Peter St. Onge

A teacher asked parents to leave an encouraging note for their child’s next hard day. They said a lot.

Earlier this month, at an open house for Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, seventh grade teacher Justin Parmenter had an assignment for his students’ parents. On notecards he provided, he asked them to write “a note of encouragement that I can give them when they are having a hard day” and place them in a tub at the front of the class.

The idea, he says, was to build a small bridge between those parents and his classroom, to remind them in a small way that everyone is working toward the same thing with their children.

The notes have already accomplished that — and more.

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The notes are in cursive and in print, from “Mom and Dad” and “XOXO Mommy” and “Mami.” They are sweet and funny and, because we parents can’t resist, instructive.

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They are, most of all, personal. “You are caring,” one said. “You are inquisitive and so creative,” said another. And: “You are an amazing, smart and loving boy.” And: “You are a magical special crazy girl.”

And: “Just be you.”

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Two things: First, Parmenter noticed the diversity of the notes. A few were in Spanish. One was in French. It was a reminder of all the different things students bring to our city’s classrooms.

Also, he’s a bit worried. Not all parents were at open house, so not all students have an encouraging card waiting for them during difficult moments. And there will be difficult moments. It’s middle school, after all, and seventh grade might be the most difficult middle school year for these new teenagers. Plus, public schools are facing their own struggles, with insufficient resources and poorly paid teachers, and if you don’t think your children notice that type of thing, you might be paying attention less than they are.

Maybe that’s explains a little why when Parmenter started posting cards on social media late last week, teachers and others flooded him with Twitter love. They know the classroom isn’t an easy place these days for anyone. One even joked that Parmenter should have a tub for encouraging notes from parents to him.

Parmenter laughs when he mentions that, but maybe that teacher was on to something. Writing an encouraging note is not only about letting someone understand they’re appreciated, but making yourself think about what it is that you appreciate. That’s a good assignment for this first day of school, and for a lot of others.

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