What you should know about… your child’s teacher

by Camile Biggs.

In honor of the school year rapidly coming to a close, let me tell you what you should know about your child’s elementary teacher.

Let me begin by saying I don’t know your child’s teacher. I don’t know how long he or she has been in it, and I don’t know whether you like him or her. What I do know is that your child’s teacher isn’t given nearly enough credit.

This is the teacher with way too many kids in class. Held to standards stating that math, writing, reading, social studies, and science all need to be taught in the 6 hours of school each day (5 after specialist classes and lunch) with about an hour and a half – in half hour increments – to prepare the day’s lessons. That art, health, computer skills, character education, and life skills should also be taught; yet they aren’t the main focus, so a teacher has to get creative about how to include them. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Surely an hour and a half every day should be ample time to prepare.” Sure. In text it even makes me question why I couldn’t ever do it. But what that list of to-do’s doesn’t show is student, parent, or teacher interactions–not to mention finding quality resources. Think of how easily you can clean your house without any or all of the following: children needing your love and attention, resolving a conflict between your children, the phone ringing with your mom on the other end asking “What are we going to do to help your brother?”, or your neighbor coming over to consult on a fence issue–all of course unannounced and not good enough excuses for why your house isn’t clean by tomorrow, therefore making you work later when distractions are fewer.

I’ll say it bluntly: your child’s teacher isn’t only working while your kid is at school.

I have heard many different people allude to how nice it would be to work from 8am-3pm. My reaction to that every time is that “YES, it would be nice.” Do you realize your child’s teacher spends hours outside of her contract hours preparing for school? That your child’s teacher recruits family members to help cut, record, grade, or otherwise donate time to your student so your child’s teacher has a little more time with her own family? A friend of mine said her husband referred to his help in her classroom as his second job.

In reality, a teacher never feels completely “caught up.” I don’t know a single teacher that leaves work at work. The emotional ties with students are constantly on a teacher’s mind, not to mention the desire to help each child despite circumstances outside of school. A teacher can’t even go to the grocery store without wondering what needs to be picked up for the next week’s lessons or activities. Then, of course there are all of those “teacher days” that I hear so many people complain about–you know, the ones where the students don’t have school but the teachers do. I wish I could say those made up the difference of time needed to prepare, but they never do. Your child’s teacher also goes to school on weekends, summer vacation, and even during Christmas break–and feels guilty if by chance it doesn’t happen as much as he or she would have liked.

Taking a sick day isn’t likely unless absolutely necessary because a teacher has to have all the work they would do lined out for a substitute. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but just try writing down directions of exactly how to clean your house for a stranger – complete with the order of where to start, where to find supplies, how to operate appliances, how to keep the children behaved while trying to clean, how long each task should take, and so on. I’d say the two are pretty similar. It takes longer to write the instructions and put out the materials than it would take to just do it yourself.

I taught 3rd grade for four years. I have been away from it for two years only experiencing it vicariously through my husband, who teaches 6th grade. On some days I miss teaching terribly. Did you know that your child’s teacher may cry at the end of the school year at the thought of students moving on? Granted, this is the same teacher that questioned “Why am I a teacher?” so many days throughout the school year. It’s an interesting experience.

Your child’s teacher doesn’t teach to make a living, he or she does it to make a difference in your student’s life.

Your child’s teacher plays kickball at recess, does class cheers, washes student clothing at school, helps scrub dirt from arms, gives hugs when moms or dads are mad in the morning, listens to dreams and wishes, watches them grow and measures their growth, catches them cheating, helps them resolve fights with friends, hangs up their pictures on display, jokes just to make them smile, and eats lunch with them on occasion. Yet, does your child’s teacher know if you have liked him or her as a teacher for your child?

You might be surprised by how little feedback (that is, positive feedback) your child’s teacher gets from parents. So, here’s your assignment: Write a thank you note to your child’s teacher expressing at least one specific thing you liked about him or her this year. It would surprise you how much that kind of note would mean to your child’s teacher.

Class dismissed.

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Editor’s note: this is part of a series of posts aiming to draw on our collective knowledge and enrich our understanding of how things work. Camile lives near me and has become a great friend, patiently helping me grieve and heal. Your child would have been lucky to have her as a teacher!


Just like Finding Nemo

Do you remember the part in Finding Nemo where Marlin is trying to leave Dory behind? He attempts to explain tactfully why he doesn’t want her to come with him anymore.  “I can’t afford any more delays and you’re one of those fish that causes delays. Sometimes it’s a good thing. There’s a whole group of fish. They’re . . . delay fish.” And after Dory worries that he doesn’t like her, he says, “It’s because I like you I don’t want to be with you. It’s a . . . complicated emotion.”

I have complicated emotions lately.

Everyone is pregnant. Close friends and family, acquaintances, people I vaguely recognize from our neighborhood. And those who aren’t pregnant have just had babies. In the past few weeks I’ve had at least 4 people tell me they’re expecting.

And they’re so excited.

I want to be excited for them.

But a little bit, I’m just heartbroken?

This was all compounded by seeing my not-quite-5-month-old nephew this past weekend. I avoided him at first; then in a moment of “That baby realllllllllly needs help going to sleep” I offered to rock him to sleep to give my father-in-law a break. And holding this little baby, having him snuggle against me clutching his blanket . . . it was awful and wonderful. Extremely awful and extremely wonderful. I will never rock Christian to sleep. I’ll never be frustrated that he’s still awake despite my best efforts to put him down for a nap. I don’t get to see him happily clutch a favorite blanket.

I can’t even hold him. He’s gone.

It seems like it would be nice to have a new baby. One that I could grumble about and cuddle with and be miserably tired with. And I think if I had a baby, not to replace Christian but to help me heal, I might not have such complicated emotions about other people’s babies. Since that isn’t an option, I’m left with conflicting feelings of heartache, jealousy, excitement, guilt, and aloneness.

So if you’ve recently told me you’re expecting, or if you’ve recently had a baby, and I haven’t seemed particularly thrilled – I’m sorry. I wouldn’t be bothered (at least, not so much) by a stranger having a baby – it really is because I like you that I don’t want to be around you sometimes. It’s a complicated emotion.


Health insurance (or lack thereof)

Be warned: this story, although full of twists and turns, does not have a nice resolution at the end. It has no resolution (yet).

In early February, Jarom’s work had someone come in to help employees through the process of buying health insurance through the Healthcare Marketplace. Jarom selected a plan that is actually much better than what we had through his company. Yay! Better insurance starting March 1!

Except wait. There was an error in Jarom’s application, so he called the Marketplace folks immediately after finishing the application and asked what to do. He was told that they would delete the application, and he should start a new one online, which he did that same day (February 7).

Hey guess what? Instead of deleting the first, incorrect application, they sent it on to Arches, our selected insurance network. But they didn’t send the second application. The folks at Arches told Jarom it would probably just be a few days until the got the correct information. Unfortunately, they still hadn’t gotten it by March 1, which meant we didn’t have health insurance for the month.

Jarom called the Marketplace again on March 5 and was told that they would escalate our file to a caseworker, and it would take 30 days to complete an investigation into what went wrong and why. (At this point I had already stopped caring why things had been messed up – I just wanted coverage!)

Over the next month and a half Jarom checked in every week with our newly-assigned caseworker at Arches to see if she’d gotten the second application yet. Still no, still no. Whenever he called the Marketplace, he was told that it would be “2-3 days” until a caseworker could review our file and get back to us. Eventually I took pity on Jarom, who was having to use his breaks at work to make these frustrating calls, and I said I would take care of it. And I would get us insurance. I would do it!

Yeah . . . that didn’t work out. I called on April 21 when the kids were playing a neighbor’s house. After an hour on hold, I finally got a real person to whom I had to explain the drama we’d encountered. She tsked and agreed it was so frustrating, she’d get it taken care of right away. By the end of a half-hour conversation with her, she read me what was on her screen: “Congratulations. Your application has been completed. Your insurance is effective today, April 21, 2014.” I felt triumphant! I sure showed Jarom. It just took patience, right?

Of course, Jarom was right, I didn’t actually solve anything. I kept calling our caseworker at Arches, but she never received our information. I desperately needed a refill on my Zoloft; she told me to go ahead and see my doctor, and we could fill out paperwork later to reimburse what I paid out-of-pocket. By May 5, still nothing useful had been accomplished.

So I called the Marketplace yet again. This time I was transferred 3 times, having to explain my situation each time, until I wound up in the “fix it” department. The woman I spoke with freaked out about the April 21 effective date. She couldn’t get over it – “The start date should always, always, always be on the first of the month!” she kept saying. It turned out that the lady who had, I thought, fixed our application so that it would be effective had actually cancelled application #2 and started #3, which was the April 21 one. Freaking-out lady swore that this was the problem: whether a glitch in the system or an error by the previous employee, this mid-month start date was preventing things from working smoothly.

Her first suggestion was to escalate our file. Yeah, been there, done that. And despite the “30 day” timeline Jarom had been given, it had been 60 days since the original escalation, with no communication whatsoever from any caseworker. So instead freaking-out lady cancelled that and started application #4, which would be effective June 1. I expressed quite strongly that I did not want yet another application, there was obviously some other problem preventing our information from ever being sent over to Arches, and I didn’t want to spend another month without insurance. Solution: petition a caseworker to alter the June 1 start date to May 1, but that would take a few weeks . . . and by that point May would be over . . . and I wouldn’t have actually had any insurance during May. I told her again that I had no interest in dealing with petitions and escalations, I just wanted insurance. Soon.

“Our system is all automated, so there shouldn’t be any errors,” she told me. “I know it’s hard to believe something good could happen after what you’ve been through, but there’s no reason this application won’t work.” Ha! Your automated system has failed me, lady. But she was adamant. Come June 1, I’d have insurance.

Aaaaaand Arches still hasn’t gotten our information. Although the last time I spoke with our caseworker there, she said she saw 3 applications for us, but not the most recent one. WHAT? Suddenly applications 2 and 3 have made their way over – and unfortunately, they’ve both been cancelled by “helpful” Marketplace employees. I’m waiting to hear back from Arches about when those applications came through – because if application #3 got there before I talked to freaking-out lady, and the Arches caseworker just didn’t let me know, then maybe I have someone to blame. Rather than just an “automated system.”

There are about 10 days left until we supposedly have health insurance. What do you think the chances are we’ll actually get it?