For 25 years, I dreaded August. Not because of my anxieties as a parent. But because of my anxieties as a teacher whose inclusive fourth grade classroom contained a high percentage of special need and at risk students.
What made me anxious?
Getting the classroom in order.
New procedures that ate away at preparation and teaching time.
Not having the resources to meet expectations of parents and administrators.
Not meeting the needs of my students.
One additional item created more anxiety than anything else on the list.
Mama Bears. Or Papa Bears. Also known as Mama Tigers. Or Papa Tigers.
They were the parents who climbed the stairs to my classroom on the first day of school with a chip on their shoulders so wide their kids walked a few steps behind them. Their kids looked embarrassed. And scared. And anxious. Just like me. With one difference. I understood they’d become Mama and Papa Bears for a reason.
They were fighting for their children’s futures.
By the time their kids reached fourth grade, they’d been fighting for a long time. They’d been to countless conferences where teachers were bearers of bad news:
Your child’s behavior isn’t age-appropriate.
Your child isn’t reading at grade level.
Your child doesn’t get along with others.
Your child doesn’t listen.
Your child is falling behind.
Your child needs a different placement.
By the time their kids were in fourth grade, after innumerable negative experiences, they perceived their relationships with teachers as us versus them.
But kids need parents who can move from us versus them to we.
Which isn’t the easiest shift to make for parents of kids with shaky school histories. But it’s still worth doing. Because parents and teachers need to work together so kids with special needs have the best learning environment and support system possible.
With some parents, the shift in perception happened more quickly than with others. Those parents tended to share the following common characteristics:
- Their self-image didn’t depend on their children’s school success. They could separate themselves from their children. They weren’t undone when their kids failed a spelling test. They still wanted the best for a child and expected differentiated teaching for them. They still worried about their kids’ futures. But their focus was on their kids, not on themselves.
- They had more than one role in life. Moms and dads who could make the shift considered their parental roles as crucial. But they had other roles, too. Roles as spouses, as part of extended families, as friends, as employees, as volunteers, and so on.
- They responded to kindness and compassion. Parents who could make the shift responded to overtures wrapped in kindness and compassion. Sure, their hackles bristled when I had to bring up concerns at conferences. But when I said, “You care about your child, and I care about your child. Now let’s find a way to work together to help your child,” their hackles went down, and we problem-solved together.
- They were reasonable. They understood what schools are and aren’t required to do according to special education law and made reasonable demands. (To learn more about special education law, visit Wrightslaw for more information.)
- They were persistent and polite. When they knew their requests were reasonable, they politely persisted until those requests were met.
If your past experience has you feeling anxious about the school year ahead, perhaps God is calling you to examine your heart for an us versus them attitude. Perhaps he’s calling you to move from us versus them to we as the new school year begins. After all, his mercies toward you are new every morning (Lam. 3:23-24). Perhaps he’s calling you to extend new mercies this school year, too.