Your Best Year

Dear Danny,

There is boy at my school that reminds me a lot of you. 

At least, he did last year when I was in the position to observe him more frequently.  He wasn’t one of the students in my class; he was in the general education class and I would see him almost every day when I went to specials with our students. 

I’m not sure why he brought you to my mind the way that he did; he was certainly different in more ways that not.  Still, there was something so familiar about the way he worked to hold it together in a world that was simply more treacherous for him. In a world where teachers carry clipboards and radios everywhere they go. 

Some of his days were better than others.

One day on my way to lunch about 2 months into my teaching job I saw him in the hallway outside of the cafeteria having a truly epic meltdown.   He was sobbing and screaming; sending out into the world an assault that was both physical and verbal, firing off in all directions like a loose cannon. 
I desperately wanted to help, but even then I knew what I didn’t know about situations like this.  I walked past quickly trying not to add to the chaos, knowing that a meltdown outside of a busy café is already bad enough. 
But as I passed them I was able to see and hear something that hadn’t been obvious from down the hall; his teacher, huddled down on the floor next to him.  Her words firmly but calmly giving him the steps he needed to take to recover, over and over again.  Her body absorbing the energy of his panic and the gravity of his fall.  Her own lunch and planning time, slipping through the hour glass unnoticed as she dug deeper into her arsenal looking for a strategy that would work.  

I left school late that afternoon.  On my way out I saw his teachers sitting on the couches in the office with their heads in their hands – well outside of contract hours – still searching for the answer. 

And I cried on the way to my car. 

Not because you have had days like that, Danny, but because you have had teachers like that.

*****
Today was the last day of your second grade year.  It truly doesn’t seem possible: somehow, even with all of the bumps and turns along the way, here you are.  Right on time.  Right at the end of what was maybe your best year ever. 

A year filled with academic and social gains that I would not have thought possible as little as 6 months ago. 

A year where one of your biggest behavior challenges was talking too much. 

A year where you came home with poetry about math, saying that it made you feel proud.   

Today was also your last day with this awesome teacher. 

And we are a little nervous about it.  

More importantly, you seem to be a little nervous about it.  So I think we should talk.

At this point in your education, Danny, you are receiving about 95% of your lessons in the classroom with your peers. You do have a lot of help, though, and that help is what brought Mrs. R to your team.  For 2 years she has been a part of your class and she deserves no small part of the credit for the miraculous progress that you have made in that time.  She guided you with both compassion and expectation; she held you accountable to what she knew you were capable of and nothing less.  She cheered you on in your greatest achievements and showed you grace and kindness in your most blistering falls. 

She stood in the gap for us as parents and went out of her way to be sure that I always felt like a part of your life at school.  She advocated for you in the moments when I couldn’t.

Amazing photo, courtesy of Mrs. R
And somehow you will move on to 3rd grade – the grade where “learning to read” becomes “reading to learn” and parents flood social media with questions like “How much homework does YOUR kid have?” – without her.

Mrs. R is almost irreplaceable.

Almost.

The thing is, dude, you have never had a bad teacher.  Not once.  And trust me buddy: for being 7 years old you have had A LOT of teachers.

  
You’ve had teachers in their first year of teaching, and experienced veterans.  You’ve had men and women and many different nationalities and not a one of them has left you unchanged.  Even in the last two years, as you connected to Mrs. R and grew under her mentorship, you have had 2 other teachers and a team of aides that have become like family to you.  This year you defined yourself by whose class you were in and cared so deeply for your teacher’s opinion of you that even on the weekends when things went wrong you would say:  “Mommy, please don’t tell Miss S.”

(And oh, Miss S.  Gosh, we are going to miss her too.  The 2nd grade teacher I wrote to at the beginning of the year when I only knew her name.  Who was everything I prayed for.   Who went so far above and beyond when it came to you that she would have needed a telescope to see where her efforts could have ended.)

It is an unfortunate side effect of your emotional growth that you are now aware of “good-byes” as they happen.  There was time not that long ago that people could come and go from your life and you would just barely take note: the loss would be unexpected and give you a bit of an emotional limp for a time, but you couldn’t anticipate the feeling. 

Now, with your words and your heart more in sync than ever, you know when you are about to “really miss someone”.  And while it will always break my heart to know that you are sad, I will never take for granted the opportunity it gives me to see how you love. 


In the last week of school, Mrs. R gave you a book.  A beautiful book, full of words you can read and concepts you understand.  But she also wrote you a letter.

And while what she wrote to you is beautiful, it isn’t what she wrote that stands out to me.  It is that she listened well enough to our story to know that I keep this journal of letters to you and wanted to join the conversation, whenever you are ready to have it. 

So believe me kiddo.  Mommy is going to “really miss her” too.

*****
That boy I told you about at my school?  The first interaction I had with him this year was better than the best conversations we’d had the prior year.  He told me he really liked his teacher and that they were doing cool things in class.  From what I can tell, he had a great year.  

And of course he did:  he has a great team behind him.

And Danny, so do you.
We are going to have a great summer kiddo.  And then we are going to kick 3rd grade’s butt. 

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