K is for Kindergarten Teachers: The True Heroes of the Education System.

***Note: This is a re-print of a post I wrote in 2014. I re-printed it for the benefit of an American writer-buddy of mine who was lamenting about his first born child starting Kindergarten and whether or not he, as Dad, was emotionally ready for it all. I still believe every word of this post to be absolutely true!

When our eldest daughter went to school for the very first time, I was not able to go because I was a teacher and it was the first day of classes for the students at my school. However, my wife was able to attend.  Our daughter’s school is a small school, in a quiet community, nestled among a grove of oak trees. It is idyllic in many respects.  The school has, as one of its’ mandates, developed a high sense of community among all students and families and, as such, when you attend this school you, automatically, acquire an extended social network of educators and parents.   So, as my wife and daughter left their car and walked on to the playground of the school prior to the entry bell ringing, they did so in the company of almost one hundred other moms and dads and grand-parents.  The sun was shining that day. The grass was green, the school yard lush.  There was an air of excitement as older students re-connected with friends that they hadn’t seen since starting their summer vacation.  Parents chatted amicably. Teachers mingled with the crowd, greeting new students and former students, alike. 

Then the bell rang.   

The older students immediately sprinted toward the places where they were to line up to enter the school. My daughter took my wife by the hand and, together, they walked toward the spot where the Kindergarten children were to meet.  And, as they walked, my wife began to sob!

Our first born, our first-loved, our baby, was going off on her own and leaving us behind and it pulled on every heart string that my wife had within her.   A few of the other Moms, the ones who were used to the first-day-of-school routine, came over to console her.  Even my daughter’s teacher came over to let her know that everything was going to be ok and that our daughter was going to be safe with her.  In fact, she even called our house at lunch time to see if my wife had recovered from the emotion of the morning!   It is funny what a difference a small gesture like that can make.  When we stop and realize the humanity involved in this enterprise of educating children, it causes us to appreciate the humane treatment with which children (and, in some cases, parents) are accorded every day by their teachers and vice versa.  At the end of the day, how we treat each other is a measure of the calibre of our society.  When such treatment is built upon a foundation of dignity, patience and mutual respect then, everyone benefits.

So, as I think about my new friend going to meet his daughter’s Kindergarten teacher for the first time, I want to reassure him that she is walking into the next phase of her life in the care of an educational superhero!  For that is what Kindergarten teachers truly are!  They are miracle workers of the highest order.   In order to help you appreciate this, consider this:

My youngest daughter is four years old.  She is a lovely, beautiful, creative child and she is loved unconditionally by my wife and I. However, and it is a big however, she is far more work than her

older sister ever thought about being!  She is the child who gets tucked into bed at night and then, immediately starts singing at the top of her lungs, “Let it go!  Let it go!  Can’t hold me back anymore!!!!!”   When we are rushing to get dressed and out the door in the morning, she is one who routinely goes boneless and flops on the floor, seemingly paralyzed with the inability to put on her own socks!   She is her older sister’s tormentor during periods of quiet contemplation.  She touches things that aren’t hers, leaves trails of debris scattered throughout the house and she is just… just, beginning to master going to the potty on her own.  

So, just imagine if, instead of rushing out through the door in the morning that, instead, twenty-five parents knocked on our door and dropped off twenty-five other four year olds just like our own!!!

Twenty-five kids; some of whom would be crying for their Mommas, some of whom were not toilet-trained at all, some who were coked to the gills on sugar, some who were painfully shy, some who wanted to fight and some….well, most, who wanted your undivided attention at all times!   That’s what Kindergarten teachers face on a daily basis.   

So, to me, it makes what my oldest daughter’s Kindergarten teacher did on that first day of school, all the more remarkable.  When faced with twenty-five wild cards. Twenty-five ants at a picnic, my daughter’s teacher still had the werewithal to make a phone call to my house during her lunch break to check on my wife!  That act rocks my world!  

To me, as a teacher, I see how these Kindergarten teachers take, what appears to be uncontrollable chaos and, then, slowly, begin a process of transformation that renders, by way of artistic comparision, what I do in my classroom as simply being paint-by-numbers.  Through boatloads of heart, patience, skill and, a little bit of hocus-pocus, Kindergarten children begin learning how to sit quietly and listen, they learn how to tidy up and put things back where they belong, they learn to share and take turns and walk on marshmallow feet, in a straight line, when they move from the classroom to the Gym or to the Library.  In short, Kindergarten children turn into students.  That transformation from the first day of school, when they are akin to a bag of cats; to the end of Kindergarten, when the students are, well, students, as we envision students to be is, without a doubt, one of the most important and miraculous feats that occurs throughout the breadth and width of the entire education system!!!   For this, Kindergarten teachers have my undying respect.  They are my educational superheroes, too.

So, my friend, take heart, your daughter couldn’t be in better hands than she is with her Kindergarten teacher.  Cry, if so moved. You won’t be the only one, I can assure you of that.  And, maybe, just maybe, you will get a phone call at home, too.  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

I will close by offering up a poem that was written by Robert Fulghum called, All I Really Need To Know I’ve Learned in Kindergarten.   This poem is famous in educational circles and acts as a prayer for all of us who teach but, especially, those who teach first.  It goes a little like this:

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.

These are the things I learned: 

  • Share everything. 
  • Play fair. 
  • Don’t hit people. 
  • Put things back where you found them. 
  • Clean up your own mess. 
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours. 
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. 
  • Wash your hands before you eat. 
  • Flush. 
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. 
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. 
  • Take a nap every afternoon. 
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. 
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. 
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we. 
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK. 

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

A Kindergarten classroom is the heartbeat of our entire system.  Do you have any memories or recollections of your first days of school OR your children’s first experiences?  If so, please feel free to share those experiences in the comment box below.  As always, thanks for reading.  🙂


The Gift of Encouragement

A Throwback post from the Vaults for those parents wondering what to do for a teacher gift as the school year draws to a close here in Ontario. As for my teacher friends, I am sure you will appreciate what I advocate for as being the best kind of teacher gift to receive. In any case, thanks to all of the parents, students and educational teams who worked so hard this year. Happy summer to everyone.

We are all human. We all appreciate being told, once and awhile, that we are doing a good job, that we are a nice person or that we are important.  In today’s frantic, multi-tasking society, it is easy to lose sight of the right path as we struggle to maintain our sanity, let alone, live a life of character and integrity. So, hearing words of encouragement is important. They not only nourish our souls but, they act as an affirmation that maybe, just maybe, we are actually on that correct path in Life.

In Ontario, Canada, where I taught, we are no more immune from Life’s pressures and stresses than anyone else in any other walk of life.  Most teachers care deeply about their profession and try their best to do right by the students entrusted into their care each day.  Most parents seem to understand this. My experience working in partnership with parents has, almost completely and totally, been positive and respectful. Being a parent has helped me appreciate the hard work that goes on in the homes of my students. Watching their children grow more knowledgable and skilled, while enjoying their school experience, has caused parents to respect who I am and how I conducted my classroom affairs.

Ordinarily, a heartfelt hand shake at the end of the school year between parent and teacher should be sufficient to recognize the contribution both have made to the life of the child in question. However, in Ontario,  a tradition has taken root that sees the parent bestow a gift upon the teacher during the final day of school.  In my career, I started many a final day of school surrounded by smiling students, arms outstretched, all holding a gift bag or an envelop and begging me to please, “open mine first, Mr. MacInnes! Open mine first!” Those gifts of mugs, boxes of chocolates, gift cards for coffee shops and crafts made with care and love from home, all were appreciated and all were displayed and/or well used once taken home.

However, there is one gift that I have gotten many times over the years and, in my eyes, it is the most important gift any parent could give to their child’s teacher……..it is the gift of encouragement that comes in the form of a simple card or letter.  Having a parent take a few moments to write that they appreciated the time I had spent with their child and that they believed it had made a positive difference, is like gold to me.

In my bedroom, on a shelf in my closet, I have a photo box.  In that photo box, I have EVERY card, letter and note of encouragement I have ever received throughout the entire course of my 30 year career.  Each letter is precious to me and each serves to remind me that, yes, I did, indeed, have a purpose in life that was worthy and that, indeed, I was making a positive difference in the lives of children.  I can’t ask for more than that.  Whenever I find myself feeling down, for whatever reason, I haul out that photo box and bask in the warm glow of the affirmations it contains.  

In most cases, regardless of the state of education in the public school your child attends, you can count on them being cared for by a teacher who is working harder than you may realize to help their students be the best people they can be.  However, there are times, in the course of their busy days, when teachers can become just as frustrated and discouraged as the students that they teach.  If you ever want to make your child’s teacher’s day, I humbly suggest that you write a simple note.  Your words of encouragement and appreciation will turn out to be the best part of that teacher’s day….guaranteed!

And, maybe, just maybe, your words will help fill that teacher’s photo box of memories, too.  🙂

We all appreciate hearing a kind word from someone else.  Have you ever written a card of thanks to your child’s teacher?  Have you ever received such a note or card from someone else, telling you that who you are or, what you do, matters?  If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.  Thanks for reading. 🙂