My son will start his senior year of high school in a few weeks. I’ll snap a photo in our foyer of his last first day. I no longer have to navigate the pickup line or worry that someone will help him open his juice box. Instead, he will drive off and hopefully remember to charge his Chromebook.
As his senior year approaches, I’ve been reflecting on his first day of kindergarten. As a teacher myself, I was eager for my son to start school (or so I thought). My son had been in preschool for years and was used to the routines. He could stand quietly in line, sit at a lunch table and print his name on the top line, but I wrestled with the idea that my son would receive a grade from that day on. He’d be tested, ranked, scolded, and compared.
We met my son’s kindergarten teacher a few days before school started
We met his teacher a few days before school started. Sitting in that classroom with tiny chairs, I had a hundred questions. Incredibly basic ones like how do I put money on his lunch ticket? Where am I supposed to buy that notebook on the list that I can’t find at Walmart, Target, or Staples? Where does he go in the mornings?
I also had questions that were less about what to do and more about my child’s well-being. What if his teacher is mean? What if he never learns to listen and is always in trouble? What if he always forgets the number fourteen and never properly learns to count to twenty?
Does his teacher know that he is left-handed and sometimes needs his inhaler? What if he can’t put the straw in his Capri sun or zip his zipper alone? Will someone tell him where to go after school? What if kids make fun of him for being little? What if he learns more bad words? What if he teaches his classmates the ones he already knows?
There was only one question: Will his teacher love my son?
It all boiled down to one question. Will his teacher love my kid? Not, what kind of degree does she have? Nor, What fabulous lesson plans did she come up with? Not how fun and warm and inviting her classroom looks. Or even what she is doing to get him ready for the state standardized tests? But will she see him? Will she encourage him? Will she love him?
As a high school teacher, I approached my first day differently that year. My students filed in, and I passed out the syllabi as usual. I showed funny video clips and did impressive science demonstrations. All day in the back of my mind, however, I thought about my little boy with his lego backpack and Darth Vadar lunch box.
I decided that my show could take a back seat to what was most important. Not lesson plans, cool demos, lunch schedules, parking permits, late work policies, or even freshly ironed pants. For the first time, I realized that all their mommas were hoping for me to love their kids. Hoping that I will see them and encourage them. Mommas want the same thing at six as they do at sixteen.
My son is now almost an adult, an adult who still occasionally forgets to brush his teeth and struggles to match his clothes. Still, he made it through kindergarten to become a kind, bright, and funny seventeen-year-old. We’ve had twelve years of grades and tests and occasional folder signings. Now I know what to expect when I send him out the door.
I know what to expect as my son heads out the door
He will learn Calculus and how to hide from an active shooter.
He will apply for college and avoid the kids vaping in the bathroom.
He will forget his homework and find people to eat lunch with.
He will be ranked, but he will also be affirmed.
He will be challenged, he will be bored, and occasionally he will fail.
What I’ve learned is that there is an education in all three.
My questions have turned to prayers.
My son is almost an adult now, but I can’t help but hesitate to send him out the door. My questions have turned into hopes and prayers. I hope his teachers are qualified and not burned out from the last three difficult school years. I pray that they have substitutes when they need them. I pray that our Covid boosters will do the trick. I pray that there isn’t another shooting in our district this year. I pray that the teachers feel empowered and cared for.
One thing hasn’t changed. I hope they see my kid. I hope they listen when he asks hard questions. I hope they can read his handwriting. I hope they laugh at his jokes.
Sure, I also hope they are good teachers, masters of their content, fast graders, strong communicators, and great classroom managers. But mostly, just like when he was five — I hope they see and love my kid. I hope they can keep him safe. They might see a shaggy-haired almost adult who likely forgot to do his homework, but I still see a nervous five-year-old with a Lego backpack and a Star Wars lunch box.
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Dr. Michelle Hurst is a wife, a mother, and an educator in Texas. She is an avid reader, writer, and napper. She loves to write about faith, chronic illness, relationships, and middle age on her author’s website. She is constantly looking for hope and where she last put her keys. She has written for (in)Coruage, The Mighty and The Grace and Grit Project. Find her on her website and on Instagram