A Birthday Surprise Got Me Reflecting on This School Year

Just the other day, I received a call from my child’s school during my birthday lunch. It was Ms. Giancarlo, my daughter’s social studies teacher. The same teacher who accused her of making some “not so good choices” this school year, that resulted in us both deciding to give my daughter an F. (Yup…I’m that parent.)

“Mrs. Royes, I have something very important to tell you.” Heart rate up, breathing stopped…Oh dear God. Not today.

See I, like most working-class parents of millennials, completely stress about every foolish detail of my child’s academic career. Now, I’m not the “helicopter” type. I’m more the “if nothing’s broken, get up and shake it off” type. I try to stay informed and educated on all the changes that affect my kids, though I often fail miserably. But being born in Jamaica and raising first-generation “Ja-mericans,” I’ve steeped them in the tradition that education is oxygen. It is the lifeblood of opportunity. So immediately I know this is not going to be a good phone call.

“I wanted to wish you a happy birthday and wish you a great summer! And I want to thank you for allowing me the privilege of having your wonderful daughter in my class this year.”

Wait…what? My daughter’s sixth-grade social studies teacher whom I have only spoken to a grand total of twice all year (when we teamed up to lay down a harsh life-lesson penalty on my kid) is calling me to wish me a happy birthday? Yes, she is. We spent the next five minutes laughing and talking about her husband’s retirement after 50 years of teaching in Broward County Public Schools and her own birthday three days earlier.

She’s human. Who knew?

Truth be told, I have never in my six years of having children in Broward County Public Schools gotten that kind of phone call. And I am currently knees-deep in a “what’s my child’s academic plan” squabble with administrators. But I’m quickly reminded that many other teachers might have done the same as Ms. Giancarlo if they had the chance.

Her call, though lovely, doesn’t erase the fact that I’m worried about the costs of summer camps and the even greater costs of academic regression. But it does encourage me to take stock of how the school year flew by so fast.

I found out this year that my 6-year-old son just might be gifted because his first-grade teacher recommended that we have him tested. My 11-year-old, who is a little younger than her peers, survived her first year of middle school without losing her sense of self, becoming addicted to social media, being bullied or any of those other things we’ve come to dread. She learned to read music and played percussion in the school band, tried out for track and got in, tried out for peer counseling and did not get in, and for the first time really challenged that straight-A status.

So, as I search online for free summer reading and math workbooks and pay exorbitant amounts of camp registration fees, I am generally happy about my kids’ experiences in school this year.

And I’m grateful for my call from Ms. Giancarlo. I wished her a happy summer and thanked her for being my partner in education.

An original version of this post appeared on Education Post.
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