When Jackson was in first grade, I started substitute teaching. I went back to grad school, had a 20-hour-a-week GA-ship on campus, and then subbed a couple days a week. I was busy, but I picked up most of my sub jobs at his school. Which meant that I could drop him off, go to class, see him throughout the day, and then he’d just walk to whatever class I was in at the end of the day. It was a win-win. Plus I made $100 a day, and the kids in the school were pretty good kids. I knew the teachers and admin, so it made sense. I also got to check out all the classrooms and teachers. Like Mrs. Martin’s second grade classroom. The first time I watched them walk down the hallway, hands behind their back, silent and smiling, I was like, “Umm, how do I ensure Jackson gets into her class next year?!”
I’m not sure exactly how I did it. Or if it was even something I did. I may have overtly said to Mrs. Mattner, “Hey, can you make sure he gets Mrs. Martin?” I may have written a letter to the principal. I may have just hung around enough that Mrs. Martin started to recognize me. If could have had nothing to do with me. She seemed to get the “higher” kids, even though they vehemently denied doing this, so maybe I just lucked out because Jackson is supersonic? I don’t know. But sure enough he was in Mrs. Martin’s class for second grade, and suddenly I was welcomed with open arms back into the classroom again.
I spent a lot of time with that class. I went in every Thursday and did math problems with kids who needed the extra attention. I read with reading groups. I subbed for Mrs. Martin whenever she had to be out. I wasn’t the official “room parent” but the actual room parent was kind of a mess (I couldn’t stand her and she had this really annoying, squeaky voice). The good news was she’d often flake out and email me and be like, “Can you take care of this, Missy?” Sure thing, crazy lady. This is when I learned to navigate that role. Where I learned what NOT to do. How NOT to be. How you probably shouldn’t be a room mom if you spend all your time talking shit on the other parents, it’s uhh, not really a good thing.
Jackson, well, he sailed through second grade. I was starting to wonder if school would just be easy for him like this forever. Still not letter grades, but you know, all capital “Ss” on his report cards. A leader in the classroom. Talk started this year about the “gifted” class in third grade.
The class was good, for the most part, with the exception of a couple of teacher kids, who were like, legit nightmares. One of them was already a little racist, and the other one would sometimes stand on desks and scream things. This is when I started to feel really bad for teachers. Mrs. Martin took it all in stride and was often like, “Oh (insert name) stop being crazy and get down.” But I was like damn, how do you tell a woman you work with that her kid is fucking nightmare? I guess you don’t, you just deal with it.
By mid-year I was on to all the “behavior” kids, and had their number. They’d see me roll in and be like, “DAAAAMN IT!” But they also always had fun with me. Jackson had started to set himself apart from the crowd at this point. He’d come home and say things like, “I told so and so that he was being crazy and needed to calm down, or I was telling Mrs. Martin.” He’d walk the playground with his gaggle of little bling girls, and “Patrol” ensuring that the “problem” kids were being nice. He was well liked and trusted. Kids started to say things like, “Mrs. Goodnight, I’m trying to be more like Jackson.” And they really were.
Second grade is also the time our home life was changing, and Jerimiah and I had secretly began discussing moving into Charlotte. We had good friends there. I was driving there three sometimes four times a week, and Jerimiah worked in Uptown, so he drove in everyday. There schools offered more. They had STEM schools, Charter Schools, Private Schools with rigorous course loads. We dragged our feet for too long, and Jackson ended up starting third grade at the same school, but we were already looking at houses on the first day of third grade.
But second grade taught us some important lessons. Mrs. Martin was very organized. She always had a plan, and she was incredibly communicative. She always had a good handle on what each kid needed, and she strived to get them to do their best work everyday. She expected a lot from the kids like Jackson, and she pushed them. And he was definitely better for the experience. He doesn’t look back so fondly on that year because he said he was “too busy.” Ha! That was exactly what he needed to be, and it would pay off later. Even learning how to learn with “behavioral distractions.” It all came in handy.
Thanks, Mrs. Martin, and whomever stuck Jackson in her class. Thanks for being welcoming to us, for always being fair, and for teaching Jackson that not everyone would act and think like him, but his life would be better for knowing those people, and having those experiences.