School has started once again and parents everywhere breathe a simultaneous sigh of relief and a prayer that our children will have a successful school year.
Yet we are all aware that at some point we might get a phone call from the school or from our child’s teacher. More often than not, the call is to let us know that our child has done something wrong. Again.
That’s why I’ve never forgotten the Friday afternoon phone call I once received from my oldest son’s teacher. Michael was struggling with a learning disability. Verbally precocious (speaking full sentences at 16 months), very bright with a high IQ, his frustrations with academic work resulted in behavior problems at school.
Previous phone calls from his teachers unfortunately had never been positive ones.
So the moment I heard his teacher’s voice, I was filled with apprehension. Instantly I started thinking, What has Michael done this time? Did he show up late yet again for class? Was he chutzpadik (brazen) and talked back to the teacher? Had he failed to do his homework again? Or quite possibly—was it all of the above?
As if sensing my trepidation, Michael’s teacher immediately reassured me, “Don’t worry. This is a ‘good news’ phone call. I just want to tell you how impressed I was with Michael’s social studies project. He really put a lot of effort into it and the results showed. I felt he deserved an A.”
“Oh…that’s great. Thanks so much for letting me know,” I managed to reply, feeling stunned but unbelievably thrilled. More accurately, I was kvelling!
“Glad to share the good news,” his teacher added cheerfully.
It was a phone call I would never forget.
In addition to being a parent, I was a teacher myself. A few years later, I was attempting to teach English to a challenging class at a large high school. Many—actually, most—of my students neglected to do their homework, and their test results were far from stellar. One boy even asked, “This guy, Shakespeare, he writes real weird. Is he even still alive?”
Another girl complained, “Do we really have to read the book? I already saw the movie.”
Attempting to spark their lackluster interest in English, I decided to give them a different kind of assignment.
I suggested that they should research a famous personality, dress up in costume as that person, and deliver a short presentation, complete with a question-and-answer session from the class.
Most of the students enjoyed the challenge and began to earnestly research their roles. One boy, Ryan, surprisingly selected the genius Albert Einstein as his famous person. Ryan, far from the best and the brightest student, in some incomprehensible way seemed to identify with the personality of the famed scientist.
Wearing a white curly wig, Ryan scribbled some indecipherable “formula” on the blackboard before starting his presentation. His pseudo-Germanic accent made the class roar with laughter. Yet he managed to convey Einstein’s distinct character, handling all the questions tossed at him with assurance.
Truly impressed, I gave Ryan the A he’d earned for his excellent, entertaining presentation. He was beyond thrilled with the best mark he’d received all year. Then I realized that wasn’t quite sufficient. Providing Ryan with well-deserved positive feedback was only part of my job.
Remembering the call I’d personally received from my son’s teacher, I looked up the phone number of Ryan’s mother, a nurse in the local hospital, and called her.
After identifying myself as Ryan’s English teacher, I detected that note of concern in her voice and sensed her coming question: Oh no, what has he done now?
I immediately assured her this was a “good news” call. I explained that Ryan’s presentation had been the best in the class, recognizing all the effort he’d put into it.
Ryan’s mother was clearly shocked—and totally delighted.
“Thanks so much for calling and letting me know,” she said gratefully. “You’re the first teacher to ever tell me about something good Ryan has done. You’ve made my day.” Her voice trembled with emotion.
I assured her it was my pleasure. Though she’d never heard of that perfect Yiddish word, kvelling, that’s precisely what Ryan’s mom was doing at that memorable moment.