Recently, I was watching my one-year-old daughter, Piper, navigate the complex intricacies of brushing her five teeth.
She fervently moved the toothbrush back and forth–meaning she missed the opening of her mouth several times, causing the bulk of the toothpaste and water to land on her chubby cheeks or the front of her jammies. Still she smiled as she worked, occasionally swaying her little body back and forth to her own imaginary song.
She was occasionally interrupted by the need to ask for “more!” when she would jut the toothbrush in my face, and I would oblige with more water on her little tooth cleaning tool. When her older sister called out, “all done!” she reflexively tapped the head of the brush on the lip of the sink while I smiled and said, “tap, tap, tap.” Her own tiny voice trying to mimic the sound of mine. As soon as I took her toothbrush away to place it in its resting spot, she clapped, and we all joined in the chorus of “yay!” She was, and is, quite pleased with herself each time she completes this task.
It occurred to me to really pay attention, in part because we have dental visits coming up at the end of this week, but also because I wanted to see how something I taught her to do with a little bit of positive reinforcement became a fun activity instead of a loathsome chore.
Full disclosure: I do not like brushing my teeth. I never have. When I was a kid I would go to great lengths to avoid it. Eventually I fell into a stride of good oral hygiene for fear my teeth would fall out thanks to scare tactics of my dentist at eight years old. Now I know, I have to take care of my teeth, it’s not fun, it’s just necessary.
Right now, many of the processes in my life feel similar to this sentiment–not fun, just necessary. I am preparing to go back into my second grade classroom and educate a brand new batch of seven-year-olds in a way I never would have dreamed of before. I won’t be able to hug them, sit in a circle with them at the carpet, or squat next to their desk to conference with them at their eye level over a specific writing assignment that they want to share with me. Those are all fun.
This school year I will keep my distance from my students, seating them in rows instead of tables, wash and sanitize my hands over and over, and of course wear a mask all day. These are not fun, but just like brushing my teeth, necessary.
That is when I am reminded of my sweet Piper. Like all children she is plastic to the world around her; she has a natural adaptability. She is jubilant with a variety of tasks at hand, simply because I made it fun.
This is an incredible superpower we parents have: we want them to pick up their toys? We time them as if it were a race. We want to get them to enjoy the bath? We put toys in there. We want them to appreciate what they have? Sing a song about thanks and, of course, offer praise–lots and lots of praise. As my fears grow about the impending school year and I lie awake wondering how I am going to make it all work, I know this is a big part of the answer. Make no mistake, I (and so many of my colleagues) will be working hard not just at the new logistics of academics under the guidelines in a pandemic, but in efforts to make this year fun and engaging for all our children.
I will love these students as fiercely as I’ve ever loved a class, and I will need your help. As parents you are your children’s first heroes. I see it in their schoolwork, in their voices, and in their faces throughout the day. You are their first example of how to react to the world around them.
So as our children embark on this school year, masked to enter the building, told to refrain from holding hands, not sharing markers, walking with distancing down a junior high hallway, without the convenience of a locker, I ask your support. Tell them you are proud of them. Tell them they can do hard things. Tell them we are doing this to help others, and that it won’t last forever. Tell them whatever else you like, as long as it is positive.
I am ready to take on what feels like an insurmountable task and make it work. There are a million different approaches and sides to the issues that surround educating and caring for our children this academic year. I will make it fun, and I hope you join me in that part.
Megan Cady is a Hillsboro resident and a second grade teacher at Beckmeyer School in Hillsboro.