Whenever I tell non-education acquaintances that I teach kindergarten, the reaction is invariably, “Wow! That must be so much fun!” What few people realize is that as a kindergarten teacher, I’m actually a crusher of dreams.
Parents send their perfect, beautiful child to school full of hopes and dreams of the great potential in the child. And each child is amazing, unique, and has so much to offer. But sometimes the reality is that there are issues – issues with behaviour, or flags that all is not right with social interactions or a variety of language or academic skills. It becomes my job to document my concerns and begin referrals, have those difficult initial conversations with parents, consult with other professionals at my disposal, and come up with a plan for the best way to support the child. As the first teacher that most parents and children have contact with in the public education system, it is my job to set a positive tone for what may become years of interventions, meetings, and plans.
Parents react to the discussions differently. Sometimes there’s a nod of recognition, the “oh, we’ve noticed that too” response. Other parents reject the concern outright, the “how dare you think that of my perfect, beautiful child” response. Then there are reactions that fall everywhere in between. All parents go through what looks somewhat like the stages of grief though – there’s very often some denial and anger, and definitely sadness, before parents come to acceptance and are willing to be full partners in planning for their child. Sometimes that acceptance is years away, and I never get to see it.
It is in these first, difficult contacts with parents that the knowledge and skills I’ve gained from inclusive education classes have become extremely helpful. Being knowledgeable about an exceptionality, and how to best support a child with it, is comforting to parents. It gives credibility to what I say to them, and provides me with the confidence to say the things that need to be said.
Teaching is all about relationships – with our students, their families, our colleagues – and relationships are never more important than when we are guiding parents through the initial snags on their child’s educational path. It’s important to begin developing those relationships even before kindergarten begins, so that if there is a need for a difficult conversation at the beginning of the year, the groundwork of trust already exists.
And so, as I sit highlighting and making notes on my kindergarten students’ report cards, in anticipation of parent/teacher conferences tomorrow, I weigh how I can directly, but gently, discuss certain topics. I know that crushing dreams comes with the territory, but it never makes it any easier.