Dear Teachers

Dear Teachers

Beautiful smiling girl on a black background. School concept

By Rachel Pieh Jones

We are an American family living in Djibouti and my kids attend a French school. Their first days of preschool were the first days they spent entirely and only surrounded by the French language.

I am not a teacher. I think I might explode, or implode, if I were a teacher. I don’t have all the skills I want my kids to inherit, few parents do. That’s why we need teachers and these are just a few of the skills our teachers have given, alongside an academic education:

Preschool: Communication

At my first parent-teacher meeting, the teacher told all the parents that our children had to ask permission, in polite French, before using the toilet. Then she looked at me.

“Except Lucy,” she said. Lucy was allowed to grab herself, bite her lip, and do a little dance. “Until she learns the words.”

I loved the teacher immediately.

Kindergarten: Empathy

Lucy’s class was going to march in a school costume parade. She had volunteered to dress up as a wolf, they were representing Little Red Riding Hood, La Petite Chaperone Rouge. She had been so excited about her costume until she got to school and saw some of her friends dressed in cute red dresses, carrying baskets of flowers. She had a fuzzy brown mask and a dull orange costume. She started to cry.

Her teacher understood the problem right away and within minutes, she designed a red cape, skirt, and handkerchief for Lucy’s head. She manufactured a basket and pulled flowers from a bougainvillea bush outside the classroom. Voila, the wolf transformed into a smiling, damp-cheeked Little Red Riding Hood.

First Grade: Pride

We spent this year in the United States. Lucy went to a French-immersion school in the Minnesota public school system. She didn’t know how to ride the bus or how to work things out in the school cafeteria or how to play the American games at recess. But she was now a rock star in the classroom, her French far beyond the levels of the other students.

The teacher helped Lucy navigate the culture of the American classroom while celebrating her Djiboutian experiences. Lucy sobbed on the last day of school, primarily because she loved her teacher so much.

Second Grade: Compassion

Back to Djibouti and this year, my older two children started attending a boarding school. Lucy has now gone through several huge transitions. An international move and learning to be the only child left at home, missing her older siblings.

One day at school, Lucy had a total meltdown. She was sobbing and couldn’t stop. The more she cried, the more embarrassed she became and the angrier she became and the more she cried. She didn’t remember later what she was crying about. The teacher asked her to step outside until she calmed down. The next day, Lucy apologized. The teacher was not upset and didn’t make her feel embarrassed, but welcome. He let her be who she was, intense emotions and all.

Third Grade: Empowerment

This year we maintained the status quo. Tried to keep things steady – no big moves, no major changes in our family situation. And this year, Lucy got to be the rock star again. There were two new girls who only spoke English. They needed someone to help them navigate the school culture and to translate what was going on in class. The teacher put Lucy on the case and this year, Lucy learned how to be both servant and leader. And she made two new best friends.

Fourth Grade: Creativity

Oh, fourth grade! We adored this teacher. She initiated after school craft days (we don’t have many extra curricular activities) during which the kids learned calligraphy, dance, and origami.

The students learned how to put together a five-minute presentation. Lucy did hers on K’naan, the Somali-Canadian singer whose song, “Wavin’ Flag” was the official song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Lucy (with my help) tweeted K’naan that an American girl in Djibouti was doing a presentation on his music. She asked what his favorite song was. He tweeted back that they were all his favorite and best of luck on the presentation. Lucy was so excited to share her presentation that when her turn came, she leaped up and down in the classroom.

At the end of the school year performance, her class performed a wavin’ flag dance to that song and the teacher personally made each child’s costume.

Fifth Grade: Courage

This year Lucy has the same teacher she had in second grade. He consistently encourages her to be creative, to work hard, and to enjoy and explore Djibouti. He is one of the rare expatriates who love this country and he passes that affection on to the students.


It isn’t easy to be a foreign family, to move across the globe, to say hello and goodbye to friends, family, teachers, and schools. And it certainly isn’t easy to be a teacher in these kinds of cross-cultural, melting pot locations.

Dear teachers, my kids have thrived around the world because of you. Between the three of them, they have attended school in five different countries on three continents and each time, you helped this new place become a home. It can’t be easy, to have a non-native speaker in your classroom and to have their bumbling parents sending notes filled with grammatical errors or who don’t quite understand how to do the homework. But you have never made us feel like a burden. You have taken delight in our kids and encouraged them to love learning. We are forever grateful.

Merci Beaucoup.

Rachel Pieh Jones is a contributing blogger for Brain, Child. She lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children: 14-year old twins and a 9-year old who feel most at home when they are in Africa. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, and Running Times. Visit her at: Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones.







Dear Kindergarten Teacher

Dear Kindergarten Teacher

By Jennifer Berney


Let me begin with a confession. When I signed up to visit your classroom on Fridays, it wasn’t because I wanted to help. I volunteered because I was curious. I wanted to see how my son had settled into kindergarten, if he had made friends, if he followed the rules, to make sure he didn’t spend the day hiding beneath the table or whispering to friends. I wanted to see you, his teacher, in action. Also, I thought that kindergarten on a Friday might be entertaining.

You didn’t disappoint me.

On the first morning, as I walked through your door, I was surprised to discover that you took attendance in song. “Good Morning, Kylie” you sang, “Good Morning, Rowan.” Each child heard his own name and replied by singing “Good Morning Teacher,” to confirm his presence. The children were so attentive, so organized and earnest, and their voices were so sweetly off-key that I couldn’t bear it. I kept stifling laughter and wiping tears as they gathered in the corners of my eyes. But you continued to lead them, unfazed, accustomed as you are to this hilarity and sweetness.

One afternoon when all the kids were tired, I watched you steer my son away from an impending meltdown. A friend had given him a sticker earlier that day, and he was convinced that it had fallen from his pocket and was now lost forever. He wasn’t crying yet, but I could hear the tremble in his voice from across the room, and I was certain that in moments he’d melt into a puddle on the floor. “Will you do me a favor and go check your cubby?” you asked him sensibly, as if he too were in a sensible mood. You engaged with the problem, but not the drama, and he followed your lead. Of course, the sticker was in his cubby. My son shuddered with relief.

On a different day, I watched as another boy, in tears, ran to you as if you were his own mother. You placed your hand gently on his shoulder and allowed him to take comfort for a moment before you lowered yourself so that you could learn why he was crying. He explained that a friend had taken over a toy that he had put down for a moment. “Well go tell Daniel how you felt about that,” you instructed him. I watched as these two boys had an intimate conversation in the corner of the room. Minutes later, they emerged and reported to you that they had fixed the problem.

I’ve seen you clip the tag out of one little girl’s shirt because she complained that it was itching her. Upon spotting you with a pair of scissors, another girl lined up behind her and asked if you would please clip a loose thread off of her shoe. “Anyone else need anything?” you asked the room, making light of how often your work is interrupted by a child’s immediate physical need.

Once, at the end of a game of polygon bingo, I heard you explain to all twenty-five of your students how winning doesn’t feel good if you’ve cheated. I’ve seen you teach them a line to help them cope with disappointment: “Aw, shucks, maybe next time.” You punctuate this line with a snapping gesture, and I’ve seen the children in your classroom mimic this unprompted after someone else has won at bingo, or been chosen as the next line leader. You’ve trained them not to cry, or scream that it’s unfair. “Aw shucks, maybe next time,” more than a few of them whisper, and then everyone moves on.

Under your instruction, my son has learned how to properly hold a pencil, and learned how to write legibly, first in capitals and more recently in lowercase. He has learned to write from left to right and to leave “finger spaces” between individual words. At the beginning of the year, he could make sense of a written word by sounding it out methodically. Now he reads full sentences, pages at a time; at night he climbs into his top bunk and reads himself to sleep with a headlamp. His transformation from non-reader to reader happened faster than I would have ever imagined. One night, in the midst of this transition, my partner wondered aloud how many kids you had taught to read over the years, and I marveled for a moment, thinking of the hundreds of children whose hands you’ve guided, your hand helping theirs fit to the shape of the pencil, the hundreds who have echoed your voice making alphabet sounds and reading sight words.

I’ve spent much of this year wondering how we got so lucky. My son is quiet and sensitive, but obstinate; he doesn’t like to be told what to do. I worried that kindergarten would mark the beginning of a long struggle, that he might hate school and cry every morning. But your rules and your kindness, your patience and your limits have helped him feel at home. The teachers that come after you, they don’t have to shine as brightly—he’s already formed his opinion of school. He likes it. Of all the jobs you do, from teaching kids subtraction to helping them tie their shoes, it strikes me that this one is most essential: you invite them to bring their whole selves, their best selves to the classroom.

Jennifer Berney’s essays have appeared in Hip Mama, Mutha, The Raven Chronicles, and the anthology Hunger and Thirst. She is currently working on a memoir, Somehow, which details the years she spent trying to build a family out of donor sperm, mason jars, and needleless syringes. She lives in Olympia, Washington and blogs at

All About Me

All About Me

By Galit Breen

BrainChildMagazine-GalitBreen-AllAboutMe“One more,” he says, sleep still wrapped around his eyes, his cheeks, his voice.

“Okay,” I say, never being one to resist a child asking to read another book. I glide my thumb along the bottom edge and slip the book open. It creases in a way that is satisfying to this former teacher.

I used to sit in front of my classrooms of students in this exact same way. Thumb beneath page, smile lifting cheeks, eyes searching for one answer: Will they dive into this story?

Ten years ago I traded in my teacher voice for my mothering one. I’ve been told they’re eerily similar. And I’ve never—truly, not ever—regretted this decision. I do, however, have an undeniable soft spot for school projects and chapter books, hand written stories and the chubby fingers wrapped around the sharpened pencils that write them.

Brody has his first school homework assignment due this week; it’s an “All About Me” poster. And like many teachers before me, I’m a horrid student and we’ve left it until (almost) the last minute. So brushing his too-long golden locks out of his hazel eyes that match mine, I add, “And then we’ll do your poster.” He smiles. This makes me almost giddy.

We settle into the story sitting on the yellow couch, our heads tilting toward each other, his elbow on my knee. Our puggle, Louie, is curled on my toes. These two are my, very comfortable, bookends.

My mind quickly checks the next hour off of our list. Brody and I will work on his project while his sisters, Kayli and Chloe, play outside. I’ll ask him the questions and help him list his favorite and his not-so-favorite things. We’ll share the pen, I’ll watch him print.

I used to love this stage as a teacher, when children are on the cusp of making sense of letters and sounds and the magic that turns their words and into stories. With something that can only be described as a pang, I suddenly realize this is my last child that I’ll watch learn how to write, that I’ll teach how to curve tiny fingers fingertip-to-fingertip and stretch each sound out until it becomes so very clear to them.

I brush those locks away one more time as we close the book. “My poster!” He breathes. I smile and nod his way.  He runs to the table and unrolls the poster that’s almost as big as him. It curls back up and he laughs from the deepest part of his belly. I pause to memorize this giggle, tuck it away for a cooler time.

Just as we begin carving out a new place made just for two, the girls come back inside. Their voices fill the space from one room to the other. They have stories to tell, adventures to share. Their cheeks and their noses and even their foreheads are pink tinged. They look like they’ve been kissed with childhood.

Their words braid over each other in a loud, magnetic way. Brody is stilled at the table. He’s sitting barefoot, knees tucked beneath him, tiny toes peeking out from behind. His eyes are wide; he’s taking them in. I’m awed by their sibling-ness.

When he can’t possibly hold his news in any longer, “We’re doing my poster!” escapes between his thin lips.

The girls’ eyes scan the table. The magazines piled high to his side, the pencils, the crayons, the tiny scissors and the full bottles of glue scattered in front of him, and that poster that refuses to stay flat.

Their cheeks raise and their eyes light in the exact same way mine always did at the prospect of a project, at the idea of teaching.

And with a speed that I can’t imagine ever owning as my own, they slip out of their jackets and sneakers and into the two spots by his sides. I lean against the counter behind them, arms crossed at my chest and watch as he looks to them with—once again—wide eyes.

“What’s your favorite color?” One asks. He answers and they help him write, placing their fingertips together, showing him how to stretch his words, listen for the sounds, write the letters that he already knows.

What I feel in this moment is a little bit hard to place my own fingertips on.

That small pang of last child is still there. And at second blush, if I’m being honest, so is the feeling of this is my moment to share in.

But all of this is, of course, painted over with the brightest strokes, by the real magic in the room. The way he turns to them and the way they want him to, the way they teach him and the way he learns from them.

I remember being told how very magical a sibling relationship can be. Being an only child, I had no idea what to expect, what to look for, what to teach. But as it turns out, all I really needed to do was stand back and watch this—all of this—unfold.

The girls help Brody finish his entire poster. They flip through magazine pages together and find his likes—balloons, tootsie rolls, puppies—and his dislikes—asparagus, fires, brushing his teeth. They bite their lips and don’t say a word when he writes his B backwards or his name in the wrong spot.

And when his poster is complete, they stand in front of me and practice sharing it; my uneven HeartStaircase. Brody stands between his sisters, his own comfortable bookends, with a wide smile and lit eyes.

This moment didn’t go the way that I planned it to, but it worked out exactly as it should have, didn’t it? It was a truly perfect way for my third child’s “All About Me” story to unfold.

Galit Breen is a Minnesota writer. Galit is a contributing writer to Soleil Moon Frye’s Moonfrye, the Huffington Post, SheKnows’s, allParenting, EverydayFamily, and Mamalode Magazine. Galit blogs at These Little Waves and may or may not work for dark chocolate.