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 him.
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 sought.
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 him?
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 impulse-control arena.
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 Sam.
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 navigate.
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 may.