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Little People, Big Mistakes

Little People, Big Mistakes

Four priceless lessons.


"I'm going to speak to your teacher this week," I said to my five year old as I tucked the blanket snugly around his ears. He was holding on to my fingers, shadows played upon his face from his long eyelashes, his face relaxed in a sleepy smile. He bolted upright.

"No!" he said. "Don't talk to my teacher. Please!"

I laughed. What five year old misdemeanor could my son possibly be worried about? "What's the matter sweetie? It's just parent teacher conferences. Abba and I just want to make sure that things are going okay." While my husband had seen the teacher a few times since the beginning of the year, their conversations had been brief. Still, the teacher had been nothing but encouraging.

"He's going to tell you what I did," my son said. "I'm a bad boy."

"No!" I said, rubbing his smooth back, kissing the top of his head. "There's no such thing as a bad boy. Tell me what happened."

His lips quivered. "Yesterday," he said, and I knew that he used this term loosely as five year olds are apt to do, "the teacher dropped some of his candies on the floor. The ones he gives for prizes. During recess, I ran and picked them up and instead of giving them back to the teacher, I ate them. When the teacher saw, he was very angry. Please don't call him."

I held his quivering little body close to me. "It's okay," I said as I rocked him back and forth. "Everybody makes mistakes. Your teacher doesn't dislike you for it. Really."

Inside, I was seething. What else would a five-year-old do when his eyes lit upon candy on the floor?

"Please don't go," he pleaded.

"I'm going to go," I said, holding his cheeks in my hands, looking into his soulful brown eyes. "We're going to straighten this out."

The Encounter

We entered the classroom, decorated with pictures of Noah's ark in tribute to the latest Torah portion. The teacher sat behind the desk, a huge smile gracing his face.

"You're Shlomo's parents. I'm so glad you came. Before I begin, please tell me if you have any questions for me."

"Well," I began, "thank you so much for giving Shlomo a wonderful few months. He seems to be learning well and developing in many ways under your tutelage."

The teacher leaned forward in his desk, his eyes expectant.

"But, it's just that Shlomo thinks you are unhappy with him."

The teacher looked at us, his brow furrowed, clearly perplexed.

"It was the candy story," my husband said. He repeated what our son had shared with me.

The teacher scratched his beard and appeared to be deep in thought. The room was silent.

"I'm shocked," the teacher said. "The story that you're telling me... it happened nearly two months ago, right at the beginning of the year. I was mildly upset and admonished your son for just a few seconds. Then the whole incident flew out of my head just as fast as it flew in."

The teacher shuffled a few papers in front of him. "All I was going to tell you about your son is that he is doing great. He is academically and socially successful; he is happy and well adjusted... and now you tell me this."

The teacher rubbed his hand against his forehead. "I thought Shlomo knew how wonderful I think he is, when all along he nursed this insult inside as proof of my dislike for him." He banged the edges of the papers on the desk, gathering them into one neat pile. "That's inexcusable," he said. "Tomorrow, I will fix things. I just wish I could have done it earlier."

As we left the meeting and walked home, my husband I discussed how this whole thing had snowballed. One minor infraction and our son had been sad for two months?

But the next day, my son came home from school jubilant.

"The teacher loves me," he said. "He gave me the special job of giving out the worksheets. And he gave me this." He whipped his fist open and showed me a crumbled confection. "Because I learn so nicely. I'm a good boy."

I learned a few priceless things from this incident.


  1. Teachers are fallible human beings. The teacher might have made a mistake but that does not negate the good work he has done. I need to work with my child's teacher, not against him. And in this case, my child's reaction was an inaccurate perception. Our Sages teach us to judge every man favorably and my child's teacher deserves no less than every man
  2. Parents are also fallible. I wish my son had told me about this earlier. I have since made it clear to my son that he will never lose by telling me the truth. There is a time and a place for teaching values and when your child shares his inner world with you, that is not the time. Though I always make time to speak to my children, I needed to reinforce the idea that telling Mommy is always safe thing to do.
  3. I shouldn't have let so many months pass by without getting to the nitty gritty of my son's life at school. Though we had been in touch with the teacher briefly, we could have asked pointed questions; "How is my son's behavior? Who are his friends? Does he sit up front or towards the back? Have there been any mishaps that we should be aware of?
  4. Out in the big wide world, our children's self esteem will get battered here and there. But while children are easily crushed they are just as easily nurtured. My son flowered overnight when he was showered with the smallest droplets of tenderness from his teacher. If we inundate our children with positivity and encouragement, it will help to pad all the emotional bumps and bruises they are bound to receive. In the words of Rabbi Wolbe zt"l, we are planters and builders. Our saplings needs frequent tending and watering.

When my son came home the next day he was even more bolstered by his teacher's love and appreciation. By now, my son has grown accustomed to his newfound position. And I am growing accustomed to mine.

December 5, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 18

(18) Raj, January 30, 2010 7:38 PM

Its an awesome story

Its very touching story, so cutely portrayed. I could feel the way your child would have been feeling, thanks for sharing :)

(17) Anonymous, January 4, 2010 10:18 AM

The article gives excellent advice to parents, who are trying hard to cram good parenting practices into their busy lives. It reminds me of my own experience, 81 years ago, when I was starting Kindergarten. My mother was a typical Jewish mother, who seldom criticized whatever I did. I was a quick learner, and my sister, 5 years older than I, enjoyed playing teacher. As soon as she came home from school, she taught me what she learned that day. When I started Kindergarten I was able to read and write, do math on 3rd grade level. I loved school, and felt great until the class sang a song in unison. I sang loudly, since my mother said I was a great singer. She was referring to my knowing the words to the songs. My teacher looked around the class with a frown upon her face, finally she pointed at me and said " Do not sing, you are a monotone, and are ruining the class singing". Since that day I do not sing, and do not enjoy music. I never told my parents what made me reluctant to sing. Fortunately I was bright and on my own turned to art to express my creativity, and earned the teacher's praise for my efforts. As I entered 3rd grade, art was forgotten, and academics became my path to gain recognition, gradually sports prowess enabled me to make friends of my classmates. Growing up presents many problems, and parents get no training as to how to be a good parent. Since every child is unique, one approach does not work. The parent needs to observe changes in behavior, and try to act to effect change without feeling angry, inadequate, etc. Asking for advice is helpful, and no reflection on one's ability to be a good parent. Incidentally my sister worked as an Administrative Clerk for New York City, but after her children were older, she went back to work as a Remedial Reading Teacher in N Y. A career change that was a better fit for her talents.

(16) Anonymous, December 10, 2009 3:29 AM

typo do not post

Insightful article, as expected!

(15) F. PELTZ, December 9, 2009 12:49 PM

excellent - pertinent

An extremely well-written and cogent article. Thank you.

(14) Anonymous, December 9, 2009 12:02 AM

caring about my students

That's a great story. I have been a teacher for almost 6 years and many times when I'm dealing with negative behavior from my students, I let them know that even though I am angry with them for what they did, I still care about them and I still believe they are a good person.

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