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“All I Really Need to Know I Learned In First Grade…”

…from my daughter’s teacher, whose relaxed and accepting point of view has changed the way we react to Jasmine’s hiccups at home. Great teachers really can change the world — one parent at a time.

Laurie and I are running around the house, trying to corral the kids. We’re late for our first parent-teacher conference with Jasmine’s first grade teacher. We get the older kids loaded into the van but Jasmine is giving us fits.

“Why don’t you have socks and shoes on?” I ask her.

“I can’t find them,” she says. She’s sitting at the kitchen table, coloring a picture.

“Where are the socks you wore to school?” Laurie asks.

“I don’t know,” she says without looking up from her picture.

“Jasmine!” I shout. “Get up and find some flip-flops.”

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She runs off to her room. A minute or so later, she calls out, “I can’t find them!”

I step into her messy pit of a bedroom, where I find her still barefoot and reading a book. I slap my forehead. “You’re killing me, child.”

When we finally arrive at the classroom, we are a little bit frazzled. “We’re so sorry we’re late,” we apologize to her teacher.

“Oh you’re fine,” Ms. Black says. “My previous conference ended a little late. C’mon in.”

Laurie and I get the kids settled in the hallway, then we sit down at Ms. Black’s desk, where we see a file folder bearing Jasmine’s name. She walks us through Jasmine’s reading and math scores, and goals to achieve by our next meeting in the spring. Finally, we get to a checklist that addresses her behavior, peer interactions, etc.

[Don’t Wait for the Parent-Teacher Conference! 11 Year-Round Cooperation Rule]

“Jasmine’s a delight,” Ms. Black tells us. “She’s well-liked by the other students, and stays on task.”

“Really?!” Laurie and I say in unison. We are doing a lousy job of hiding our surprise.

“She sure is,” she continues. “You warned me she had been a handful to her kindergarten teacher. She was in trouble a lot for talking and for wild behavior, but she does just fine here. I’m not as strict as some other teachers about talking or moving around in class. I mean, they’re six and seven year olds.”

Laurie and I leave the conference energized. We are thrilled about Jasmine’s academic progress, but more so that Jasmine has a teacher who is amused by her quirks rather than overwhelmed by them. In fact, I wonder if we should take some tips from Ms. Black on interacting with Jasmine at home.

As we head to the parking lot, Jasmine asks what we are going to do when we get home. I tell her I will get her a treat for having a good report at the teacher’s conference, but first she needs to clean her room. She hangs her head, “It’s too hard.”

When we arrive home, she walks slowly to her room. Several minutes pass, and I stop by to find she’s made no progress. “What’s going on?” I ask.

“I can’t do it. It’s too hard,” she replies.

Ordinarily I’d take a firm approach and say something like, “If you want your treat, you better follow directions.” But then I think about our discussion with Ms. Black, and how she runs her classroom. So I say, “Do you want Daddy to help you?”

She perks up. “Sure!”

I sit down on the floor with her. “Let’s start with clothes. Can you find all your dirty clothes and put them in the hamper?”

“OK!” she says. She quickly runs around the room grabbing pajamas, socks, shirts, etc. She examines the room thoroughly, then announces, “Done!”

“Good job. How about books?”

“I see books!” she says. Then she starts running around the room looking for books. She holds up one of her favorites. “Can you read this to me tonight?”

I give her a few seconds to flip through the book before I say, “Let’s keep cleaning up.” I congratulate myself for giving her the extra seconds I typically don’t.

Laurie comes into the bedroom, kneels down and whispers to me, “I bought her favorite popsicles as a treat. You can give her one when she’s done.”

I think about Jasmine’s behavior at school and home. At times, she seems like two different people. Then I wonder if she is different because Laurie and I are different. She loses things at home all the time, but I remember Ms. Black casually saying, “Kids lose things all the time. That’s why we have a lost and found box.” It seemed like it no big deal to her. So maybe I should back off saying, “Why do you always have to lose…”

Before I can finish that thought, Jasmine shouts, “Daddy! Look! I found my socks I wore to school today!” She is so proud of herself.

I know she’ll lose something else before bedtime, but when she does I will work to let it roll off my back. We’ll probably find it soon enough.

[Strategies for Positive Parenting]