Tribe Tuesday: “Dear Parents,” a letter to my classroom family about my own children

As I enter my 12th year teaching elementary school (my 5th in Kindergarten) and my 26th in education, I am very thoughtful and reflective on the courage it takes a parent to place their child in the hands of a stranger every day. It is so incredibly brave and I know how precious your young one is to you. I know that story. I am a parent and I remember well what dropping them off at Kindergarten felt like.

My daughter Piper is 22 and graduated from Portland State University in June. She started Kindergarten in San Francisco just a few days before 9/11/2001. I had the eerie experience of going to drop her off at school when no one knew what to do or what was going on. I had to explain to her in an instant why people were scared and crying and why there was no school today. I had to tell my baby that sometimes people make bad decisions and that people had gotten hurt. That experience changed what education would mean for her and her classmates and future classes in an instant.

She has always been the person I look up to more than anyone. I have learned more from her about how to be a better human than I ever thought a child could teach an adult. She is astounding, brave, heartfelt, fiercely loyal, vibrant, intensely intelligent. She is a wonder. My heart tugs just thinking about all the challenge she’s faced and the things she has accomplished against all odds. Her writing makes me cry and laugh at the same time, it is so poignant and raw. The way she sticks up for friends and those she loves is the testament to her true character.She knows them and accepts them.At dinner when she was in Kindergarten she said to her family assembled at the table

“What do we all want for ourselves?”

She had an emergency appendectomy that almost killed her this January and only missed one week of school. She completed a Women’s Studies degree and her work is in equity and social justice. I am so glad we have a world with her in it.

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My son Liam is 19 and and reads Thoreau, Aristotle, Joseph Campbell and Zen Buddhism while sunning with his pet cat, Goat, when not working his PT sales job. Before I knew him I already knew him. I knew that this person would change me the moment I was aware he was growing. When he arrived I knew we would forever be taking a walk that was unexplainable to anyone else really, a walk that only one step at a time would be revealed. He’s likely the most profound person I’ve ever known. He sees the BS in the world in an instant, but is usually too polite to mention it.

Yet this is a young man that couldn’t talk. We struggled to understand him and people that didn’t know him couldn’t understand him at all. I heard every single day how much a problem he was in preschool, and even though he started speech at 3, it made no difference in his preschool. He had a good last Pre-K year and then started Kindergarten, now able to talk but still challenged by social interaction. He simply couldn’t abide that school was going to last until he was 18.  Early in Kindergarten he said to me,

“Just let me go live with the wolves like Mowgli. They will teach me everything I need to know.”

Stunned by this truth, (animals do seem to know all the secrets) the teacher in me still wanted him to finish high school. I bribed my 5 year old with an international trip if he got his diploma. Yes I did. And I brought it up at least once a year the entire 13 years. And he did finish. He went to Ireland alone last summer after graduating, mom did good on her promise. When he was asked to speak by his peers at his high school graduation from Kalapuya High School he said,

“It took me a while to realize I could carve out my own destiny.”

I want you to know that my truest most important goal this year is to know your children well enough to know parts of them that make them who they are. I care about every single child I work with in a way that is unbreakable. I also have a deep faith that children know what they need to learn. This idea is rooted in brain science and child development, but it is also just a deep knowing I have about children. They know if they need to practice certain things, and they will naturally keep choosing ways to bump up against that concept or activity.

Have you noticed how your child picks the same book to read over and over again, and it’s about to make you insane but they still love it? It is their natural way of trying to make sense of a world around them that still doesn’t make a lot of sense. To the young child the world is so highly confusing. They are watching us at every moment, wondering what the adults will do, how they will react, how they will communicate. As parents you are your child’s first teachers, and you have the most important role here.

It is invaluable to me to work with you. It is such a privilege to be here with your children every day.

Thank you for walking this Kindergarten journey with us. My promise to you is to be authentic and loving. You can read what the children promised as well, pictured above.

With much love, Jennifer

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