Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

When Parker was in first grade in Reno, he had the most extraordinary teacher. She was caring, compassionate, and intuitive about her students. She immediately recognized that Parker could benefit from spending part of the day in a second grade classroom (Reno’s schools were utterly backwards when it came to freeing teachers to teach to the student and forced them to follow a strict curriculum within the classroom). She was obviously willing to do what was best for Parker regardless of the adjustment it meant for her and her class.

Yet Parker, this bright, wonderful little boy who loved going to school, was forever negatively impacted by his experience with the second grade teacher to whom he was assigned.  No child should be so worried about getting detention for not getting homework done (in SECOND grade) that they cannot sleep at night!  No child should wake up in the morning afraid to go to school because he didn’t want “Mrs. M to yell at him again.”

Where everyone else in the school was willing to work with Parker and let him be who he was — a five year old little boy who didn’t know everything about the mechanics of school but needed the academic challenge—Mrs. M actually told him he was “too immature for second grade”  and told us she didn’t have the time to work with him. Parker’s failure in the second grade classroom was not his—it was Mrs. M’s.

I witnessed first-hand her demeanor with her students when I attended the school’s Halloween party and costume parade. All of the children in the school were excited and happy, but as we paraded through the buildings and entered Mrs. M’s class, all of her children were sitting quietly at their desks, working with their heads down. No costumes, no candy, no sign that they were even part of the same school as every other child. And when one or two children dared to raise their heads from their work to see the parade come through, Mrs. M yelled at them so sharply and threatened them so quickly with detention if they did not go back to work, that two other mothers and I talked amongst ourselves about who our children would NOT have for second grade the next year.

School is about learning and academics, yes. But elementary school is also about learning how to make friends, how to socialize, how to make your first Valentine box, and how to be a part of a community. Mrs. M’s children learned to keep their heads down and stay quiet to avoid her sharp sting.

When parents send children off to elementary school, we expect the teacher to be a sort of surrogate parent to our kids. Elementary school children are young and sometimes scared – and sometimes not as ready to be there as they should be. But 99% of the time they succeed because some teacher cared enough to make school a safe and wonderful place for them. Mrs. M did not do that.

We were disappointed that at such a young age we had to explain to Parker that there are mean people in the world and that even though he sees their actions, he needs to try hard not to become like they are or behave like they do. All it would have taken for Parker to be successful was the teacher’s compassion and five minutes of her time.

We have been so lucky since then…but it was that experience that helped us realize just how critical good teachers are.

I get frustrated when I think about how much money is wasted on political campaigns, Kelly Osbourne’s finger nails, and war when all of that money should be spent on paying the people who shape the minds of the future.

Thank you to all of the amazing teachers out there who work so hard to make a difference even as the job has become thankless and under-appreciated.