August 27, 2018

The Lesson That Took Me 12 School Open Houses to Learn

By Veronica Rivera

I still remember my and my son’s first open house. All those crayons, his new backpack, all the excitement from new classmates, a new classroom, but most importantly, a new teacher. Wow—it is hard to believe my little one now is a “senior.” Moms are always going above and beyond, and I already started buying decorations at garage sales for his 2019 graduation party. I still keep a letter that his first-grade teacher sent to him at the end of the year. Oh! I’m so proud of him.

This week, my son will attend his last open house, and my little one will attend her first. For me, it’s my twelfth open house. The new school supplies, the excitement—that all feels the same. But I feel different.

When my son started school, I was young. I trusted, my husband and I trusted, in each and every teacher. My mom is a teacher and all seven of my aunts are also teachers and obviously I trust them. I expected that teachers would expect the most of my son, that they would take care of him, that they would communicate with me if they had concerns about his academic progress. But the reality was different. Today, I know from experience that when teachers see us, his parents, their expectations change. I wish I knew this from the beginning.

My son started as an ESL student and during his first five years he couldn’t read at grade-level. Today, I realize that that was always the expectation teachers had for him. I find it unbelievable that when I asked why or how in the world that was possible, the teachers always said, “He is okay, not all the kids read in third grade.” When MCA results came back and he was not proficient, they said, “No worries, the MCA is not that important, he is okay.”

I trusted and waited. And my son, he remained the most positive, fun, and enthusiastic boy, despite the many challenges he was experiencing in school. I trusted and waited.

“I’m going to start expressing my expectations from my children’s teachers. My expectation that they will see my children’s full potential, and communicate with me when they have concerns.”

I really wish I knew then that teachers would expect less from him because his parents are not physically like them and speak with a hard accent, because he has two long unpronounceable last names, and he talks loud and laughs hard and yes, he is noisy. I really wish they knew that I expected each of them to be, or at least try to be, the best teacher in my son’s life.

Things didn’t improve that much during middle school, even as teachers continued to tell me, “He is okay.” I can’t explain how much I hate hearing that. “He is okay.” And I ended up paying for two years of tutoring, so he could have an ACT score that was “okay.”

I really wish I knew from the beginning. But, at least I know now.

I’m preparing for my twelfth open house a little different this year. The backpacks are ready, clothes and a big rainbow bow are in the closet. I’ll keep trusting, but I’m going to stop waiting.

I’m going to start expressing my expectations for my children’s teachers. My expectation that they will see my children’s full potential, and communicate with me when they have concerns. My expectation of a humble acceptance of how little cultural awareness they have. My expectation for their willingness to see that my child—their student—is deeply affected by a broken system with lifelong consequence for our future. My expectation that they will try to understand that we all need to work differently now, not tomorrow.

My expectation that, in no time, I will be buying decorations for my daughter’s 2030 graduation party. And my expectation that my daughter will be more than okay.

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