This has been such an incredible year. Make no mistake both girls have been blessed beyond measure with some remarkable educators but fourth grade, well it has been the icing on an already delicious cake.
Why is this grade different? Emotional acknowledgment and support. Fourth graders are tough. They are nine, mostly ten before the year's end. Ten year old children are a handful. They are still children, but their hormones are kicking in and they are transforming into young adults. Hormones can drive the "best mom and dad" crazy, but let's be honest - teachers have these hormonal Tasmanian Devils 40 hours a week. Forty hours of tears, anger, anxiety, hyperactivity, learning struggles, learning achievements, and so much more. Add to that teachers are handling all this with 24 kids in a classroom. There's a reason I never taught fourth grade.
As luck would have it, Penelope's teachers have been a pillar of emotional strength for her and all their students. They know it takes a partnership with parents to truly get through to the child. They know to see success it takes a learning environment where students feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and yes, those fourth grade feelings.
Penelope is trusting, loyal, anxious, and naive. You can pull the wool over her eyes at any time and while she is learning to see the bullshit, more often than not she can still be deceived. Penelope believes people at their word and would never in a million years think someone would lie to her. Especially a friend. Penelope has yet to realize that girls are bitches and true friendships are a rare find.
In the beginning of the year I set the stage as I do every year. I am "that mom." I am involved in PTO, I send emails, I check homework, I check the on line grade book twice a day (judge away I give zero fucks), I eat lunch with my girls, I help them study. BUT I also hold them responsible. If they do not want to complete homework or study.... well, good luck to them because this mama says to the teachers, "Go right ahead and give that F. Go right ahead and take recess. My child is in the wrong." I open the line of communication with the teachers saying here are our emotional struggles, here is our dirty laundry, here is my child trying her hardest to navigate family life, academic life, social life, and oh yeah, hormones. As always, the teachers met my "crazy" with grace and acceptance and probably a little sympathy for Penelope. It's tough being my kid (sometimes).
With each passing week Penelope's star shone brighter. With each passing week Penelope needed less and less help and willingly went to her teachers for help. With each passing week Penelope forged an unforgettable bond with these teachers. I was living in a twilight zone with statements of "Mrs. W showed my paper to Mrs. K - can you believe it? I must be a good writer now." or "Mrs. K showed me how to do this. I am going to go in early for the review. I like the way she teaches it. Your way is old." While the former teacher in me wanted to help her, I couldn't help but relish in the fact that Penelope trusted these teachers. And how do I know she trusted them? Because she was being her true self. Penelope wrote a paper about how hard it is to be Jewish. It takes a lot of courage to not only talk about your religion, but to write about it negatively. It takes emotional support to know you can express yourself without discernment.
I cannot remember when, but at some point this year I was asked to stop by as the teachers were concerned about something Penelope said during morning meeting. Morning meeting? Oh that's right, these teachers start each day with a student led conversation about various topics. The students share! Openly! There's no judgement, consequence, poking fun....just honest, real, conversation. It was at this moment I realized why Penelope was soaring to success. Emotional support. She felt free to convey her every thought. She was free emotionally. While what Penelope said at that morning meeting wasn't a "huge red flag" it was concerning because I had set the stage. The teachers know our family dynamics, they know the struggles at home, and when Penelope expressed herself they felt it best to share considering what they already knew about her life.
THAT is called emotional support. THAT is going over and beyond. THAT is great teaching. When your teachers know you are willing to listen, when your teachers know you appreciate honesty, when your teachers know you support them and their efforts THAT is when the true learning can happen. A student that is emotionally supported can achieve anything.
We have had growing pains too. The teachers expecting more from Penelope and expecting 100% effort was a challenge at first. E1 is used to everything coming easily. She is used to minimal input with maximum output. Fourth grade proved to be the year where minimal input equaled minimum output. Did I enjoy seeing low grades in the grade book? Did I enjoy all the meltdowns at home of "I can't" Nope, not at all. But I supported the efforts of the teachers to encourage Penelope to do better, be better. They saw her capabilities. They wanted for her to see her capabilities. With that bond of trust formed, E1 climbed the mountain of high expectations and saw her own self worth. She began writing papers for fun! She began asking for more math assignments! The hubs and I repeatedly asked ourselves, "What the fuck is happening?" Emotional support. That is what was happening.
Just today, I received this email:
While I loathe the STAAR test and everything it stands for, I LOVE THIS. It was a reminder of the emotional support we have received all year. It was a reminder of the partnership we have with her teachers. This idea, so simple and yet so powerful. It doesn't ask me to make a healthy breakfast. It doesn't ask me to make sure my kid gets a good night sleep. It doesn't ask me to remind my child to show their work on math or justify their answers on reading. It asks me to give ENCOURAGEMENT to my ten year old, my child, their student.
During the Passover Seder this past weekend Penelope and my nephew were discussing school. Penelope was ranking her favorite school years and fourth grade tied for the number one seed. With the exception of once, Penelope has loved each and every one of her teachers. She has said it was the best year each time a school year ends. However, she always held a special place in her heart for first grade. First grade was Penelope's first time to understand what a difference a teacher can make in a young girl's life. Knowing how she felt about first grade, I knew she would ever let another year rank higher. First grade was just that awesome. And sometimes a year cannot be out done.
A tie is two winners.
Twice the love.
Twice the best year ever.
Twice the support.
Twice the confidence.
Twice the success.
Fourth grade, we heart thee.
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