Last week, I wrote to you about teachers being America’s overlooked co-parents. I want you to know that this is not a theory that I’ve merely postulated. It is a reality that my children and I have lived. You see, I raised my kids, Christian and Cereta, as a single mother for the majority of their lives. It’s the hardest, most compelling work I’ve ever done. By all accounts, thank God, they have turned out well but I can hardly take all the credit for that. Their teachers can revel in that joy as well.
For a significant part of my son’s and daughter’s childhood years (six years to be exact), I was rebuilding my life and theirs by going back to college, completing my higher education, and establishing my career as a teacher. Had it not been for my support systems, I could not have successfully accomplished these feats. My children’s schools and teachers were a huge component of our support system — bigger than they ever really got credit for.
I know without a shadow of a doubt, now that the shoe is on the other foot and I am the teacher, that without the gentle love of Ms. Woods and Mrs. Furlong, both of my kids’ third-grade teacher; the patient understanding of Mrs. Keane, their fourth-grade teacher; and the stern nurturing of Ms. Bergeron, both my kids’ fifth-grade teacher (just to name a few), we would have struggled a lot more than we did to overcome the obstacles that are inherent in single-parent households.
The most significant challenges I faced as a single parent were lack of financial resources and emotional depletion. In an effort to deal with these challenges, I relied heavily on my faith in God and worked several jobs, at times, to see my children and I through. I was often really tired and unsure of where the next dollar was coming from or how I was going to go grocery shopping, cook dinner, help them with their home work, do a load of laundry AND write a six-page essay before my class the next morning. Their teachers provided supplies and supports to help them with not only their school work when I was running late to pick them up from school — usually because I had my own project for school to complete and submit — but with their social-emotional well-being. They poured their love into them love like great parents — I mean teachers! — do.
My family, like most single-parent households, was different from two-parent families in that my children had to grow up more quickly and had more responsibilities than many of their two-parent household counterparts. Their teachers turned that fact, which could have been perceived by them as a negative part of their little lives, into a positive attribute by helping me train my children to be leaders and to help them see their inner strength as a gift. It was my children’s teachers who encouraged them to write journals, poems, and narratives about their lives as a life-long outlet for both their frustrations and their celebrations. They took the time to get to know me, as well, and to cheer me on with each milestone of my education and career that I achieved. They became a part of our family.
I’m grateful that I’ve lived long enough to become a teacher and have had the chance to pay these kindnesses forward to many of the precious young people who have passed through my classroom over the years. Teaching is, no question, a work of heart, and I think it safe to say that most people, when reflecting honestly on their life’s accomplishments, will attribute some measure of earnest gratitude and appreciation to a teacher who simply believed in them. A teacher who simply cared. A teacher who took the time to notice them outside of class. A teacher who gave them a pencil without them having to ask for it because he knew that they were embarrassed about not having one in the first place. A teacher who poured goodness into them and asked for nothing in return — except that they be their personal best. A teacher who, although 20 years had passed, remembered their name as if they’d just called in from the attendance sheet yesterday.
Thank you to all the teachers who did all of this and more for my Christian and Cereta. You are respected and loved more than any blog post could ever adequately convey. Please accept this humble attempt, on behalf of myself and all the other single-parents (former or current), to acknowledge your greatness.