by Ajike Akande
Where I live, this is the first week back at school. As a mother of many, including, three school-agers, it will come as no surprise that this blog post is about sending The Big and The Middles as well as Wife back to school. I could share all the details of everyone’s first week, but wow, that’d be a snore fest so instead I am sharing a letter that I have written to The Big’s grade two teacher. She will receive a copy of this letter shortly after I post this, so if you think it’s totally weird and inappropriate please let me know ASAP ‘cuz eeek, don’t want to be weirdo mom.
Here it is…
Dear Ms. P,
You did it! You survived the first days of the 2014/15 school year. I stood back watching you on the first morning wearing your back-to-school best, doling out hugs - down low to the bigger, but still so little grade twos that you taught in grade one, and up high to the parents who were feeling excited to be sending their kids back to school in general but especially excited to be sending their kids back to you in particular. You looked so happy and bursting with excitement about the fresh start that the new year offers. I wanted to tell you that I recognize your bright expression and genuine joy to see your new and returning students. I recognize it because that used to be me greeting bouncing kiddos and their parents. Honestly, I felt a little jealous. Don’t get me wrong; I know that day one is the beginning of a teacher-student honeymoon that if you’re lucky, lasts about three weeks. Eventually the kids will stop being on their best behaviour. So will you. But the hugs, nervous energy and excitement are so real and truly set the tone for the year. I am thrilled for all the members of the Room 22 crew. I know that you will do all you can as crew leader to create a brilliant, safe, bad-ass (in the best way) community.
Before you slip into the school routine, I want to tell you some things about my little dude who is in your class for the second time, this time as a big grade two kid. Our Z absolutely ADORES you. Some time around the end of July, he stopped accidentally calling me Ms. P! He has been attending school since he was 18 months old and I have never seen him respond to a teacher the way he has responded to you. His teachers have always enjoyed him and he has always been genuinely happy to learn with and from them, but with you, it’s different. When you started teaching his class last January Z, almost immediately, saw himself in you. You, a black (like him) woman with Caribbean roots, who loves music and dancing, hooked him right away. You laughed at his antics and were charmed by his unbelievable ability to tell a good story. You nagged him when he didn’t do his best (which was far too often) and sent home homework when he didn’t complete his work because let’s face it, he is more interested in being social than in completing math worksheets. You consistently responded with genuine warmth whether you were disappointed in him or whether he “made your heart sing.” You did this better than me and his mama. He noticed and he appreciated you for it.
I don’t think Z was aware that, once speaking to you and realizing that you somehow, even though you are not yet a mama, intrinsically understood how hard it can be to raise a black boy in North America at this time, I too felt comfortable with you. I was relieved when I discovered that you would support my tough black mom approach as well as my insistence that my little guy has a chance to learn in a safe community with love, respect and fun (yes, fun) at its core.
Our Z (your Z) is still squirrelly. Seriously, seriously squirrelly. He still doesn’t love the “learny” part of school. He will talk your ear off and possibly drive you to drink! The other kids will love him and think he’s hilarious. This is extremely important to him so don’t be surprised if his perseverance and focus is most frequently exhibited when he is trying to entertain his classmates. But if you bring your most dramatic self to the lessons you are teaching he will hang on your every word. If you stay close by and be his anchor he’ll get his work done – eventually, because he doesn’t just want approval from his classmates, he wants yours too. If you take dance breaks with the class and let him be your office runner he’ll still be squirrelly but he’ll get some of the movement that he craves.
I know that teaching is one of the hardest jobs out there. I know that your class is full of kids who need all sorts of things to make their days successful. Z is one of many. I also know that our boy will frustrate you. You’ll want to raise your voice and send him out of the class. You’ll want to complain to your colleagues about this very capable kid who doesn’t always apply himself and focus. I know all of this. I know because I know my Z and I have taught my share of Zs. When your patience is low, tell him and then tell me. I am always happy to discuss our little guy. I’m happy to let you vent a little and then I am happy to make a plan to support him so that he can do better. Your job is to support Mr. Z at school and it is our job to support him at home. I believe that it is also my job to be one of the people who supports you in your efforts to support our boy. I’m on your team. You’re on mine. We’re on his.
This is going to be a long, maybe hard, hopefully awesome year. In preparation I’ve purchased all the wine. (Let me know if you need any!) Alright, Ms. P here we go; let’s do this!