Goodbye Elementary School: A Thank You to My Daughter’s Teachers

It’s hard to accept that my little girl is SO grown up—but it’s easy for me to thank you teachers who helped guide her on her way.

Isabelle, my fifth-grader, is about to graduate from elementary school—which is impossible because it was only a few months ago (in real time—not this awful, fake, speedy time which steals our babies from us) that she graduated from kindergarten. I can see her now, colorful reading train trailing over her sweet plaid dress, as she walked proudly to the front of the outside chapel-gathering to sing her song. I remember posting on my Facebook page that I cried, not because she was graduating from Kindergarten, but because I knew how quickly the rest of the elementary school years would fly. And I was right (which happens more than you’d think—just ask the husband).

The difficulty with accepting that she’s going to MIDDLE SCHOOL in August is that in my mind Isabelle is exactly the same as she was on that last day of Kindergarten—exactly. She may suddenly be impossibly tall, her feet may be one size smaller than my own, and she may know all kinds of things about math and science (that I either never knew to start with or lost during childbirth), but I still look at her and see a five-year old. This may be an occupational hazard of parenting; maybe she will always be five, even when she’s grown, and married, and long gone. Maybe other parents look at their babies and see the toddler, or the infant, or the ten-year-old, but for me five is the magic age—the age where I hit a mental freeze.

So, before I let my five-year-old go to middle school, I want to say something about the elementary years.

I have loved, truly adored, being the mama of a primary schooler. The early morning cheerio-filled rides to school together, hand-in-hand walks up the hill, goodbye-for-now hugs, and kisses blown during Christmas shows are indelibly printed on my heart. Even those hours I spent sticking cotton balls on a black shirt (she was a sheep), and the time I hosted an at-home birthday party where everyone threw up (before they’d eaten) have taken on a rosy, nostalgic glow. These were GOOD days, people. I suspected it while they were happening. I savored them. Okay, so in the interests of total honesty, I did not savor the glue gun burns or the vomit, but I think I recognized that they were a rite of passage.

When the husband and I tell people where Isabelle goes to school, we tend to sigh a bit over the word, Westminster. It means so much to us. Isabelle’s elementary school —that small brick building surrounded by trees on the edge of a creek—is a place packed full of love, sweetness, and God-breathed goodness. It is one of the reasons elementary school has been so great.

But I think that the main reason is her teachers.

From the moment that I walked my opinionated, pigtailed, and oh-so-beloved three-year-old into pre-school, she has been loved, nurtured, taught, disciplined, and loved some more by the best women I know.

I could probably write a book on all the things I want to thank Isabelle’s teachers for, but in honor of teacher-appreciation week and the end of elementary school for this mama and her girl: here’s the short list:

1.THANK YOU FOR YOUR DISCRETION

Unless you really get to know your kid’s teachers (and I think you should), you will never fully appreciate the discretion they exercise on a daily basis. If you think for one minute that your little angels know the difference between things “we share at school and things that are private,” you are sadly deluded. I first became enlightened in Kindergarten when the fabulous Mrs. Rasmussen stopped me as I was collecting Isabelle and said with an amused glint in her eye, “Emma, we prayed for your hairy legs today.” Let me give you some background, lest you run away with the image of me as a yeti. The night before, I had asked the husband to pick up some razor blades for me at the grocery store. In a not unprecedented move, he forgot to get the blades and brought home tea bags instead. Sadly, I was hormonal and temporarily incapable of grace. I banged plates and declared that I would “have hairy legs forever and that was fine with me. FINE.” I did not think the five-year old playing serenely with her stuffed animals was listening, but come prayer request time at school, she raised her chubby little fist and said the following: “Can we please pray for my Mommy’s hairy legs. She’s very upset about them.”  Discretion, people, is next to Godliness.

2. THANK YOU FOR BEING CREATIVE GENIUSES

I taught Isabelle to read when she was four because she had been asking me to before she could even say “th” properly —“Show me how to do dat, Mama. I do dat myself, okay?” I can tell you hand-on-heart that those reading program advertisements showing patient mothers holding their small ones in their laps, mother and child wearing matching joyful smiles while sounding out words are a LIE. It was mind numbing, frustrating, and soul destroying work. The fiftieth time that you explain that “home” is not pronounced “hommie,” a little piece of you dies. (Thank you Hope for teaching me that the sneaky e makes the vowel say its name—without that I may have lost what is left of my mind). However, despite the obvious difficulties involved in teaching small, fiery little souls who listen for five minutes and then declare, “I teach you, Mama. You listen to ME now,” Isabelle’s elementary school teachers have managed to instill in her knowledge and understanding of impossible things like fractions, long division, scientific methods and principles, astronomy, grammar, literature, the bible, Latin, Spanish, handwriting, music, P.E., and art. Clearly her elementary school teachers are superior mortals, capable of great patience, nobility, and creativity, so I treat them accordingly.

3. THANK YOU FOR THE WISDOM

Every now and then, someone we know, a friend, an acquaintance, or even a stranger, will compliment Isabelle. When that happens, I always think of her teachers. The husband and I work hard at home to teach Isabelle to be kind, to be respectful, to work hard, to love others well, but her teachers have INSPIRED her to do those things, which is a different thing altogether. I can’t tell you how many times a day, I hear the words, “When this happened, I remembered what Mrs. Booth told me about…” or “Mrs. Ras always says that we should…” or “Mrs. Moore thinks that…” (The list of the names of all the people who know more than me goes on and on…). And all of these statements seem to end in wisdom. Seriously, I find myself thinking sometimes before I act, “Well, Mrs. _________ would probably say…” Thank you beloved teachers for somehow knowing ALL of the important things and for teaching them to my child (so she can in turn teach her mother). “Train up a child in the way that she should go: and when she is old, she will not depart from it.” (I played around with the pronouns here, but it’s mostly Proverbs 22:6). Elementary school teachers, you have trained my child so very well. She will live a better life because of your faithfulness.

Mrs. Rasmussen, Mrs. Moore, Mrs. Booth, Mrs. Howard, Mrs. Cohron, Mrs. Ferris, Mrs. White, Mrs. Schaefer, Mrs. Masters, Mrs. C., Mrs. Lavender, Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Kirsche, Mrs. Stowe, Ms. Hauntsman, Mr. Donatelli — from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. Please know that your names are spoken with awe and love at the Stephens’ household. You are adored, and prayed for, and appreciated, and although I won’t have a child in elementary school anymore (sob), I hope we will be friends always.

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This article originally appeared at England Writes.

Emma Stephens
An English girl turned southerner, Emma lives in Athens, Georgia with her American husband, their eleven-year old daughter, Isabelle, and frequent visits from their adult children Kasey and Katlin. Emma teaches high school English, and when she’s not grading papers or buried in a novel, she writes! An SCBWI prize recipient, she is currently working on a novel for young adults. You can connect with Emma at englandwrites.wordpress.com or on Facebook @emmabowerstephens.

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