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All Hands On (the School) Deck

My kids’ teachers never really see me coming. Until, that is, they make what they think is supposed to be a 30-second courtesy introductory call and get lassoed into a 40-minute conversation on curriculum, class structure, homework, discipline practices and the socialization of children. I don’t interrogate them, per se. But I’m very clear that I need to know going in who, exactly, will be nourishing my kids’ intellect, character, and mental and emotional well-being during the majority of their days.

Oh, I know—it sounds tough. But I promise I’m not a part of the Parking Lot Mafia of moms who cluck and rattle and get all in a tizzy over what flavor cupcake the teachers served at the 6th grade play.  Just the opposite, once I know the teachers and I are on the same page when it comes to my daughters’ educational wellbeing, I’ll walk through a mountain to make sure they have what they need to do their job effectively.

This means that when the photocopier budget is a mere fraction of what the teacher needs to whip up in-class and homework sheets, I’m sliding into their hands a gift card to Kinkos. And when there’s a kid in the class who doesn’t have the money for a field trip, I’m paying his fee so the teacher doesn’t have to worry about explaining to him why everybody else in the class got to go to the Botanical Gardens, or fret over giving him a separate botany assignment because he didn’t get to experience what everyone else learned firsthand. When Valentine’s Day cupcakes need to be made and holiday presents need to be wrapped and colorful signs need to be whipped up and crafts for class projects need to be prepared, I’m on the case, too.

None of this requires me to be posted up in the classroom; most of these helpful gestures are done from the comfort of my home or during a trip to the grocery store or simply by picking up the phone and ordering up some help or opening my checkbook. (For sure, there isn’t a teacher beyond the third grade who really wants a parent lurking through the halls, questioning her every word, second-guessing their intent and interfering with the lessons.)  So I don’t feel like I have to be up at the school every day, all day. But the gift of my time is, I’m often reminded, is the most precious teacher’s gift of all, and the half hour of my time that I donate here and there is priceless—not just for the teacher, but for me and my Mari and Lila, too. 

See, each of these things—being clear about my expectations, getting clear on the teachers’ needs and desires, and being there for them and my kids—contributes to my daughters’ school success in measurable ways: Their teachers keep me in the know when it comes to my girls’ progress; I have access and their ear, so if an academic or behavioral issue is brewing, we can talk about it before it becomes a problem; and my girls know I’m involved and watching them, so they keep up the grades and cut-ups are kept to a minimum.

And at the end of the day, this is what’s most important, isn’t it? Responsive teachers, academic achievement sans drama, and kids who rise to the occasion in school—it’s all a mother could ask for.

To see more of Denene's stories about parenting and motherhood, check out her personal blog, MyBrownBaby.