The great teacher

Tomorrow is Eleanor’s last day of school, and I am sad. Most moms I know tear up at the beginning of the school year, sending a child off to kindergarten or middle school or beyond. I am more than happy to send my children back to school at the end of summer, particularly at the end of a Texas summer when we have exhausted every swimming pool, museum, and movie. Endings get to me though. This is when I feel the passage of time most acutely.

This year is extra bittersweet because Eleanor got a really great second grade teacher. Eleanor is at a huge school, with six classes in each grade, so the odds of getting the teacher you really want are slim. The school has many great teachers, but this was the one I had heard other parents marvel over.

As a parent, I always hope that a teacher will see the potential of my child. I also know that each teacher is working with 20 or more kids. I know that every other parent wants the same for their child and that the teacher is facing a thousand demands from administrators, parents, and children. Within a few weeks of Eleanor starting second grade, her teacher talked to us about Eleanor’s strengths and weaknesses and told us how she wanted to address the weaknesses. She was half psychologist and half teacher.

She worked long hours. We live across the street from the school, and when we were out in the evenings, we would sometimes see her leaving three or four hours after school ended. It’s not reasonable to expect any teacher to work that hard. Many teachers have their own kids to attend to at home, and they certainly don’t have a paycheck that reflects an 11-hour workday.

The kids had Spanish lessons on Fridays because she arranged for a generous parent volunteer to come in and work with them. When the kids wanted to tie-dye class T-shirts rather than buy ready-made ones, she made them do a cost-benefit analysis and write a persuasive essay. I went with Eleanor on her school field trip a few weeks ago. During lunch, the teacher held up a child’s brightly colored bag of Doritos and asked everyone whether they thought the chip makers were trying to sell chips to kids. Why or why not? She was getting them to think about marketing.

She constantly asked questions, and when I was with her, I sensed the urgency in her teaching. She’s full of wonder at the world and wants to pass that on to her students. I know that she saw all of the potential that I see in Eleanor.

When Eleanor brought home her notebooks this week, they were filled cover-to-cover and held together with duct tape. We had a final conference with the teacher today, and we talked about ways to continue Eleanor’s learning over the summer and into third grade. She talked about how she would have liked to do even more but had to balance that with letting a kid be a kid. I know that Eleanor will have other great teachers, but who knows how many? By the time we walked out of that classroom today, all three of us were crying. Teachers are powerful, y’all.