Teachers, please, be good to them Dear teachers: Be good to them

Posted: September 02, 2008

They're coming back to you this week. Presumably, they're ready.

While I have no kids to send to you these days, one never forgets. Not their shiny, scrubbed, summer-drenched look. Not those feet that have run bare for nearly three months, now shod in brand-new shoes - or more likely, the sneakers du jour.

For some, the braces are on. For others, they're off.

A few will have grown so tall, or gone so far in losing the roundness that they had only three months ago, that you will gasp at the changes. Children never stand still - in both real and metaphoric ways.

So ready or not, here they come.

But some probably couldn't sleep for the last couple of nights. They were worried about you - whether you'd be kind, whether you'd like them, whether you'd forgive them for forgetting some of their long division over the summer.

Different things likely worried others who will be filling your classrooms today. There is always that little stab of anxiety on these September days when the calendar says it's time, but the stomachache says, "Now what?"

I remember when my own three little hostages to fortune would try for nonchalance about these September grand openings. But it didn't fool me. The trepidation showed on their faces and in their tempests about nothing - and everything.

When the two older girls were fussing over hair and clothes and high school schedules, their little sister was terrified about handling her first locker. Terrible summertime rumors, floated by the big kids, had Nancy positive that she'd never see her jacket again.

But lots of the worry still comes back to you. They wait to see what you'll look like and sound like and act like. They wonder how you'll treat them, even on these early fall mornings when everyone is trying extra hard.

This is the week when they'll spill into your classrooms and fill them, too often to overflowing.

You may feel anxious yourself that there are too many of them, or overwhelmed by the mandate that we hand you: to reach and touch the most sullen, belligerent ones, along with the sweetly appealing ones. But come what may, these young people will be yours for the minutes and hours and months that stretch ahead. You, now, are their universe.

I once was a teacher myself. The career lasted all of one year because I was absolutely overwhelmed by teaching eighth graders the fine points of grammar and the nuances of poetry when I was just 21 years old, and actually terrified of those kids. No school-of-education course had prepared me for the realities of a middle-school classroom.

I left that June and never returned, retreating into pregnancies and motherhood. And oh, what lessons from that!

So I understand that we ask the world of you. Nobody knows that better than a former teacher.

We ask you to be good to them. Such a simple, yet profound, request.

We ask you to treat them with dignity. To show them compassion.

They will have days when they feel stupid or ugly or misunderstood, and when just a word of encouragement from you could send their hearts soaring.

Know that the brightest of them will have dull days, and that the "dullest" ones may suddenly astonish and inspire you.

All that - and still, you must teach them the planets, the sonnets, why grass grows and rain falls, how a man named Hitler changed the face of the 20th century, and one named Osama bin Laden forever altered the 21st.

So much to ask.

In turning children over to you, parents give you all they have. Their most precious cargo.

So, please, handle them with care.

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