In early June, my younger daughter graduated from high school. Aside from my pride as a father of two high school graduates, both of whom are either starting or continuing college later this month, I was struck by another thought: We no longer have a child in our local public school system. After 16 years with kids in school, we no longer have open houses, conferences, concerts, ice cream socials, BINGO and family game nights, and the myriad of other events that parents with school-aged children attend year after year. These are bittersweet thoughts, for sure.
After coming to terms with the fact that this also means that I am old, I started to reflect on all of the experiences my kids had in school. My reflections may be slightly different than some other parents in the same situation because I can reflect through two distinctly different lenses: one as a father and one as a principal. Here are my “take-aways” from our experiences watching our kids proceed through the system.
My girls had many different teachers between their kindergarten and senior year of high school. Some were amazing and a few were mediocre. This includes all of the self-contained elementary teachers and the more content-centered middle and high school teachers. This also includes all of the specials teachers and a few special education teachers.
Upon reflection, here is what I learned during the last 16 years.
The very best teachers brought out the very best in my kids. There is no doubt about that.
- Over the course of the years, they each experienced some of the very best instruction possible – but not every year (see the next point).
- The girls learned in spite of the few mediocre teachers they had over the years. Why? Because we helped them persevere through the nine months in the classroom. We helped them understand that they had to take a certain amount of responsibility for their learning and successes, regardless of the circumstances of the classroom environment or the teacher’s instructional practices. No doubt they are better prepared for college and the world of work because of the variety of adults they had to deal with.
- The girls were placed in classes with and without their closest friends over the years, and they actually did better socially and academically in classes without their very best friends. They were forced to come out of their shells and make new and different friends. In addition, they were not as distracted as they would have been with their BFFs in class.
- There were times that both girls experienced failure and disappointment. But, they made it through these times, and they are stronger and much more resilient now because of these experiences (what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, right?).
- There were times that both girls felt the pain of teasing, exclusion, and “girl drama.” In some cases, this was quite severe, which was heartbreaking for my wife and me to watch. I also admit that there were times when they each doled out some not-so-nice comments and actions to others. But, I believe the girls are more sensitive, caring people now because of these experiences.
- Did we fight with them about homework, studying, watching too much TV, eating right, going to bed, playing video games, and all the rest? You bet we did. Did we survive? Absolutely! Were the teachers and staff members on our side all along the way to guide us through the tough times? Yep, and I truly appreciate that.
Yes, the years our kids go to school are stressful for us parents, and I can’t possibly explain how fast they have flown by. But as I look back, I wouldn’t trade any of it. I am very thankful to all of the adults in all three schools who were there to mentor, teach, encourage, assist, praise, and even scold my girls’ (hopefully not too many times!) throughout their journey.