This question has lots of answers and could be taken a lot of different ways–and could actually be quite controversial. I’m going to answer from my own experience (which is obviously all I can do), and in no way mean to offend or exclude anyone or any group of people. It’s just something I was thinking about a little bit ago and wondered what others thought. So, that being said, I’m going to answer my own question: I make a better teacher since I’ve been a parent.
Alright, now let me explain…😊
I started my teaching career about 16 years ago, after having an amazing student-teaching experience with some pretty amazing 2nd graders and their even more amazing teacher (who has since become one of my dearest friends and important mentors–thanks, Heidi!). I walked into a well-established community of learners who cared about each other, worked together as a team and wanted to “put their best feet forward.” I remember them always talking about how stretching their brains and helping them grow.
I finished my student-teaching placement in December, and was fortunate to find a part-time opportunity (through a grant) for the Spring semester. Because I was in the right place at the right time, I was aware of (and then offered!) my own classroom for the next fall. I was on my way to my dream of being a teacher, a dream I had had since I was 6 years old.
So in the fall of 2001, I began with my very own classroom of 1st graders. I wish that I could say that I walked into that room (Rm. 106 if I remember right), and did everything right. HA!! I am pretty sure I made every mistake that was possible without anyone getting hurt or making anybody mad. Oh, wait, I probably did make people mad. I know for sure that discipline was the hardest part for me, and that while I was very prepared academically and teaching-wise, there’s not anything that can truly prepare you for the classroom management part of teaching than doing it. That one class in college isn’t real life. But wow–I learned SO MUCH by being there, making mistakes and figuring out what worked. And what didn’t.
Alright, I’m gonna fast-forward through the next 15 years since this post isn’t really about my teaching journey. And because I know how I write, if I’m not careful a post like that could end up taking you 15 years to read! So after that first, formative year, I taught 1st again the next one, and then we looped together to 2nd for another year together (and I do have to stop for a second here and say wow–that was kind of like heaven that 2nd year with 2nd graders and only 16 kiddos!). After that I went back to 1st grade, which was way harder than I had thought it would be. They were such babies!
Ok…up to year 5. That year I had the opportunity (and desire) to change grade levels and so my good friend (and mentor and super amazing teaching partner Michelle) went to 4th grade together. I thought I would NEVER teach “big” kids but fell in love with what they were able to do with the foundation that I and fellow primary teachers had built many years before. I stayed in 4th grade for 5 years, and then moved again to 5th grade. 5th grade became my new favorite (which I also NEVER thought was possible) and I taught many fabulous 10-11 year olds for 4 years.
Are you keeping up? That’s 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 4th, 4th, 4th, 4th, 4th, 5th, 5th, 5th, 5th.
In 2014, I needed a change again, and by the calendar it was about time for one, so I went mostly willingly, back to 1st grade. That brings us to the present, where I am enjoying each and every day teaching most of those same 1st graders (plus a few new super ones!) as 2nd graders in Rm. 202. So add 1st, 2nd to that list up there.
Yeah, but what does that have to do with parents making better teachers? Let me tell you, in terms of things I’ve learned (or at least understand better) since I’ve been a mama.
- In 2007, I was blessed with my first baby. He was big, beautiful and always crying. Ok, only for the first few months. Then he mellowed out and acted like a normal baby. But once I went back to work I learned about how parents have to balance work/family life and still maintain a positive attitude. I learned that no matter how little sleep I got or how late baby made me for work, or how frustrated I was because I had to go to school with spit up on my shirt I had a job to do. I still had a classroom full of kiddos counting on me to do my best job for them so they could do their best job for themselves. Just like all the other mommies and daddies of those kiddos who also have a job to do when their own kiddos make them crazy or late or have to wear a dirty shirt.
- Through those first few years I also learned just how hard it is to give your babies over to someone to take care of. I remember the first day I sent Riley to the babysitter, terrified about what might happen. Not because I actually thought anything would, but because I just didn’t know. To this day, I owe Tara J. a world of thanks for sending me a really quick email early that morning that just said, “Wanted you to know everything is going just fine. He’s had a bottle and we’re playing and having lots of fun. Thought you might be worried.” What a difference that little bit of communication made in my well-being, as well as my ability to trust her fully from the very beginning. I was leaving my pride-and-joy in her hands–that’s really scary!!–but she made it less scary. That feeling and that email helped me learn that communication is so critical to helping parents feel comfortable with leaving their precious cargo with you. Just like I needed reassurance from T, many families in my own classroom have felt uneasy about that hand-off, and it’s my job to help ease the fears, help them to trust me that I will care for their babies like their my own. Ok, or their big kids like my own, too, I guess. Those 4th and 5th graders wouldn’t have loved being called babies.
- Alright, fast forward again to 2010 when baby #2 came into our lives. She was a little smaller, also beautiful and didn’t cry as much. But instead she didn’t sleep. For like 6 weeks. And still doesn’t. Ok, I digress…but what I learned with this one was that it is possible–although a little harder–to be a working mom of two kids. It meant double the fun and double the struggle, but also double the joy and wonder that comes with a baby and a preschooler. This was the time when I learned what it was like to again leave your little one in the hands of someone else. This time, though, instead of a babysitter, it was a teacher. I quickly learned that in many ways that’s even scarier than just taking them to someone’s home. And the connection and communication I made and had with Riley’s preschool teacher solidified many things for me. It reminded me of that trust that was needed by both of us, but also how terrible it feels on the other end when you get a phone call or an email from school. Even if it’s a good one. Just seeing the school’s phone number or reading an email that says “I need to talk to you when you have a minute” is enough to send your anxiety into overdrive and make all the butterflies in a 3-state area ascend on your stomach all at once. I can laugh at it now, but it suddenly remembered all of those same phone calls and emails I’d sent as a teacher all those years and I felt a little silly. I think since then I’ve learned that lesson and at least changed my wording. I think.
To be continued…