As we enter the holiday season, I am reminded of one of the best gifts I have ever been given after reading a blog by a mother of a young boy in school. The author used to be a teacher and was now the mother of a bright, busy, energetic young boy and was struggling with her love for him and her knowledge of how his exuberance impacted his teachers. I thought back to my son’s early years in school and the best gift I received was from his kindergarten teacher, 17 years ago.
My son, now 23, was THAT kid. You know, the kid who is always moving, always talking, always engaged with the world, but not always in ways that are easy and pleasant. He was a challenging young boy and is now a challenging man, but in a good way. He is interesting and still engaged in the world. But like when he was little, he still values being right over getting along. And while this trait serves him well now, it didn’t so much as a child, in a classroom.
When my son started school, we lived in a school district in northern California that was overcrowded and valued conformity and control over intellectual curiosity and play. A neighbor whose son was the same age, told me of visiting the elementary school and watching the kids do a drill on the playground in which the teacher blew a whistle and all the kids were to get in line with their hands up—as if in training for being arrested. Neither of us could fathom putting our sons into a school in which this was a part of the daily curriculum. She and her family chose to move to another part of the state, an option that would not work for us, so I started to explore private schools in the area.
We looked at four schools knew that the odds were against us as there were not enough private school spots for the number of families looking. It was an awful situation, in which our son was tested and interviewed for a spot in kindergarten.
We were thrilled when he tested into the school for gifted kids, even though it meant a long commute. But then were crushed when he was rejected because he couldn’t solve do mazes at his interview. I told myself that I didn’t want him in an environment like that, but the truth was I did. I wanted him a resource rich school that valued his mind.
Another school he didn’t get into was the very cool and hip one. While at the visiting day (really interview, but they used euphemisms like visiting day), it became obvious that he wasn’t going to get in either. They wanted children who were quiet, and inquisitive, well behaved and creative. Our son was curious, exuberant and beyond the opposite of quiet. I still remember them talking about why the berries on bushes turn bright red in winter (to attract the birds who will eat, and then through their dropping, propagate the bushes) but my son doesn’t remember learning this. He was too busy running around, enjoying the playground equipment now that all the other kids were dutifully lined up at the edge of the yard, looking at the bushes, listening to the teacher.
The third school he didn’t get into was the more straight-laced, dare I say up-tight school. For that interview (at this school they didn’t use any cool warm fuzzy euphemisms), they had the kids play with manipulatives – something my son loved to do. He loved lining up little objects by height or width or color or fill-in-the-blank. While this school didn’t thrill me, it still was better than the public school. Afterwards, as we were walking back to my car, I noticed he was fiddling with something in his pocket. When I asked him what it was, he got quiet and made a strange face. When he finally pulled out his hand, he had a few small plastic bears in the palm of his hand. His first story was that they gave them to the kids, but that didn’t sound right. And at that moment, I knew in the pit of my stomach that he wasn’t going to get into this school either. My job as his mother was to help him walk back into the school and return the bears. I held onto a thin ray of hope that perhaps they would appreciate our values but I knew as soon as we walked in and my son confessed that they didn’t care one bit for my son or our values. I saw the stern woman mark something on her clipboard and that was that for them and for us.
The last and final school was the one place in which they had plenty of space for kids. And it was because they were connected with a church. But this wasn’t a Christian Church, it was a church that combined Hinduism and Christianity started by a swami and connected to a community of people who lived and worshipped together. A place that I knew make our families uncomfortable. But it was there that I received my best gift ever.
Our son’s kindergarten teacher loved and appreciated him for all of his exuberance and curiosity. This teacher was perfect for my son. She didn’t see trouble or a problem when she saw him, but rather saw a bright young boy, brimming with excitement about all that he would and could learn about the world. And instead of thinking her role was to teach him to stand in line she saw her job as opening up his mind to the wonderful world around him. This was her gift to him. But her gift to me was equally important.
This woman, this teacher, this ‘yoda’ gave me the best gift I have ever received. It happened at the end of the year parent-teach conference. This wasn’t the typical school gift like a portfolio of beautiful drawings or projects our son had created in school. It wasn’t a cute poem that tried to touch my heart strings or his handprints in plaster, all of which I have been given by the kids’ teachers over the years. No this was the gift of recognition of who our son was, along with great information on how best to help him become the man he could be.
She started be telling us how amazing our son was, a real gift and pleasure to teach—something every parent wants to hear. She went on to say that because of his energy and enthusiasm and intellect, we would probably encounter teachers who would reprimand him and might even suggest that we use medication to help ‘control’ him in the classroom. She looked us right in the eye and said that our son did not need medicating. And that any teacher who wanted to do so was looking for an ‘easy’ way out to manage and control her classroom and was not acting in the best interests of our son. Period.
She said that I would need to be a special advocate for him as he was very bright and needed to be in intellectual rich and stimulating academic environments and that IF this was provided, he would not be a distraction or a problem but rather a dream student for talented teachers.
Over the years I took her advice to heart. I remember having one of his teachers tell me how difficult he was in her German class. Turns out he was asking too many questions and she didn’t have the time. I was uncomfortable with telling her how to teach him, but I came up with ideas that would help her and help him. Finally we pulled him out of her class and sent him to German Language camp at the end of 8th grade, hoping that in one month’s time he would be able to catch up with his peers and be ready for German II in 9th grade. Instead he came back ready for German IV (and this on top of also taking Spanish!)
And then there the head of the Math Department one year telling me that he missed the cut off for the advanced math class because they only had room for 20 kids and that he was too rambunctious for that class anyway. When I told her that I knew it was my right as a parent to override her decision and to insist on his placement in the class I heard an earful about being a pushy, overbearing and entitled parent who had no clue about my child’s real capacity. When he scored an 800 on his math SAT and perfect 5s in all his high-school math AP classes, I felt vindicated.
But mostly, I thought back to his kindergarten teacher who gave me the best gift I ever received: to love my boy for who he is and to appreciate all of him—even those parts that others find hard to accept. Because these parts of him are equally important to the whole wonderful, amazing person he is and is yet to be.
As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!