I won’t forget the first day my son walked into his pre-K classroom in the fall of 2016. Filled with anxiety, I did the same thing I always do when control is out of my hands: approach the challenge head on, assertively, with forced casual conservation mixed with the unneccessary intensity that pegs me as the crazy woman that I actually am.
“Hi, great to see you again. That’s my son over by the books. His name is Sebastian. He’s a wonderful boy but also highly active. I was wondering when I can come volunteer to help you during the day,” I said, apprehension oozing through my clenched teeth.
I had introduced myself months before (though she probably didn’t remember), during the previous school year, and she responded to my presence with the same aloof, unbothered sentiment that she gave me back then. My son’s teacher went on to decline my volunteerism, stating that she was sure Sebastian would be a joy. She was not concerned.I won’t forget that moment because I went home in tears. On one hand, I wanted his teacher to know that this boy had a bear for a mama. That this Black boy won’t be a label or a statistic. That this impossibly active, super immature, beautifully tender, highly social, superhero-obsessed, boy with boundless energy–my boy–deserved to fall in love with learning. He deserves to feel great–and that that would only happen if she was great.
And then, on the other hand, maybe she is great? Perhaps Sebastian is a joy? I mean, even after the lackluster previous year of preschool, who’s to say pre-K wouldn’t be amazing?
So I handed my soul to his teacher.
The One Thing She Does
It wasn’t until a month or so into the school year that I really began to notice the beauty of her teaching style. There were so many interesting nuances to the way she engaged the kids and, it was impossible to deny, Sebastian was flourishing under her care. Suddenly, her aloof demeanor translated as confidence. Her unbothered sentiment was not a dismissal of my concerns, but the recognition that every single one of her students would feel loved.
But it was this ONE thing his teacher did that really changed everything for us. Perhaps because I’m Latina and my culture tends to be extremely affectionate I noticed the body language right away. I watched how her ritual would dissipate his active energy as he walked into the classroom each morning – helping him to be mindful of the expectations he was now responsible for. I was in awe as she released my son to me each afternoon, signaling the end of the school day, gripping his love of learning for one more fleeting moment. Eventually, I asked the other moms from his class if they had noticed it too because, honestly, I was amazed at how simple and effective it all was.
At the beginning and the end of every single school day, Sebastian’s teacher will gently grip his shoulders and hug him. In addition to greeting each child, she would physically tell her students how happy she was that they were there. Her hugs tell my son, “I see you. I love you. I expect greatness from you.”
Sebastian’s pre-K teacher is the stuff of miracles. No doubt about it – Mrs. B will go down as one the best teachers he’ll ever have. He adores her and is relentless in his pursuit to please her with good behavior and excitement of learning.
Not a single day goes by that we don’t tell Mrs. B how grateful we are for her. Each night, we pray for her. When her kids are sick, we pray for them too. During dinner, we share three things that made us grateful that day and, without fail, Mrs. B is always somewhere on Sebastian’s list.
And though, in my intensively awkward way, I try to impress upon her the foundation she’s laid for his early education; to impress upon her how no one can ever compare; the impact she’s made on my son’s life, she’s still aloof about it all.
“Sebastian is such a joy” is all she ever says.