Dear Kindergarten Teacher,
It’s finally here, the day you’ve been prepping for all summer. Despite the common misconception that teachers close their door in June and skip off to the beach until the day before school begins in August, I know the truth, because I’ve lived it. I was a kindergarten teacher.
I know the painstaking effort you’ve made to prepare your classroom and write my child’s name in a million different places to make him feel welcome. I know the hours spent ensuring pencils are sharpened, Crayola markers all have fresh ink, and white glue is not clogged (a magical skill uniquely possessed by teachers). I know the thoughts in your head as you survey the kids walking through the door today – some clinging to their parent’s legs, some diving right into Legos and books you so carefully set out on shelves for them to find. A constant observer, you’re memorizing faces, learning names, and matching parent to child so you may greet and dismiss them to their rightful guardian for the next 180 days.
When you ring the bell to start the day, you’re already taking them in. You notice who cleans up quickly to join you crisscrossed on the carpet, who worries about saving their block creation to finish later, and which child, with eyes averted, discretely wipes tears on their sleeve after reluctantly withdrawing from a lengthy goodbye hug – to embark on their first day of elementary school, here, in your care. You respond to each need with kind smiles, special corner shelves for half-built towers, and kleenexes tucked in your pocket.
When you teach kindergarten, you must be prepared for anything.
Still, no matter how many times you’ve done this, the first day of school is a butterflies-in-the-stomach inducing day of firsts – for you, for your students, and for their parents. (I am no less susceptible to being overcome with emotion, despite years of standing in your shoes.) Maybe because I taught kindergarten, I understand it’s a year of transformation and learning like no other.
These students in your classroom, some of them only just beginning to recognize letters and sounds, will learn to read. These little bodies, barely able to fasten shoes and zip up jackets, will leave here stringing letters together on a page that we can actually decipher. (Sometimes even with correct punctuation.!?) These little people who’ve been balancing between toddler and elementary schooler for the past few years are now today making the plunge into the Big Kid Pool. (Though to be honest their giant backpacks and brand new shoes make them look more like well-dressed turtles than Big Kids.)
For us, their parents, today is a day of mixed emotions. If you see hesitation in our eyes when we introduce ourselves, or we respond to your cheerful, “Nice to meet you,” with a nonsensical “Fine, how are you?” please trust that our distractedness has nothing to do with you. You are lovely. It truly isn’t you; it’s us.
For some, it’s our first kindergarten drop off, and we’re overcome with the massive realization that our oldest is taking one step further away from the baby once strapped to our chest – in what our minds are sure was only a moment ago. If it’s not our first go at this, you’d assume we’d be skipping out the door, ready for a much needed kid-free morning and an uninterrupted, hot latte. You’d think we’d be undeterred by the First Day of Kindergarten hoopla. But we have ridden this ride before, and we are chock-full of knowing how fast it goes.
Don’t blink, they say. So we don’t.
We keep one eye fixed on our little person, our hearts, exploring the classroom, finding names on a cubby you so lovingly prepared just for them, hovering near would-be friends unsure of how to join in. We appear aloof, and at times tearful, because we’re consumed with taking in all the firsts – and lasts – all at once.
Whether this is our first, only, or last baby to walk through your door, we’ve spent years preparing for this moment. Just as these children filling up your carefully laid out classroom are unique, our efforts look distinctly different on each of them. For some, just getting shoes on the right feet is an accomplishment worth celebrating, while others tie laces and fasten complicated buckles without a second thought. With love and encouragement, some of our kids have mastered drawing elaborate, colorful pictures of beaches and families, complete with hair and accessories. Others painstakingly eek out stick figures on an otherwise stark white page.
Regardless of the outcome, our goal has been the same; we’ve poured love into these little bodies since the day they became ours. We’ve been celebrating successes, supporting efforts, and soothing failed attempts like crazy these past years – in preparation for this very day – the one where our once-babies dip their toes into elementary school and become kindergarteners.
We’re acutely aware that these kids of ours will shed first wiggly teeth, cast aside training wheels, soar across monkey bars, and dive into the deep end of pools, triumphantly resurfacing to search for our approving cheers, before this year is finished. And now, they’ll also look to you – their first elementary school teacher – after first words are written, first spiny-backed dinosaurs are drawn, and first future best friends sit next to them at story time. Today you are joining us on this journey, the one where our kids grow another year older under our noses. The one where we let them go just a little bit more than we ever have before.
Welcome, we’ve been waiting to meet you. Thanks for your understanding as we linger a bit too long at the classroom door, watching our child find their spot on the rug and their place in this new world you’ve created for them. We just need a minute to take it all in.
It’s not you; it’s us. We’re trying not to blink.
The Parent of a Kindergartener
Jacque lives in California with her two boys (lively), two dogs (rescues), one cat (indifferent), and her husband (patient). She's at work on a memoir. Her writing can be found on The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, HuffPost, and more. You can also find her at writewhereiam and on Facebook and Twitter.