My experiences in elementary school were wonderful, and I think this in no small part due to the great teachers I was lucky to have. Most vividly, I remember with affection my third grade teacher, Mrs. Rykosky. She created a fun, safe learning environment and instilled in me a life-long love of reading. I remember being mesmerized each day as she would read to us from books such as Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach.
But, almost as important, I knew she loved being with our class each day. I can remember building clubhouses in our classroom and performing shows for her and the rest of the class. She was genuinely kind to every student and showed an interest in each child and who they were. I loved going to school every day because I loved being with Mrs. Rykosky.
And so when my daughter started kindergarten last year, I naturally assumed she would have the same experience as me. And she did. She had a wonderful teacher who really seemed to “get” who my daughter was and what she needed to be able to learn. When Maddy started first grade this year, I just assumed that would be the case again. But I was wrong.
Some of her struggles I know are based on the transition from half-day kindergarten to full-day first grade. But not all of them. My daughter is a child who has never really experienced discipline problems in child care or school. She is active but for the most part compliant. Now she is receiving “color sticks” for inappropriate behavior once or twice a week and she is devastated. Her behavior hasn’t changed, but expectations have. She is struggling to figure out how she can do better or what she is doing wrong. She broke my heart the other night when she told me, “I don’t think my teacher likes me.”
It would be nice if every teacher your child had was a Mrs. Rykosky, but that just isn’t reality. The best we can do as parents is to listen to and support our children, and be an advocate for them if necessary.
So, what do you do when your child and your child’s teacher don’t seem to connect? For starters, I keep reassuring Maddy that her teacher does like her, that she is just different from her teacher last year. Her new teacher isn’t good or bad, just different. Secondly, I reached out to her teacher to let her know that I had concerns and wanted to talk with her. Lastly, I talked with Maddy about things she could do to avoid conflict. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, sometimes you just have to change your behavior to meet the needs or expectations of another person. That’s just part of growing up. It is still a work in progress, but it is progress.