This was a discussion I had with my 7-year-old daughter, J, while grocery shopping.
J: I have butterflies in my stomach.
Me: Hunger butterflies or nervous butterflies?
J: mumble mumble
Me: Excuse me?
Me: What are you nervous about, sweetie?
J: I never had a teacher I knew before. I’m worried that I’ll forget how to behave.
Some context: M and J are starting 2nd grade today. Their homeroom teacher is M’s best friend’s mother. Over the last several months, she and her husband have become close friends of mine and made my girls feel like family. My daughters have spent several full days this summer at their house and even slept over. On one occasion, their new teacher, Mrs. H, picked them up from summer camp when I had an appointment, even though her own daughter was spending the night at her dad’s and wasn’t home.
Me: What do you think might happen?
J: Well, I’m used to being the… the example of… well-behaved. Actually, perfectly behaved!
Me: So how would it be different with Mrs. H?
J: It’s just different because I know her.
Me: My advice would be to listen first, then act.
J: Act? What do you mean, “act”? Like put on a monkey show or something?
Me: No, I mean to do something. Listen to the instructions first, then follow them. Mrs. H isn’t worried about it, is she?
Me: Well, if she’s not worried, there’s probably no reason for you to be too concerned.
J: I guess.
Me: Why don’t you give me an example of a situation you’re concerned about, and we’ll figure out how to handle it?
J: Mom, I’m a role model.
Me: I know you are. Just make good choices, and it’ll be okay.
J: I guess.
You may recall that I wrote about how the most well-behaved kids may act out with the people they feel safe with. J’s concerns seem to underline that point. Mrs. H is safe harbour and practically a member of our family. To have to behave with her as a teacher has J flustered. J knows that she’s been pushing the boundaries with Mrs. H in a way that she would never do in the classroom.
We have made some efforts to maintain boundaries over the summer. My daughters call their new teacher Mrs. H, even as they refer to her husband by his first name. Mrs. H’s daughter won’t be in her home room, but due to the nature of the dual language program all 3 kids are in, she’ll be teaching her daughter for part of the day. Obviously, she’s well aware of the issues that may arise. At Meet the Teacher night last week, Mrs. H found a quiet moment with my daughters and another close friend of her daughter’s to let them know not to be surprised if she was stricter at school than she was at home. Obviously, if J hadn’t been thinking about the issue before, she was then.
The bigger thing that struck me about my conversation with J was how certain she is of her role in the classroom. She’s the kid who is perfectly behaved, the best reader and the most enthusiastic learner. Talk to M, and she’ll tell you that she’s the math whiz, fastest runner and best listener. My daughters are in 2nd grade and they already know where they fit in the classroom pecking order. Like me, they are the disgustingly obedient nerds.
What about those kids who, for whatever reason, have internalized other, less positive labels? Mrs. H asked for a particularly challenging student to be placed in her class so that she can try to break through to find the source of his acting out. It’s the rare teacher that does that. It honestly never occurred to me that these things would already be set going into 2nd grade.
Even while it saddens me somewhat to see my daughters pigeonholing themselves already, I remember that this is exactly the sort of social skill my kids will need in their adult lives. This sort of thing is why I was happy to see my kids “held back” with their age peers instead of pushing on ahead in a grade with kids a year older. When their father insisted that our children attend public schools, it was so that they would have a broader view of the types of people in our community and better appreciate the resources they have, including their talents, to give back to others.
How do you feel about kids labeling themselves as academics, jocks, or other things in elementary school? How would you feel about your child having a friend for a teacher?