To the teachers of my sons,
In about a week, we will be sitting down for our first, and perhaps our only, parent-teacher conference of the year. I will be listening intently to everything you tell me, but there is really only one question I need you to answer:
Do you see my child?
Everything else hinges one this one simple question.
Do you see him?
What have you learned about him beyond his grammar skills or the grades on his math tests? Have you watched his body language when he talks? Have you observed him interact with friends on the playground? Have you looked at the details in his artwork? Have you read between the lines of his poetry?
Do you see that my oldest is easily frustrated and quick to anger or tears? Do you notice how his eyes light up when you say there will be an experiment during today’s science lesson or how he talks a mile a minute when he’s excited about a new theory he’s been noodling? Do you see how vulnerable he makes himself when he shares his intensely personal fears and goals?
Do you see that my middle son has expectations of himself that border on too high? Do you feel the pride in his sweet smile when you compliment him on a job well done? Do you see how hard he works to be “good”? Do you hear the beautiful inflection in his voice when he reads aloud?
I know that what you see in school and what I see at home won’t line up perfectly and that you can’t provide a comprehensive description of my child. I’m not looking for that. I’m just listening for a little nugget that tells me that you’re watching and listening and that you’ve dug just a little deeper. You’ll probably tell me what I’m listening for without even trying. It might be a profound insight into my child, but more likely, you’ll just let slip a little something you don’t even know will resonate with me. But it will. Because it’s something only someone who’s truly paying attention will notice.
Last year, my oldest’s teacher laughed with me about his bizarre obsession with road kill, and my middle son’s teacher mentioned in passing that he sits just a little taller when she notices a job well done. I knew then that my children were seen, and I relaxed because I knew everything else would fall into place.
Because when you truly see my child, when you take the time to notice his strengths and weaknesses and quirks, I instantly know two things:
I know you love your job. You’re not burned out or disillusioned or tired (as I know it is so easy to become in your profession). At least not most days. You still have a passion for teaching. And you almost certainly don’t see just my child. You see all of them.
And when you see my child, our children, and when you love your job, you will give them exactly what they need. You may do it consciously or subconsciously, but you will do it.
You will teach my oldest that future engineers and scientists must learn math. You will create space for him to share his ideas. You will take a step back when he’s upset and let him come to you when he’s ready. You will smile when he asks you for extra-challenging science work. You will make sure he runs hard enough at recess that he can sit still in social studies.
You will tousle my middle son’s hair or sneak up behind him and playfully cover his eyes because you sense he needs a little extra love in that moment. You will proudly display the picture he painstakingly drew just for you. You will celebrate his attempts, even when he fails. Especially when he fails. You will be the safe space he needs at school.
And, in turn, I will talk less during the precious thirty minutes we have because I won’t be struggling desperately to make sure you know my child. Because I will know you do. And I will hear all the other things you tell me about my children – that this one needs to practice his multiplication tables at home or that one is confusing the letters b and d – because you’ve already told me the most important thing you could.
You see my child.