It all started with an email from my 8th grader’s guidance counselor, asking parents if they would submit a handwritten note of encouragement for their kids. A note from a parent, she said, could make a huge difference in a child’s day when they’re struggling. The letters, sent in without our student’s knowledge, would serve as a surprise “pick-me-up,” randomly given to our kids at a time when their teacher thinks they need the encouragement.
BEST. IDEA. EVER.
I thought about my own 13-year-old, and how – even though sometimes it seems like 75% of my words fall on his deaf teenage ears – those words do matter to him. Profoundly. I saw it when he was little, and saved all my silly lunchbox notes. And I see it now that he’s older, in those fleeting moments when I can tell he still needs my reassurance. They’re fewer and further between, but they are definitely still there.
To the email, the guidance counselor had attached an article about Justin Parmenter, a 7th grade language arts teacher from Charlotte, North Carolina. He’d implemented the note idea into his own classroom, and it had caught the attention of several news outlets. I got in touch with him to learn more, because the idea intrigued me. This could be – and should be – a thing everywhere.
Parmenter was quick to point out that the idea didn’t originate with him; the inspiration, he said, had actually come from the opposite side of the country – from a teacher in San Diego named Alicia Johal. He had seen a tweet from her in his Twitter feed, talking about the notes, and that’s when he decided to try it out for himself.
The world our kids are growing up in is “infinitely more complicated” than it was when we were that age, Parmenter told Scary Mommy. “Even though my students are 12 or 13 years old, there are days when I get the sense that they could use a hug from their mom in the middle of the school day,” he said. “This note card idea seemed like a way to provide them with some emotional support only a family member who knows them really well can give.”
Johal, the brains behind the movement, said that the idea came to her after receiving notes of encouragement from her own parents. “I am not a child any more, but I will always be their child. It means something,” she said. “I was having a tough time and received two cards during the same week, one from my mom and one from my dad. Their handwritten notes of love and encouragement haven’t left my desk in 5 months, and I refer back to them when I need to.”
If she was so affected by these notes as an adult, she reasoned, it would also be meaningful (perhaps even more so) to the kids.
The premise is simple: at an open house – or during parent-teacher conferences or any other time when parents may be at the school – the teacher provides them with a notecard and a request for a quick, handwritten note. The notes are then kept by the teacher, to be given to the student on a day when he or she seems to need some cheering up.
As you can imagine, the students’ responses, which sometimes include tears, confirm that everybody needs a pep talk from Mom and Dad now and then. Teachers and friends can give a pat on the back, but nobody’s reassurance holds as much weight as a parent’s.
Both Parmenter and Johal said that the biggest obstacle was getting notes from parents who weren’t able to attend open house, but they’ve found other ways to help those parents participate, like sending home note cards with envelopes so they can write the note, seal it so its contents remain a surprise, and send it back. Johal set up a Google Voice phone number (she says it’s a great tool for teachers to use on their cell phones to call/text parents without sharing a personal number) so that parents can send their text or voice messages. And there’s always email; even in nontraditional classrooms like my son’s (he goes to school online), all I had to do was hand write a note, snap a photo of it, and then email it to his counselor. A regular email would do, too, of course … but a note written by hand is definitely more personal. But a note of any sort is better than none at all.
It took me five minutes or less to compose the note to my son, a small investment that will get a large return. Because I know that when he finally reads it, it will be when he needs to see it the most.
“Human beings of all ages need a reminder of how many people love and care about them,” Johal told Scary Mommy. “If every child walked into my classroom with their love-cup filled, I think schools would be dramatically different today.”
I agree, and that’s why I’d love to see this movement spread far and wide.