s class, you got to make weirdos.
Weirdos were basically brown paper bags from the grocery store that you turned into big, stuffed heads.
We could design and decorate them any way we wanted.
The weirder, the better.
And then, when they were all done, Miss M. hung them from the ceiling in the classroom.
Kids in other classes would walk by our room to check out those weirdos.
They were always jealous.
And we were always proud.
Miss M. always pushed me to work hard and to do my best.
Sometimes I thought she was a little picky.
But one time, I made a felt board as a project after reading a book.
I worked really hard on it. I was determined to impress Miss M.
And I did.
In fact, Miss M. thought it was so good, that she had me present it to a 6th grade class.
To kids who were older than me.
She set the bar pretty high. But I rose to the occasion, and I exceeded her expectations.
I felt so good about myself.
I bet she wouldn’t remember that felt board thing.
But 40 years later I still do.
And I’m not sure why, but we also watched the movie Brian’s Song in Miss M’s class.
I didn’t learn much about myself from that movie.
But I did learn something about teachers.
That’s when I learned that teachers are real people.
Because that’s when I saw Miss M. cry.
There was one other experience from 5th grade that really stands out for me.
That wasn’t just for Miss M’s class. It was for all of 5th grade.
Pioneer Day was our big field day.
We dressed up like the pioneers did.
We had relay races and other athletic events.
And then there were other non-athletic activities.
Like the spelling bee.
It was such a fun and interdisciplinary day.
Every fifth grader looked forward to that day.
Why do I tell you this story?
Because I know that Miss M was able to enjoy teaching and we were able to enjoy learning.
She had some freedom.
And so did we.
She was allowed the flexibility to adjust her curriculum.
She taught me more about hard work, and discipline, and achievement than any other teacher I ever had.
Without ever sending home a single CMT practice prompt.
Or a bunch of math practice problems where I had to solve the problem.
And explain my answer.
Write it out in words.
And then write it out again in numbers.
And then write a complete story about it.
And then illustrate it.
As my third grader would say, back in the day, teachers could do their own thing.
They were allowed to make some things, I don’t know… their own.
I bet Miss M. would hate teaching now.
And that is why I am writing you this note.
I know you can’t really change the curriculum.
I know teaching to the test isn’t what you want to do.
I know it’s coming down from up above.
I know you are being forced to teach this way.
I know that the school year you envisioned when you were a young graduate, and the one you are actually going to experience this year are not even close to each other.
I also know that parents can be one of the most challenging aspects of your job.
I know that before you give a kid a grade, you worry if you’ll get a call from an angry mom or dad, demanding you to change it.
I know there are adults who believe their kids before they believe the teacher.
So, just so you know, I know all kids lie.
I know that what happens in the classroom, and the story that my children tell me, are not the same.
And so, to be clear, I’m on your side.
If my kids give you a hard time, that’s not okay with me.
Hold them accountable.
I’m all for that, and I’ll support you.
My kids know that school comes first.
They know that we expect them to try their hardest and do their best.
We are consistent with both of those messages.
Now, all that being said, I don’t care one bit about my kids’ test scores.
And I don’t want you to spend your day stressing over whether my daughter can solve a multi-step math problem in fourteen different ways.
What I do want is for you to use your strengths to help my kids find theirs.
I know your hands are kind of tied.
But if you took those standardized test practice prompts and math problems, crumpled them up, and used them to stuff 21 paper bags,
if I never saw one of those worksheets come home,
but I did see 21 weirdos hanging from your classroom ceiling,
well, your secret would be safe with me.