It was the third week of kindergarten when we got the first
call. Our son, Sam, was having trouble "not being silly" and his
teacher was not happy.
Sam was testing limits, wise-cracking for a laugh, acting
out for attention. Here we go again, I
thought. The same old mischief in a brand new
class. We'd been down this road before, as my
enthusiastic son has a talent for exasperating those supervising
As I listened to Sam's teacher, I had the same old
reaction: a lurch in my gut and a quickening of my pulse as I
scrambled for the "right" response-something empathetic, something
helpful. Then, as always, I reflexively directed our chat toward
all the ways I could assist in delivering the behavior she
Not surprisingly, this conversation concluded in the usual
way: I hung up the phone with a guilty conscience, wondering
whether my focus on appeasing Sam's teacher had just undermined my
role as his advocate. I had tried to help her, but what about
For me, this was uncharted ground.
As a child, I was a classic goody-goody. A
teacher-pleaser, an over-achiever, obedient, polite, diligent. I
can only recall two incidents where teachers admonished me for
misbehavior. From grammar through graduate school, that is all.
Twice. I never experienced the principal's office, detention or
phone calls home. The world of school discipline was not my world,
and apparently old habits die hard.
It seems I am still a teacher-pleaser at heart.
My son is not wired like me. Sam is a free spirit who
enjoys spicing up his days with a little mischief. His brand of
misbehavior typically consists of overly abundant silliness at
inappropriate times. His enjoyment of a good laugh simply outweighs
his desire to avoid trouble. His eyes sparkle with fabulous
liveliness, but from that sparkle it is only a short leap to the
twinkle that lands him in trouble. Sam is a sensitive, smart,
spirited kid with a huge funny bone and some work to do in the
Shortly after that first call from the kindergarten
teacher, I had a small epiphany that refocused my teacher-pleasing
energy in a more productive direction.
Simply put, it dawned on me that these teachers were no
longer mine, but my son's, and my job now is not necessarily to
please them but rather to support him.
Of course, supporting him academically requires supporting
his teachers and presenting a unified front. However, it may also
mean occasionally challenging them to do more for Sam, like
providing him with more consistent positive reinforcement or
discipline, or doing more to draw him into classroom activities, or
not grouping him with kids who lead him astray. Teachers most
certainly know more about teaching than I do, but I know more about
To do right by Sam, I need to speak up.
Asserting myself with Sam's teachers has not come
naturally for me, but I am settling into this aspect of being his
mom. It comes with the territory, and I am learning how to
As a silver lining to all of this, I think Sam now sees
that while I may sometimes hear worrisome or frustrating feedback
from his teachers, I am his advocate, first and foremost. He is my
concern. I am here to help him, supporting him always, come what
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