My 8th grade daughter’s Algebra teacher is phenomenal! She had us fill out info on our children (the only teacher in all of my daughter’s classes to do so), and she really listened when my response was “I suck at Math, and my daughter also finds it challenging. We are terrified of this class.”
Not soon after turning that in, my daughter told me that Ms. S (we’ll call her) took the time to come to her during class work time and give my daughter the personal attention she needed to understand the concept. My daughter has gone from “hating Math” to calling Algebra one of her favorite classes. Ms. S is young, accomplished, very highly regarded, and much beloved by me and my daughter.
I’ve said it before: a teacher can make all the difference.
I also expected this to be a remarkable year for my 5th grade daughter since her teacher, Mrs. A had the highest test scores in the entire district. If nothing else, this year has taught me to continue to be skeptical of testing scores as an effective measuring tool.
My initial concern came when I wrote a note to Mrs. A, then followed up with an email and got no response. A week later, Mrs. A complained on a note home about the very thing that had prompted me to contact her. My note back to Mrs. A reminded her of that. We sent a few emails back and forth, and I thought the issue was resolved.
The red flags went up again at my first parent teacher conference of the year. We spoke of some of the challenges with my daughter. My daughter’s intelligence is more of the “street smart” variety than the “book smart.” Although, she’s capable of that, too. Two years ago, she achieved a perfect score on her Math standardized test.
So I was saying to Mrs. A, “she’s very smart,” and the teacher interrupted with, “she doesn’t seem it!”
I was so stunned, I couldn’t speak. I don’t trust myself to speak when I’m that emotional. I didn’t say much for the rest of the conference.
Later that night, I sat down with my 5th grader and had a talk with her about some of the areas where she should strive for improvement.
Another incident occurred (too long to explain here) and it finally hit me: Mrs. A has made it clear in a variety of ways that she doesn’t believe in my daughter!
I know my daughter’s not perfect– in fact, she can be quite challenging! But I’ve also been her mother for 10 years, and I know that she responds to positive reinforcement. Mrs. A’s tactic of (to put it harshly, but still accurately) bullying was exactly the wrong approach for my daughter.
I wrote another email to Mrs. A. Here’s an excerpt:
[My daughter] is still trying to figure out who she wants to be, what there is to look forward to. She’s clinging onto her childhood because she’s afraid of middle school, afraid of what comes next. Yes, I’m her biased mother, but I see her as having so much potential, and I’m afraid she doesn’t see that in herself. And she even told me during my lecture that she doesn’t believe that she can do anything, that she doesn’t even believe that she’s smart. She needs confidence right now more than anything. And I can’t be the one to give it to her because she knows I love her unconditionally. She needs someone else to believe in her now.
I fear that you don’t believe in her. I fear that you don’t see the potential she has, and I fear what that will do to her. Yes, she can be difficult; yes, she’s incredibly stubborn, but she is also one of the most empathetic, creative problem solvers I’ve ever met. She is there for me and she is there for her sister in ways that I don’t see many adults capable of being there for others. She has shown a tremendous capacity to deal with contradictory emotions and acceptance that I’m not capable of. She is an incredible human being. Sometimes, she shines in academia, sometimes she doesn’t. But I do believe that if she believes in herself, she can do anything.
She won’t get there without a little positive reinforcement every so often. The last thing I want to see is for her to slip through the cracks. I know she’s susceptible to that, but she deserves better. I can only do so much; I need you to help her believe in herself, too.
I sent that email a month ago. I have yet to receive a response.
Mrs. A is one of the most highly regarded teachers at this school. And I can’t wait for this school year to be over.
April McCaffery is the single to two daughters, in 5th & 8th grade.
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