Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Meeting the Teacher

Let's say a doctor has to have surgery. Do you think he walks into the operating room, holding his surgical gown closed with one hand and examining the instruments with the other? Does he look at the sheet that will cover him, checking to see if it's sterile? Does he check the temperature of the room, ensuring that it's at a comfort level that will be conducive to a successful surgery?

I don't know if all of that happens, but I know some rather intense scrutiny ensues when a teacher attends a child's Meet the Teacher night. I know because I was just that parent...errr...grandparent.

Let me back up. I don't have many memories of my own children's Meet the Teacher night, or "Open House" as we call it at my school. As a middle school teacher, I always had to greet my own students and parents that night, as many of us did, so we arranged to drop by the elementary school and introduce ourselves to the teachers at another time. It was a professional courtesy we offered each other: "I'm sorry I'll have to come by a little early, but you understand...I have to be at my own school tonight." It worked out well.

I did have the opportunity, or let's say I made sure to have the opportunity, to visit my children's high school teachers. Something about grabbing that chemistry syllabus and hearing that teacher's presentation seemed so important. And I realized there was a great deal to be learned on these nights.

Case in point: my son, who attended Open House so he could see girls in summer shorts and tank tops, I'm sure, took a French class one year. I was surprised to enter that classroom to see that it was a Spanish class. Yep...I mean "Si"...everything in the room was Spanish...from the sombreros to the words on the wall. I sat there and looked around: how would my ADHD son ever learn French in a room full of Spanish? Soon, in walked the French teacher (pushing her traveling cart), and she nicely explained that she would be using the Spanish classroom and didn't have a room of her own.

She then sprawled out, in the jeans she was wearing, across the desk, and talked to us about her expectations. I resisted the urge to share my own expectations with her, including that you dress professionally when you meet parents and perhaps consider standing up. Instead I waited until her presentation was done and approached her.

"Do you think," I asked politely, "that you could ask the Spanish teacher if one of the four walls could be reserved for French? Then I'll tell my son to look only at that wall. Otherwise, he's going to be get really confused."

"Oh, that..." she answered. "Actually, I like this arrangement. I never have to worry about decorating a classroom as long as I travel like this." Sadly, in two sentences, Mademoiselle had summed up how committed she was to her job and to her students. And if memory serves me correctly, my son didn't do very well in French. Tres mal.

Fast Forward. Tonight I attended Meet the Teacher/Open House at my granddaughter's school. Taylor will begin kindergarten on Friday, which adds fourteen decibels of emotion on top of regular Back to School - buy the supplies - get new sneakers stress.

I knew walking into the building that I would be a Hawkeyed-Teacher-Nana, looking for any signs that this classroom would not be the best experience for my Taylorbug. I decided to keep an open mind and try to observe like every other grandparent. I began by making positive comments: "Look how neatly she's written Taylor's name! Elementary teachers have the BEST handwriting."

Then the Teacher Police took over. I looked across the room and saw two adults - one, of course, was the teacher, and one was the teacher assistant (also known as the paraprofessional). Which was which? Here's the problem: I should have known because the teacher should have announced, in her bubbliest voice, "I AM THE TEACHER! HI TAYLOR!"

Okay, maybe not. But that's what I was looking for. Taylor's mom filled out 957 forms (we don't have parents complete the forms at Open House in middle school...they take them home, for gosh sakes...which I promptly told my step-daughter...who asked the teacher...who said, "I'd prefer that you do them here." Great.) So while the forms were being filled out, I took Taylor on a field trip...to scope out the other kindergarten rooms. What if another teacher has more/different stuff? We must know this...and fast.

Things seemed mostly equitable except that one teacher had a bunk bed looking loft reading platform thingee with some cool bean bags on it....and a tiny sofa that looked so inviting I wanted to wedge my oversized body into it and read a book. Of course, of the three classrooms, I stalked...errr...visited...that loft is the one thing Taylor saw: "What was that, Nana?"

"Um...that's where those kids take naps. You won't have to take a nap in your room." Back in Taylor's class, her mom was on Form #954 so I seized the opportunity to have a private moment with the teacher.

"Hi," I said girl-to-girl. "I'm a teacher, too."

I waited. I looked deep into her eyes. I thought for sure I'd see that look that old college sorority sisters give each other when they reunite after several years. But no look...just an, "Oh...great..."

I couldn't contain myself any longer. "Look," I said. "Here's the thing. I am Nana. And this is my Taylorbug. So. So...I'll be here a lot. Okay? Like really a lot. Okay?"

At that point Taylor asked me to read her a book from the beautiful book display. She grabbed one and brought it to me. It was a lovely little picture book, and I opened it and formed my mouth to read the first words.

Only I couldn't.

It was in French.

Dear Taylor's teacher,
I apologize ahead of time. Just so you know....


Renee Peoples said...

Love you, Cindy, you are a wonderful Nana!

Erin Small said...

And......this is why we love you Nana!

Abigail S. Ellis said...

Aww, I agree, what a great Nana you are to care so much for "Taylorbug" that you would "scope" things out for her to make sure everything is perfect! Boy, I remember that last year..I was so scared that my parents wouldn't like me, or I wouldn't know what to say when they got there. Being a kind of shy/ quiet person I think I might have had a bit of loss for words myself. I wish Taylor the best this year! PS we did orientation the first two days of school for Kindergarteners last year where we had the parents fill out the paperwork and we explained things in more detail.

Sioux Roslawski said...

You (Nana) and I (Grammy) must keep a watchful eye out for Taylor and Riley (my granddaughter). Do they have the best teacher, one who will certainly fall in love with them?

Remain vigilant. Your eyes will see things others will miss...

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