Dear teacher of my youngest child:
I met you at the school open house last night, and you seemed to be everything I want in a first grade teacher: warm, open, caring, a person who relates instantly with children, who can get my shy child to actually tell you his name! I’m looking forward to this year with you and to everything that you will teach my child.
Before I hand him off to you for nearly seven hours a day though, there are some things I want you to know about my child. Oh, I know that you had us fill out a paper at the open house “My child in a million words or less.” But I’m an introvert and I don’t process thoughts that quickly, and I’m a word person who can’t distill my child into a few short paragraphs. So here is what I would have told you about this child, one of the great loves of my life…
From the moment he was born I was sure this was going to be my extroverted child. Whatever he did he did with gusto and went after it with a single minded determination. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover a few years into his life that he takes more after his introverted mother. This child will play well with a few close friends, but everyone else gets the shy head duck. Even classmates he spent the past year with will be nearly strangers if he meets them in public.
A classic introvert, he wants to please and he craves affection. This can sometimes get him carried away with clowning around because he loves to make people laugh. He loves to get reactions from people. It has taken me several years to realize that this is his way of saying “Here I am, SEE me! Notice me!” I’m learning that what he really wants most is the connection, the hand on the shoulder, the smile, and the affirmation of who he is.
In solitude he has one of the richest imaginations I’ve ever seen. He will sit for hours by our refrigerator playing with the magnetic poetry words. Not so much reading them as turning them into characters in whatever elaborate story he happens to be making up at the moment. They are spaceships, they are monsters, and they are animals and people and a thousand other things living out their story on a white background. Give him outlets for his imagination and watch him come to life.
This desire for solitude will be your biggest challenge, as it is mine. There will be many days when he just doesn’t want to go to school. I’m beginning to suspect they are the days he just wants to hole up in the introvert cave and be silent, the days he wants it to be just him and me. Be gentle with him on those days. You will know them because he will arrive at school with tear streaked face and stubborn eyes. He’s lost the battle to stay home, and I’m counting on you to remind him that school can also be a safe and nurturing place.
Delight in and nurture his imagination.
Be patient with his frustration when he struggles to master a concept. (Anything linear; days of the week, time, math…these are the things he will struggle with.)
Be gentle but firm when he acts out. He will get carried away; he will need to be reminded.
Most of all, love him. Love him because I worry that loving him from a distance won’t be enough to carry him through his days. Love him because he is loveable. Love him because he is my child, because he is anybody’s child.
I’m giving you the sacred trust of helping to teach my child. I wouldn’t hand that over to just anybody. I wouldn’t hand HIM over to just anybody. Be worthy of that trust.