I know there are times when our kids feel as if they stick out like a sore thumb. That everyone on the planet (and particularly in their classrooms) knows their business. It’s uncomfortable to feel like your world’s on public display, and I totally get this. As someone who grew up in Navy towns, chose a huge university to attend, and fought passionately against the idea of raising our family in a town of 5,000 people you could say I’m all in when it comes to the value of privacy.
So I understood that a large part of middle school’s appeal was that it gave T-man a chance to start fresh. To decide for himself how much of his personal story he would share at school and what he’d prefer to keep separate. Shoot, being in a much larger environment with kids who hadn’t known him since kindergarten was one of the perks I’d talk about when T-man got nervous.
And then the teacher forms came home.
Most of them are pretty straightforward – name, address, parent contact info – usually in triplicate because apparently it’s against the laws of nature for the classroom, office, and PE files to be interlinked. Covering the Code of Conduct is always a bit amusing; the look of horror on my kids’ faces as I discuss the consequences for drinking, drugs, or weapons on campus is always a hoot, but I feel strongly if you’re going to sign something you should know what’s in it.
But it wasn’t the standard forms that gave me pause this year. It was the parent survey that T-man’s homeroom teacher asked us to complete. Now, don’t get me wrong…she asked for parent input that would help her know our children better, and for that I’m immensely grateful. Sad to say but not everyone would take the time, especially once the kids get into the upper grade levels. So I love that she obviously cares a great deal about her students.
But some of the questions were hard.
What are my goals for T-man this year? His areas of strength? Areas of weakness? Hobbies and accomplishments? And then, the dreaded catch-all question: “Please add anything else you’d like to share. Use the back, if needed.”
First off, I know I overthink this stuff. I’m sure it comes from too many years of writing IEPs, but if you ask me about goals I’m not gonna just scribble something down. Then, as if I’m in some kind of crucial job interview, I’m worrying about what the teacher will read into any goal I set for my child. If I say improve organizational skills, will she assume he’s coming in a red hot mess? That she can’t trust him to get things to me? What if I want him to give 100% effort on assignments – will it make T-man sound like a slacker? Ack! The pressure!
I decided to be honest (yet diplomatic) after mulling the matter over for a day. Be straightforward. Truthful. You know, answer the way I would’ve wanted parents to answer those questions when I was a teacher.
So I dove right in and did my best, but things got a little hinky when I hit the last question. What else did I want to share?
Well, there was plenty I wanted to add, but I also wanted to respect T-man’s privacy…it was a fine line to walk, but there were certain things that simply had to be said. The trick would be in the phrasing.
First I told her how important it is that T-man have a successful first year in middle school. He’d experienced several racial incidents in fourth and fifth grade, and we’re concerned that he be supported if this issue comes up again. (Translation: We’re sensitive to this, and if he’s dealing with it then you need to be dealing with it.)
And second? After some serious editing I found a good way to handle adoption and academics in one fell swoop. I simply said that T-man has limited information about his biological family, so there may be classroom assignments that will need to be modified. Gotta say I was pretty proud of that one – a heads up for any issues (academic or non) without revealing T-man’s entire life story.
I was much more open with T-man’s elementary school teachers. He was struggling with a lot of tough issues over those years and his classmates didn’t exactly aim for tact, so I felt it was important for his teachers to be prepared for anything. I’m not exaggerating when I say his fourth grade teacher was a life saver. Truly.
But T-man’s older now. He’s growing into a young man (I’m predicting another two inch spurt this fall) who has strong feelings about, well, most everything. Sometimes he wants attention, and sometimes he would sooner die than be touched in public. Sometimes he wants to hang out together, and sometimes he disappears to plug in and watch Netflix. I’ve learned things are a lot easier if I go with the flow.
It’s a new school year, and it’s T-man’s prerogative to choose his own terms. But there are still some basic truths his teachers need to be his support system.