Ms. F is a difficult parent for me to write about because her children are so dear to my heart and because she is one of the parents I never actually met. Though I taught both her son (the older sibling) and her daughter, I never met Ms. F.
I taught her son two years in a row. I tutored both her children after school. I sponsored them and traveled with them on trips for the school drama club. I spent the week before her son’s graduation date in the counselor’s office with him making sure everything was in order and all credits made up so that he could walk across the stage. I cheered and cried myself hoarse at his graduation. And, I never met Ms. F.
I know she existed: Her children often talked about her. She signed referrals, permission slips, and grade reports when they went home. She occasionally responded to my text messages, and she met with other teachers on campus once or twice. I knew at least one teacher who she communicated with almost weekly about her children. I don’t know why Ms. F chose not to prioritize her relationship with me in the same way.
I spent the same energy and effort in reaching out to her as I did all parents. On the rare occasion I wrote one of her children up, I followed up with contact. I made myself available as best I could, and yet she never came. I’d like to think she didn’t prioritize our relationship because she felt she didn’t have to. Maybe her children communicated to her my classroom was one where they felt safe and supported and she could cross stopping by off the long and exhausting list of things to do that single parents carry around with them. I’ll never know.
What I do know is that Ms. F was not an “absent” parent even though I never met her.
Her children, though they were both behind in reading, both struggled with a variety of health problems, both often lacked materials, and both were frequently bullied by other students were some of the kindest and most respectful I knew. That I’m sure was due in part to their mother’s presence.
They were creative and imaginative and excellent musicians, an interest they shared because of their mother’s guidance and presence. Both children were proud of their school and proud of the larger community in a way I rarely saw mirrored in their peers and I know it was connected to their mother’s influence and presence.
Both children worked hard and urgently IF and WHEN they were given the proper tools to do so and despite the huge opportunity gap they personally experienced. Lastly, both children grew into responsible adults with stable jobs (even though her daughter did not get to walk on her graduation day) and heavy community involvement. I had other students in the same classroom as Ms. F’s children who experienced a much smaller opportunity gap and yet lacked any strong evidence that I could see of the same level of love and purpose.
It was just so apparent to me that Ms. F taught her children the importance of trust and responsibility, and though she will never know it she taught the same to me.
She taught me about the weight of the responsibility parents are trusting us with when they give us the privilege of teaching and influencing their children when parents have done all in their ability. I valued that trust. I meditated on it. I did not want to fail her, and I certainly did not want to fail her children.
When I was tempted to plan a week of lazy lessons without real scaffolding or purpose, I thought about Ms. F and her trust.
When I made the decision to keep extra supplies for students in a classroom “student center” area, I was thinking about Ms. F.
When I implemented systems like Remind in my classroom, it was to make it accessible to parents like Ms. F.
I do not know anything about Ms. F, not where she worked or if she worked, except that her children loved her, and that was enough for me. She loved them and trusted me to do the same and it was that charge that allowed me to create a classroom space where children like hers, that other teachers considered burdens, were classroom leaders and influencers.
Ms. F helped me to reshape my idea of an effective parent-teacher relationship, de-center myself in that context, and become a teacher that parents and students didn’t have to stress about.