Growing up is hard. Sometimes, I forget that a little bit, and I don’t give my children quite enough grace as they figure things out and learn lessons. Other times, though, the giant invisible hand of God’s Own Spirit reaches out and clamps over my mouth, whispering into my ear, “Shhhhh. Only say kind, gentle, helpful things right now. This kid’s still learning.”
This is my Jackson. He’s in fourth grade. Y’all, fourth grade is hard! H.A.R.D. Hard. I think it is the hardest grade of all. There is so much schoolwork to learn. So many state Standards of Learning tests. So many details and maps and people in Virginia history. (Virginia has a LOT of history! Like Virginia is such an overachiever and show-off in the history books! Really, Virginia, you need to have such important roles in Native American history, the European settlement of this land, the Revolutionary War, AND the Civil War? Give another state a chance already!) And math takes a giant leap between third and fourth grade. I don’t know; it just seems like schoolwork is injected with steroids or something at the beginning of fourth grade. And then some pre-puberty hormones kick in. Which doesn’t at all seem fair! Just as school gets extra hard, their emotions start getting all wonky and they develop an actual need for deodorant. But that’s fourth grade. H.A.R.D. Hard.
This year, Jackson has been learning so much. All the math and social studies and science and writing things. All those hard things. And also a bunch of the other hard things – how to be a good friend, how to work hard and not give up, how to be responsible, how to be funny but appropriate, how to be funny without hurting other people, how to not get caught up with the crowd in bullying or being mean. So many big lessons.
Yesterday, we had a conference with his teacher. The usual mid-semester conference to check in and take the temperature and check the pulse of this child and this school year. Jackson showed me some of his work and told me what he’s most proud of and what he wants to work on and how he feels about the grades he’s earning and the work he’s doing. Last week, we had a conversation at home about how just one “zero” can affect a grade, pulling an average down an entire letter grade. We had talked about the benefits of learning this lesson in elementary school and the importance of trying. Yesterday, as Jackson and I looked at some of his work, we talked about different kinds of “C” work. If we work really hard and do our very best and earn a “C,” then that is a “C” to be proud of! But if we don’t do half the work and make a “C,” then that is a “C” to feel disappointed about. Showing up and trying is important.
So Jackson was telling me that he is really proud that since he realized last week how much a “zero” hurts a grade and is a bad choice, he has made better choices and has worked harder at completing work. He said, “I’m really proud that I learned a lesson and that I’m changing. I’m doing better.”
When his teacher joined our conversation, she affirmed that, yes, she does see a difference already. Then, smack in the middle of a really hectic, busy, exhausting week, this teacher said something that breathed air and life back into this momma’s sails. I’m pretty sure a bright spotlight shone down from heaven and a choir of angels began singing quiet background music as she spoke. This sweet, sweet teacher said,
“Jackson, one thing I love about you is that you learn from your mistakes. This year, you have made some mistakes and bad choices, but you always learn from them. You listen to us and then you make better choices. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone does that. Not every adult does that! But you do! You are good at learning from your mistakes. And I’m really proud of you.”
And she gave him a high five. And he grew an inch and a half on the spot and his face lit up with a huge smile. And I just wanted to scoop this little teacher up in a hug and squeeze her and blubber-cry all over her. Because yes! This! This teacher sees my kid! She sees beyond his mistakes and she is gentle with him and she gets that he is still learning. She gives him an opportunity to learn from his mistakes because of her grace and kindness. And so he does.
Fourth grade is hard. H.A.R.D. Hard. But it is a little bit less hard when you have a teacher who leaves space for mistakes and growth. When you have a teacher who says kind, gentle, helpful things because she knows her students are still learning.