Category Archives: parents

Teacher’s Lesson: Phone Calls Unanswered

“If you’re hearing this message and we didn’t pick up, we’re making some changes, and you’re one of them.”

What did I just hear?

That’s not the kind of message I expected when I called one of my student’s parents.

He wasn’t doing as well and I was doing what every good teacher should.

I was calling home for some help. I was calling home to share that I cared about their son.

I admit, not only did the message confuse me, it made me a little mad.

Why was I cut off? What did I do?

It was my third year of teaching. I had just transferred to the county in which I live to cut my daily commute from over two hours to about 40 minutes.

No more leaving the house at 6 am and more time at home with my family which now included a one year old.

It wasn’t the first time that parents wouldn’t call me back and it definitely hasn’t been the last. I know it happens at all schools, but I seem to be experiencing it more lately.

And it still annoys me.

I share this with you because I’ve had a hard time understanding when a parent doesn’t call back. I don’t understand when numbers don’t work. It frustrates me when I can’t leave a message.

It probably frustrates me as much as it has when my own children’s teachers don’t get back to us when we have questions.

I can’t relate. Maybe like my students when I try to relate a story or lesson.

I was telling my students just yesterday about the tv we had in our house. It had a handle. It was a black and white model similar to the one above. It wasn’t just small by today’s standards — it was tiny.

It was what we had in my house.

When I explained this phenomenon of the tiny tv that was normal to me when I was my students’ age their faces told me they couldn’t picture a tv that could be moved from one room to another. I told them I had, at most, 5 channels which ended around 11:30 with a band of color and an unappealing shrill of a beep.

Yeah, I suppose I was showing my age.

They couldn’t relate to me, and I’m sure that sometimes I can’t relate to what is or what happens in their home.

Here’s my point.

I’m sure that my students don’t know about my being raised on what used to be the local neighborhood landfill — my dad admits to me that even his friends thought he was crazy when he bought that land.

My students don’t know about my asking Santa for one thing at Christmas because that’s what we did, we asked for one thing.

My students don’t know that my skin color made me a minority in my neighborhood, even though I check off caucasian on government forms.

My students have no clue what it’s like seeing your cousin and best buddy get hit by a semi trailer. I do, and it’s taken a long time for that memory to fade.

They don’t know about the lessons taught to me by father — some tougher than others; and there is no way I can completely share how I felt when my parents divorced.

I share this with you because I’ve caught myself being frustrated again lately when I can’t reach a parent just like that moment many years ago.

This time however I’m trying to remember that I really don’t know what my students and their parents are enduring.

What I shouldn’t do is continue to react with frustration and instead, try to remember that every student I meet in my classroom is affected by the struggles that happen at home.

And these struggles aren’t just real for my students, but they affect their parents in ways I don’t know and of which I’m unaware. It can’t but affect  how available they are when I call home.

So this is a reminder for myself that I do not know what battle occurs on the other side of that phone call or email.

I will do a better job that when I reach out to my parents and they’re unable to call me back, and when I react, I will do so with more of an understanding heart.


First Day of School: Four Reassuring Facts for Parents

Bus Stop Sign

Can you hear the squealing of bus brakes?

Do you remember that sound? Can you ever unhear that sound?

Has your neighborhood endured school buses stopping at the corner, children racing to opening doors, and kindergarten moms screaming good luck? Maybe you also noticed some parents’  tears as you looked out from behind your living room blinds.

Maybe those tears were your own.

Yes, it’s true. The first day of school is upon us.

In fact if you’re in my district or one close by in the Richmond, Virginia area, you too will begin your year on the day after Labor Day. In my county alone, 59,000 students will arrive at their school for the first day – that’s a lot of energy, anxiety and excitement.

Others in private school have already started their first day and I expect have probably nailed down procedures and begun earnest teaching.

For me, I’m still wondering where the summer went. Maybe that’s the same for you and your child.

The first day of students arriving to the sound of the school bell seems to sneak up on us every year. Perhaps because teachers are lulled, much like our students, into thinking that summer is endless. I know when I was younger, I felt that way too. Frankly, I still think that way.

I clearly remember the last school day this past June and how there was cheering while the buses left the building. There was singing, there was crying and there was joy – for students too.

Summer began that day. Vacations to places far away would be taken. Tans were achieved.  We were able to spend some time with our own children. Doctor visits were scheduled. Errands were run on weekday mornings. We even marveled at how “the other half” go to lunch on weekdays, seem to enjoy their meal, and return back to their office – quite amazing to see.

Today, this first day of school, students (and yes, teachers too) are woken up at an early hour. An hour that seems inhumane to most. There’s complaining about it being too early from many while there are others that throw back the sheets in celebration.

New outfits have been laid out next to the bed. Or old outfits are pulled off the hangers and thrown on. Hair is carefully combed with just the right amount of product while others might just forego any sort of hair prep. I myself am sporting a beard longer than ever that takes way too much primping for someone my age.

Day One. A hundred and seventy, or so, to go until Summer vacation arrives yet again.

Each year I hear colleagues complaining about returning to their jobs after being off for a couple of months. I hear the same from my own children. Part of me thinks “get over it, you’ve had lots of free time”. Part of me understands completely.

We like our freedom. Freedom to schedule our days to include what we want to do. Isn’t that what we all really want?

Of course for some of you at home, freedom is returned when those children get on the buses. Your quiet time has been returned to you and for that I say – you’re welcome.

So whether you are seeing your first or last child off to school, whether this is the year your child enters high school or whether you dropped off your child at the bus stop.

Here are four teacher facts on the first day of school that I hope you’ll remember and be reassuring as you watch your child leaves for school.

1) We strive to be ready for your child’s arrival.  Your teachers have been preparing their classrooms  for over a week. Some even came to work well before their teacher work week began. It’s not that they were excited about working in the un-airconditioned rooms, it’s more about taking the time to get it right. Some even went to their classroom this past weekend to be sure all was in order – I did that.

2) We’re more than interested in your child being successful, we want them to leave at the end of the day wanting more. This past week class rolls were given and staff meetings introduced the year’s focus. In our district we ventured out into other schools to mingle with colleagues and learn new approaches that would better connect with students (my take away was the excellent teacher resources at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts). Bulletin boards were created and posters hung. We participated in teacher learning sessions and set up our gradebooks. Lesson plans have been made and get-to-know-you worksheets are already sitting on desks. Teachers have worried about being ready and shared that they wished that they had more time.

3) We want your child to feel welcome. On Tuesday morning, we will stand by our doors and welcome this year’s group to their seats and warmly introduce ourselves as their teacher. We have thought about the importance of students feeling safe and how we will encourage them to ask questions and take risks. The first day is planned – in fact every minute of the day has been thought out. We will be writing down bus numbers and re-checking those lists as they board those buses for home.

So as the sound of the bus becomes faint as it leaves your neighborhood, please know what we teachers await your students arrival. Then the school bell will undoubtedly ring and class doors will close officially beginning what we hope will be a memorable first day.

So whether elementary, middle or high school… 4) On this first day of school I want you to know that we care about your child.

Here’s to a great year for you and your child.

Have a great story to share? I would love to hear your thoughts on the first day of school. Please take a moment to share your comment.