As most of you know, this is my 20th year of teaching. It is also my tenth year as a mother. Being both a mom and a teacher provides a unique perspective. It’s taught me a lot about my children and how they learn. It’s taught me a lot about meeting kids where they are, communicating with parents, and mutual respect. While I don’t always get things right (I am not even close to perfect), I have learned a lot along the journey. Here are a few of the best lessons I’ve learned as a “teacher mom.”
1. Don’t Go on the Defensive – Parenting is hard. Whew, let me say that again. Parenting is HARD. It is definitely the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s messy. It’s emotional. Boy, is it emotional. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to keep things in perspective when issues arise at school. As a teacher, I have to communicate hard things. Things that parents don’t want to hear. And while I know this rationally, when I am on the parent side of the table, my emotions sometimes get the best of me. I think this happens to all parents, even with the best of intentions. When I have gone on the defensive as a parent, when I got angry or upset in a parent/teacher conference, or when I was in denial about my child’s needs, I ALWAYS regretted it later (I’m sorry, teachers. You know who you are). I’ve learned that even when I feel emotional, to be open to teacher feedback. That doesn’t mean that I always agree, or that I don’t share my concerns, because I do (and I think parent input is extremely important), but when I take a defensive stance, it is hard for me to hear the information about my child that the teacher is sharing. When you are on the defensive, emotions are so high that communication can shut down. I have to work at it, but I try to go into a conference with an open mind and a clear head.
2. Ask for Back-Up – When my boys don’t want to listen, or do their homework, or try to tell me that they ARE allowed to bring their collection of 65 million Pokemon cards to school (yeah, right), I always contact the teacher to get some back-up. I don’t see this as a weakness in my parenting skills, but instead as teamwork. You know the saying, “It takes a village…” So, I use my village. I email the teacher to elicit help. I explain the situation: “Nate despises doing his reading homework and tells me every night that he doesn’t have to do it. Can you remind him that he has reading homework every.single.night and that his mom is not just being mean to him?” Teacher response: Check. Done. Here’s another: “Drew thinks that he is allowed to bring hot wheels cars to school because everyone else does it. Is this allowed? If not, can you remind him that this is against school rules?” Teacher response: Check. Done. When I am being the heavy, and my kids are pushing the limits, I team with the teachers, and I have always been met with a positive response. I can tell you from experience that teachers WANT to help. We want to partner with you! If you communicate clearly what is going on at home, I guarantee that your child’s teacher will try to figure out a way to help and support you. We want to be on your team. When I have asked my own children’s teacher for help and support, I have never had a negative response. Now, that does not mean that I burden my kids’ teacher with every minor issue we have going on at home. I definitely pick my battles, but when I truly need support from school, it is always there.
3. Parent for the Child You Have Now, Not Ten Years From Now – This is an incredibly important lesson that I learned from the Parenting Boys panel that Joe Marshall led with several other heads of school during his first year at Trinity. One of the heads of school, Chris Cleveland from Wesleyan, spoke passionately about parenting in the now, rather than looking too far down the road into your child’s future. He shared that so many parents are focused on the “end game” that they forget to be present. He said (and I’m definitely paraphrasing, as this was many years ago): “Do we want to raise honors students or Harvard graduates, or do we want to raise good people?” Some of you reading may be thinking, “Yes! Yes! All of the above!” But the point was that focusing on our children’s character, work habits, study skills, and habits of mind now in the elementary years will pay dividends later. Pushing our children harder and faster towards goals we set for them (the college they should attend, for example) puts so much pressure on children that the skills they need to learn to be successful students and citizens often fall by the wayside. Teaching my own children to be respectful, responsible for their own things, complete their homework, and be kind to others are all more important to me than grades. If you know my children, you know that this is a work in progress. They do not always look adults in the eye and greet them, they are not always obedient, and they are not always kind, but they know that these are the qualities that matter in our family. I know that if I focus my efforts on shaping caring, empathetic, resilient children, the rest will follow.
4. The Power of Yet – This one is related to the above lesson about teaching your child character and social/emotional skills. Mindset is one of the most powerful things we can teach our children, and one I still struggle with as a parent. You have heard Jill Gough, our Director of Teaching and Learning, refer to the power of “yet” and Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research. It is important that we praise our children’s effort rather than the product. Although I know this as an educator, and practice it in my classroom, for some reason I when I get home, it is easy to slip back into praise for the sake of praise. I am working hard to change how I talk to my children about their school work or their after school activities. I am learning to praise their hard work, effort, and resilience. When Nate finishes his fluency practice for the night (the most dreaded homework in our household), I say: “Wow, you worked really hard on that reading! I think if you keep practicing all week, your teacher will notice how much you improved.” Instead of asking about assignments and grades, I ask my kids to tell me about something they worked really hard on at school, or something they learned more about. While these questions are often met with, “I don’t know” and a shoulder shrug, sometimes they surprise me with a great nugget about their learning, allowing me to reinforce the belief that if they keep working and practicing, they will get better and better.
5. Be a Role Model for Your Child – Whew, this is a tough one. As parents, we are tired. We are stressed out. We worry. Often, I find that I am my worst self after school at home with my own children. It’s like I’ve just used up all of my patience at school during the day, and I am short with my kids at home. When my children see me lose my temper easily or cope poorly with anger or disappointment, I always see this behavior mimicked later. I always think to myself: “Yep. That was my fault.” :::sigh::: We have to model gratitude for our children. We have to model self-control. We have to model kindness to others. We have to model putting our phones down and being present. It is definitely hard to do this at the end of a long work day. I do not always do the right thing. Sometimes I play on my phone during dinner or serve fast food because it’s easy. But I know that my kids are watching me. I know that they are listening. I know they see when I feel frustrated, or angry, or disappointed. I know they see how I deal with my emotions. I know they see when I am kind to others, when I show gratitude. I know they take everything in. This is true of my own children, and the children in my class as well. I work hard to be a role model for the behavior I want to see in my children, and when I see them misbehaving, I often look in the mirror.
I hope these lessons that I’ve learned as a “teacher mom” give you some insight or something to think about. This post was not meant to be preachy or judgemental, but rather to share my unique perspective as an educator and a mom. A final lesson to end this post is one that Maryellen Berry taught me several years ago: Give yourself some grace. As I already mentioned, I am far from perfect. I am not always the mom or the teacher that I aspire to be; however, tomorrow is a new day. Beating myself up about my shortcomings does not help me become a better teacher, a better mother, or a better person. Each day with my students, and my own children, is a new opportunity to learn, grow, and practice the things that I cannot do yet.
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