Letter to a Middle School Parent

Mommas and daddies of middle-schoolers, I have to tell you something.

We pretend like the first day of kindergarten was the hardest first day.
We pretend like those tears we shed were just a one-time thing, and that it’s just because they’re so small and vulnerable.

That’s a lie.

Listen, we know how hard it is to send your vulnerable not-always-little guys off to a building with 1000 other vulnerable kids just like yours. It may even be harder than that time you discreetly wiped tears as your 5-year-old ran to climb the huge orange slide. 

Because so many of our 5-year-olds knew what they wanted out of life, at least that day, and that was enough. They were looking for fun, they were looking for knowledge, they were looking for friends. And many of them just knew that those things were waiting for them on that playground. That kindergartener knew that his answers were right, that her parents loved her, and somehow that friends would miraculously appear. Even if he wasn’t sure, you could be sure for him. You knew that, even if not right away, she'd make friends, letter sounds would click, and she'd do great. You may not have thought you knew that, but, you did. Deep down, you knew your kid would eventually learn to read, with very few exceptions to that rule. Sure, we worried, but we really figured it would all work out in kindergarten. But now, your sweet little boy or girl knows that school can be hard, and friends come and go, and that when they're gone, it hurts. She knows about insults and rumors. He is so unsure of everything, and nothing you can say can bring back that 5-year-old confidence you once admired. What's worse, is you no longer have that deep-down assurance. 

Like your child, your fears have grown. They're bigger and hairier and maybe even an octave lower. It's not a matter of "Will the other kids let him play tag?" anymore. Now it's school shootings, and bullying, and suicide, and sex. And even when it’s not those, it’s the right friends, and for your kid, the right clothes, and suddenly that’s a puzzle you can’t decipher.

Look away from that hairy fear. I want you to look over here at me, your kid’s teacher.
What you need to know is that we know. And we care. 

We know how hard it is. For you and your kid. 
We know what it's like to walk down those halls, lockers slamming, basketball players rushing past, girls snickering, and wonder what planet you fell onto, and how to survive. 
We may not know what it's like to watch your child walk through those big double doors, but we try to imagine (and some of us do know). 

We know which kids are quieter and have a hard time finding friends.
We know which kids are louder, but are really insecure.
We know they struggle with concepts that are beyond them for a time. 
We know they’re just trying to figure out who they are and where they stand. 
We know they’re stranded somewhere between kids and teenagers, a place our culture doesn’t acknowledge.

We know all these things because we care about them.
We care for them because we want so many things for them.

We want them to succeed.
We want them to be people who have compassion for each other, who not only see, but fight for the underdog.
We want to see them figure out that they have a talent for something, and how to make it grow. 
We want to protect them, and keep them safe from all types of harm. 

We will never care or watch as carefully as you do. Maybe that's good. This is an early step of the process to becoming an adult who does all of these things outside the view of his guardians. They have to learn how they will stand when you're not there. But, for now, when you're not there, they're not alone. They have us. Watching them, cheering them on, fighting for them to accomplish the challenges that necessarily are put in their way. 

You remember how hard it was to walk away from that small human that first day of kindergarten? It might actually be harder to drive away from a middle school, knowing what awaits them inside. But, just like back then, they have a teacher - or 6 or 7 - who is waiting for them with a smile, hoping to calm their fears and create a safe place to become the teenager they will soon be. 

One more thing. This letter isn't only for you. It's for me. See, we teachers are sometimes parents too. We see your kid walk in our room, and we see our own. This week, I dropped off a kindergartener and a middle-schooler, (and a 2nd grader for the first time in public school, and a 4th grader who hated public school, and a preschooler for the first time - momma's gonna need a good cry), and I had that same feeling of entrusting my very heart to another person each time.

Relax, mommas and daddies, myself included. They're in good hands. 
A middle-school teacher