At the beginning of my teaching career, I had only my own experience as a student to guide me as a teacher.
Although developing relationships with students was important, I’d characterize my early career self as rigid. The expectations were clear and absolutely NO exceptions were made.
Believing that I had to be stern and consistent at my first job, I was unwavering in my rules often alienating students and damaging the potential of their learning in my space.
Of course, I didn’t realize that then; if I had, I would have done it differently.
My son was born in my fourth year of teaching. At that time, I was in my second school for only a few months and it was a very different environment than my first school. Parents were more involved and the students’ needs varied greatly from the challenges faced in the earlier part of my career. Although I can’t be sure if it was the kids who changed or me, at that point; one thing that’s true is I changed and have continued to evolve ever since.
Now that I’ve been a mom for almost two decades, my perceptions have shifted and the way I approach my career has changed forever. Softer, more sensitive, and acutely aware of how words impact young people, I’m always trying to see myself through their eyes.
Here’s how being a mom has changed my teaching:
Seeing the “special” in every child became easier. I imagine what his/her parent loves about the child and suddenly they aren’t just a student but someone’s baby and who can’t empathize with that emotion. Trying very hard to treat this person’s child, like I’d want my own child treated in a similar situation helps put it all in perspective.
The way I approach parents when various challenges arise has changed. Always wanting to communicate that I’m not just calling to complain, but genuinely invested in helping the child become the best version of his/herself. I seek to make relationships with the parents too (not that I didn’t before I was a parent, but now I understand differently).
Exceptions must be made and differentiation must happen. Every child is different and expecting the same result from every person in a room is downright foolish. It’s important to really know our kids to ensure the best ways to teach them. It all comes back to relationships.
Flexibility in deadlines, projects, and classwork must be assumed. Although some students will make excuses, most of them are invested, so we need to trust them at their word and give multiple chances (unless there is a pattern of using this kind of behavior and that is probably indicative of bigger issues that need to be addressed) to achieve mastery.
Wherever possible, notice and say something. When something isn’t right, it’s important to say something. When I see students with their heads down or if they just don’t look right, I always ask, “everything okay?” And I genuinely want to know the answer. When they are happy or they are wearing a new outfit or got a haircut, I try to take notice of these things too.
Always thank students for doing the right thing. It’s hard to be an adolescent and making poor choices is easy, but when we catch a kid doing what’s right, we must acknowledge it and thank them. Students should always know someone at school sees the good in them and wants them to know it matters.
I’m far more patient now than I’ve ever been. It’s still a challenge in some situations as I’m not a terribly patient person by nature, but I want to be better at it.
My stance on homework has changed a lot since having a school-aged child as well. I value home time differently and therefore have worked hard to make homework (when necessary) flexible. Projects are done over time rather than on-demand. This way I can respect the sanctity of what happens in the home and with the family.
Now I’m not suggesting that one has to be a parent in order to feel these things, I’m just saying that when I became a parent, something changed for me and I’m a better teacher for it. Being more sensitive and thoughtful, considering how my child would respond to different things I say or the tone of my voice has really impacted my classroom presence and expectations. We’re all lucky for it.
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in May of 2016. Some revisions have been made.