Dear Teacher: This Is What I Hope For This School Year

by Rachel Toalson
dear teacher
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Every summer, it’s the same old thing. The school year creeps up on us after more than two months spent playing together and resting together and just being together, and then comes my old friend anxiety.

I worry that my kids won’t have the right teacher. I worry that they’ll spend a miserable year wishing they didn’t have to go to school. I worry that they won’t find friends this year, or that their friends from last year will decide they don’t want to be friends anymore, or that they’ll be picked on instead of liked.

I worry about bullies and about their hearts, about their futures and about their health, about their safety and about how much they’re hydrating each day, about what they’re doing in P.E. this afternoon, about desks pushed too closely together, about lonely lunch tables and playground politics.

There’s so much to worry about when your kids spend seven hours a day in someone else’s hands.

So, teacher, please take care of my boys.

I know I’m not the only parent asking. In the last few weeks, millions of parents released their kids to public schools. They watched their babies board a bus and turn to wave, or they watched those babies drive away, or they walked them down a sidewalk and hugged them tight at their classroom doors. The children all get to you differently, but they all leave the same — sent off with that lump in the back of a parent’s throat, with those watery eyes we’ll try to blink away before our little one (or big one) sees.

Our babies will touch sleeves with other students, fill in the bubbles on math worksheets, and breathe, and slap colors onto a canvas in art class, and it will all be new and exciting and wonderful and fun — until it isn’t. It doesn’t take long for the first-day-of-school novelty to wear off, and that’s when those students need you the most.

I know it’s not easy. I know there are so many needs, so many hours, so many kids. I know there is only one of you, and sometimes it can get overwhelming. I know because I live in a home with six children, and I struggle on a daily basis to offer them the best version of myself.

I know it can feel like a lot of pressure on your back, all these parents looking to you to teach and train and mold their children in ways that line up with how they’re taught and trained and molded at home. But the truth is, teaching is a great responsibility. So please, take care of our children. They are easily broken, and they don’t often forget. They need someone telling them even in their most unlovable annoying moments that they are still loved, that they still matter, that they are still worthy. A child who doesn’t believe he’s worthy won’t try all that hard.

I hope you remember in those hard moments that a moment in time, a moment of misbehavior, a moment of sass, does not tell the whole story of who a student is. There are a lot of wounded children out there, but you can be part of the healing. What an amazing privilege.

I hope you know when they’re acting out, when they don’t know what to do with all their overwhelming emotions other than what they’re doing right this minute — the crying or the flailing or the screaming. I hope you see more than the inconvenience. I hope you try to figure it out instead of chalking it up to just who they are, because their behavior is not who they are. Not even close.

You see, I’ve got one of those children. He’s one of those children who could read Harry Potter before he was 5 and yet did not learn to control his emotions until he was 8. But he had a teacher, and she made all the difference.

And there is me too.

I was a fatherless kid, a girl who missed her daddy, a girl who could find no worth in who I was because someone important had left me without a second look back. Or so it seemed when I was 10. Right on the cusp of womanhood, I took it personally.

But I had a teacher, many of them, and they believed in me. They whispered who I could be, and even when I could not believe it for myself, I could believe them. Sometimes that’s all it takes — a teacher’s belief — to pick you up and carry you through. They saw a writer. They saw a brilliant student. They saw that I could be so very much more than I thought I could be. So they called out the brilliance. They called out the good. They called out the “can” in me.

There is something strangely beautiful about a teacher caring and believing and speaking honestly about what she sees and believes a student can do. It makes you want to do it.

My teachers called out the best inside me. And you know what? I did it all.

You have the opportunity to call out the best in your students too. Even in the “bad” ones. Even in the “difficult” ones. Even in the ones who should already know this but just don’t.

Every kid needs a teacher who believes. Might you be the one?

Oh, I hope so, because there are so many students coming from places we don’t even want to imagine. So many students need to know that someone besides their parents believes the best about them. So many students need your help.

They will come to you, leaving their homes, their safe or not-so-safe places, and they will step into the scary world of school. They will need you to guide them through the roaring waters.

Please take care of our children. Take care of their hearts. Love them with just as much love as you can call up from the wellspring of your heart. When they fall, please help them back up to a higher place than where they started. When they mess up, please remind them that everyone does because there is no such thing as perfect. When they don’t know right from left or up from down, please be their compass and lead them toward truth.

Please keep constant watch and be fierce in rooting out problems, and call up in them a desire to always do better. Teach them how to build their wings. Show them how to bare their hearts and their dreams and their gifts.

You can bet I’ll be doing the same.

And then let’s watch them fly together.