The First Parent-Teacher Conference of One

Jose Vilson Featured, Jose

I’m not supposed to be nervous about the first day.

A couple of weeks ago, I told six hundred or so adults in Oak Park, IL that the first day doesn’t matter. I said it was the second day and beyond that ultimately determine a teacher’s effectiveness. But this first day is different. It’s not just my 12th First Day of class as a teacher. It’s my first as a parent. Alejandro’s going to Pre-kindergarten, and I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve been sipping teas and scrolling through inordinate amounts of inspirational posters, distracting myself from feeling every knot I have tied in my stomach.

Those of you who read my book know that I hurled my first First Day of school in pre-k, and I still can’t live down the imagery. I had so many high hopes for coolness. I still hold high hopes today that I’ll be one of the cool kids. Until then, I’d love for Alejandro to have a much better head start.

Because we made the choice we did for our child, we also recognized the challenges that come with said decision. Even though Mayor Bill de Blasio touts accomplished educators and well-structured Pre-K programs, allow me a bit of time to doubt because, even with the plethora of structures, there is humanity. Ale will have to encounter adults and children who don’t know him. They won’t know that he can read a book on his own. They won’t know he has an affinity for Thomas the Train. They won’t know how he skipped crawling and jumped right into walking. They will look at me and question how he came out lighter in complexion, then make determinations based on this “new information.”

They may say that they’ll treat them like their own children, but how do I know how they treat their children?

As a teacher, I’m accustomed to doubt. I’ve had hundreds of New York City’s children in my rooms at different stages of my career, each more stories than the last. I try to call all of my students’ houses in September. I send home letters. I make good impressions with students, who in turn tell their parents all about me. I do my best to teach according to the students’ needs. I’m humble enough to have a bad day. I tell parents regularly that it’s an honor and pleasure to be at their service.

I’m a human being, but I’m super-human if and when the students need. Because other humans entrusted their children to mine.

I confess that part of the nervousness stems from not wanting him to grow up so quickly. I’m fighting this as we speak. I want him to be a child and experience childhood the way I didn’t get to. I aged too quickly. I was 45 by my 21st birthday. The teacher in me is telling the parent in me to not to castigate my son for my own trepidations, to trust the pedagogues, to do unto other teachers as I’d like parents to do unto me.

That too takes time.

We, the parent and the teacher in me, agree with less homework and more play. We agree that we care about the socioemotional well-being of our child because we can take care of the academic as well as any of his teachers can. We agree that we don’t need to hear too often from the teacher. A note every two weeks would be nice for a pre-kindergartener. We also agree that we don’t want Ale being treated better than other children because his parents are veteran educators who have multiple ways to give feedback, and at multiple levels.

We also agree that, should our son be treated unfairly, hell hath no fury like ours.

But that’s for another time. I swam in this range of emotions to prepare myself for the year, both as teacher and as parent. I’ll be there for the first day for Ale and my new as-yet-to-be-named students. I’ve seen how this system develops callous souls for our children of color. Ale’s house has enough love that he doesn’t need more of it per se, but I hope the adults along the way know that we’re empowered not by the knowledge of the system, but by our love for him.

This first parent-teacher conference is going better than I thought.