I often reflect on my first years as a teacher. One of my kindergarten classes was especially memorable, full of zany characters. I remember one kid in particular, who I'll call "Freddy."
Freddy was a charming boy, but had absolutely no impulse control. If I gave him blocks, he'd throw them. He never missed the chance to poke his neighbors. If our school had had a transitional kindergarten at the time, he would have been the perfect candidate.
That January, I attended a workshop on how to use think-pair-sharing, and decided to try it out. But who could I pair Freddy with? What angelic child could guide him to more productive behavior, and not run screaming from his wackiness?
At last, I paired Freddy with "Janine." She was kind, smart, and a bit motherly, to boot. With trepidation, I started partner sharing, and the two students actually seemed to do okay together.
One day Janine's mother approached me after school. "That Freddy..." she began. Oh, no! I just knew she was going to ask that Janine be assigned to a different partner. "Yes?" I prompted. "Freddy's cold has just been driving Janine crazy!" the mom lamented. "She's constantly having to remind him: 'Freddy, blow your nose. Freddy, blow your nose.'"
What a relief! If this was the worst she could say, it was clear where Janine had learned how to be kind. There were so many nasty remarks that her mom could have made, so many annoying behaviors to comment upon, so many reasons to blame me and Freddy for making her daughter lose out, but she chose not to.
Which makes me reflect on all of the tolerant, kind, and empathetic parents and students that I've had over the past decade and a half. When given the chance to throw stones or indulge in gossip, they instead put an arm around a difficult kid and make him feel loved. When listening to parent complaints about a girl who throws tantrums, they quietly remind other parents that the girl has a difficult life and is doing the best she can. When deciding whom to invite to a birthday party, they are sure to ask the shy and awkward classmate so he doesn't feel left out.
It is these parents who are my unsung heroes. They know that public education means that everyone has a place in the classroom. That includes the annoying kids, the struggling kids, and the kids whose behavior makes us cringe.
These are the parents who know that our school and our society benefit when we all give a little more, and complain a little less, than we want to.
These are the parents with impulse control.