My early teaching days were littered with crazy mishaps and expectations that often mimicked my perfectionist student ways. Always eager to please and be the best version of myself, I tirelessly worked to be a perfect teacher and (as you can imagine) often failed to meet that mark.
Teaching is an art and it takes time to master, but I almost never factored in my lack of teaching experience into the expectation. After all, I was a great student, so I should have been able to be awesome at teaching immediately.
Of course, I know that now, but as a new mom, I felt the same way.
From the second my son took in his first breath, I felt behind the eight ball. Never feeling good enough at my ability to be a good mom, I often sulked, missing out on just enjoying being a mom in the early days.
What I was able to glean from my teaching experience (since it came first) were some of the most important lessons to being a better mom.
- Practice patience. All learners go at their own pace and although in my early days I had expectations, I quickly learned that I needed to adjust my understanding of what success looked like to suit the children I was working with and that sometimes even though I explained things more than once, perhaps I wasn’t doing it in a way they could understand. So when my son doesn’t understand, instead of getting really frustrated, really fast (although the frustration is definitely real at times) I have to remember that perhaps I need to adjust my explanation and be patient with him. It’s not his fault he doesn’t get it, just like it isn’t the fault of my students. There are so many other factors that are involved in how and when a student develops. The same is so for your own children but because we are so close to the situation, we often fail to see the bigger picture. So I always try to be patient with my son. If I look at the bigger picture, I’m always able to find some calm in the frustration.
- Genius happens in the little things. In the classroom, we plan big performance assessments, but miracles happen in the day to day as we move through moments. It’s so important to be present in those moments because they happen so fast and are so meaningful. I never wanted to miss a gem in the classroom and I especially don’t want to miss what happens with Logan. So I try my best to be present with him while we play games, while he plays baseball or when he does his homework. Of course, there are many things that can distract, but I do my best to stay present.
- Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes. We all make tons of mistakes. It’s often hard to admit them, but even harder sometimes to let go of them. If there is one thing I learned from teaching, holding onto mistakes or not reflecting on them is much more detrimental than the mistake itself. We are all human beings and we aren’t perfect (even if we want to be), so mistakes happen. Rather than punish ourselves over and over for them, it’s in our best interest to learn from them. Not only does this help us grow as people, but it helps to model a growth mindset for our children, whether they are our biological children or our classroom children. Admittedly, this doesn’t come easily for me, but when I do let go of a mistake and try to internalize it for growth, I’m always better for it. Plus, saying you’re sorry is another important lesson to model and experience, especially as the adult in these relationships. Adults make mistakes, children make mistakes, but how we deal with them defines us.
- Structure is essential while kids are learning. The routines and structures we put in place for kids help them to feel safe and confident once the structures no longer exist. As a classroom teacher, I was big on routines and clear expectations to guide our learning. It is only in this way that students can feel safe to take the necessary learning risks that will help them grow and stretch. And what’s crazy is once the structure is in place, you can begin to deviate. As a parent, having structure is important; the routines for waking, eating, bathing and sleeping will help get your children into a healthy ritual. One thing I implemented when Logan was young was a night time routine for bed. It became so ingrained in him, that even now in middle school, he will shut the television at bedtime and ask me if I’m reading to him. My answer is always yes.
- Be consistent. This one piggy-backs off the last one. Once we have routines in place, we must be consistent in how we enforce expectations. If we decide together what the expectations are and how to be responsible to them, as well as what happens if we aren’t, then we MUST adhere to this contract for the sake of consistency and credibility. Yes, there will always be exceptions, but no everything shouldn’t be an exception. We create these unwritten rules to keep a sense of responsibility and accountability in the front. Students, as well as children, need to know what the expectations are and what happens if those expectations aren’t met. We need to make sure that there is equity in how we carry out enforcement and always make sure we are transparent in the why.
- Homemade thank yous or notes mean the most. As a teacher, I used to collect and keep student emails, notes and gifts in my top desk drawer for those days where frustration was getting the better of me and I questioned my will and want to teach. I would simply open the desk and read some of those notes from current and former students and I’d instantly be reminded of why I do what I do. This is true as a mom too. My son has had many moments where I melt inside and now that he is almost a teenager, he has moments that test my sanity. He is having one of the latter moments, I reach into my phone for pictures of the special things he has done... short videos or notes he has left me. In fact, I still have a note from when he was about 5 on my refrigerator. I smile whenever I read it (and that’s almost every day, multiple times a day).
Being a teacher was really the best training I could have had to be a good mom (aside from the model my own mom provided - thanks Mom). Much like teaching though, I’m not always the best at it. I do my best every day to let my son be himself and learn on his own. I never want to deny my son the opportunity to learn an important lesson or shelter him from realities that will be in his life. The nuances of doing this well are lessons I’m still learning, but every day I work hard to be better at it.
What have you learned from teaching that makes you a better parent? Please share
The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.