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I was only in the classroom for 45 minutes, but that was long enough to compel me to write a letter to the teacher once I left.

I’ll be honest, I have zero qualifications as it relates to child education. My only qualification and reason for being in a kindergarten class that day is my oldest child is a kindergartner. He attends a public school and I was in his classroom as a parent volunteer.

His teacher had asked parents to sign up to help during the daily Literacy Center portion of the morning. I was excited to go in, see my son in his classroom, and meet his classmates. When I arrived, the class was sitting on the floor, singing, and drawing the alphabet in the air with their fingers. Mrs. G gave me a quick rundown on how I was to help. She introduced me to the class and then quietly asked the children to go to their first center.

They all scattered about. How they knew where to go, I have no idea. Yet each of them bee-lined for specific centers. Mrs. G worked with a small group off to the side while I was charged with making sure the remaining students at three other centers were doing okay. In one area, students chose books from the classroom library and read to themselves, each other, or had me read aloud. The second center was an alphabet game that required turn-taking and letter sounds. I was to mediate the game if they needed help. The third center was a station of computers and tablets that the kids were to log on to and play letter games.

There was a lot going on. There was coughing (so much coughing, so little mouth covering). There was shoe tying. There was making sure Ava, Asher, Jack, Jackson, Luke and Lucy pronounced U, Y, W, Q, K, C correctly (impossible to explain the differences). There was reading a book about butterflies, while helping someone else sound out a word, while tying another shoe. There was figuring out how to get back to the home screen; explaining the greater-than and less-than symbols. Then it was time to switch centers and start all over with different kids playing the game, different kids reading books, different kids needing to log on the computer.

Most everyone knew just what was expected of them and moved between centers with ease when prompted by the teacher. Considering I can’t get my three children to move from the living room to the kitchen for dinner I was impressed how the teacher had managed to get so many children to independently move and start up a different task.

And although I was smiling, I was also spinning on the inside. So many moving parts and so many little moving bodies. So much talking and questions and coughing and laughing. And yet, it wasn’t chaos. This was controlled, but I was overwhelmed. Giving attention to so many kids left me drained. How could a teacher do this every day?

My 45 minutes were up. All the children had rotated through the four centers and were heading back to their seats. There was never an announcement to do this yet they were zigzagging around like ants in the dirt. My son, whom I had asked seven times that morning to go brush his teeth, hadn’t even been told to put his folder away but there he was, like the 16 other kids, putting his folder in a box.

Frazzled, I took this as my cue to leave. I hugged my son and said goodbye to the class and practically sprinted out the door. After I left I had no other choice but to write a letter to the teacher.

Dear Mrs. G,

It’s been more than a few decades since I’ve spent any length of time in an elementary school classroom. After volunteering for Literacy Centers today I left feeling exhausted and impressed. Exhausted because a few dozen 5-6-year-olds are no joke. Impressed because a few dozen 5-6-year-olds knew exactly what was expected of them and moved around appropriately without more than simple prompts. All the kids were enjoying learning; and though I was there to assist, it appeared that for the most part these children functioned independently and lead themselves in the centers. That’s impressive for humans who can’t yet tie their own shoes and still need to be reminded to share.

Thank you for your hard work. It’s work I could never do let alone do so well. I appreciate your gift and feel lucky that my son has you as a teacher.

Many teachers won’t be shocked to hear how this classroom operated; I’m sure lots of classrooms run by great teachers operate similarly. However, I think many parents like myself have no clue what the day is like in their child’s classroom, the moving parts of coordinating children of varying levels of ability with varying levels of opinions and responsiveness. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to participate in their child’s classroom to do so. See and feel what it is like to be in a classroom.

As schools everywhere approach the 100th day of school, I hope parents find the two minutes it takes to jot a quick note to your child’s teacher, an adult who has spent 100 days with your child, teaching, coordinating, coaching. Express appreciation. Report back what your child has learned that has impressed you. Say thank you.

Kim Mower is a writer and mom to three young children. A sampling of her work can be found on kimmower.com. Follow her on Facebook at A Housewife Writes. Sometimes she tweets @a_housewife but most of her day is spent caring for her children, who demand things like food and attention.

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