Opinion

Teacher writes open letter to parents of an average child

One BC teacher issues a public apology to parents of "average" children who may not receive the same attention as her higher-need students.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Dear Parent of the Average Child,

I’m sorry. Your child is wonderful. She is always at school on time, does her homework almost every day, works well on her own and is patient with those around her. I really wanted to go tell your daughter how proud of her, of the work she was doing today.

So begins a letter penned by a first grade French Immersion teacher in BC. She goes on to say that every time she remembered the average child, she got pulled away by a child whose needs were higher, whose yells were louder. So the average child didn’t get any special attention, she didn’t get any little affirmations, or a pat on the back. She didn’t get it because she was too good.

As a parent of both an average, nice child and a noisy square peg, I know first-hand which of my kids gets more attention in the classroom. It reminds me of the time that my middle son’s nursery school teacher said to me: “He’s so quiet. It’s like we don’t even know he is here.” I think she meant it as a compliment. It wasn’t. You never want a teacher to find your child unremarkable. Otherwise how do they get what they need?

All parents know that the squeakiest wheel gets the oil in a classroom. And often even the kids who don’t have any squeaky parts at the beginning of the year, find ways to get attention by the end—for better or worse.

Resources are so scarce in schools that teachers can end up being more social worker than educator. Kids who come to school hungry or stressed or dealing with serious health issues are not going to be able to sit quietly and learn, and so it falls on to the teacher to deal with their needs before they get to multiplication tables.

The author of the letter asks parents to tell their average child how much she is appreciated:

I realised after a day of running from child to child and crisis to crisis, I never did get a chance to check-in with her today. I don’t mean to leave your daughter alone but she seems to be doing just fine without me. I hope it is true. I’m sorry. I feel terrible. Would you mind telling her how proud I am of her? Let her know I appreciate her? I will check in with her tomorrow.

I just hope that when the average student’s needs rise to the top, and that she is able to speak up and show that she is not at all average. She is just as demanding and special as every other child in that room. Whether or not the teacher has time to deal with her is another story. And one that the government has a role in.

In both BC and Ontario, there have been ongoing discussions and job actions by the teachers that will affect what kind of education system we have moving forward. The author of the post added a note saying how worried she is about the future:

I have 23 little treasures in my room. I care about them all. I want to teach them all and see them all succeed. I’ve had more days like this one than I would like to admit. When I think about a classroom without class limits or I think about a school system with even less specialist teachers and less services for our students, I worry. I wonder how many average kids go unseen everyday. I honestly don’t think I can do this job under those conditions. Somedays I wonder how I do it now. I know for a fact I won’t be able to do it well.

Whether you have an “average” child or a “squeaky wheel” child, how the education system supports all kids is something to think about as we head into an election here in Ontario and teachers battle it out with the government in BC.

I would love to hear from some parents teachers on this. Do you think the “average” kids in your classroom are ignored? Is there such a thing as an average child?

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.