When I was pregnant with Anna and still teaching, a colleague told me that after I became a mother I would become a different teacher. That I would be more empathetic; that I would understand more all the ways my job mattered (and didn’t matter). I never got a chance to fully understand if he was right, since my teaching jobs now are very different than every day in a public school. But now that I’m on the other side of the coin, with a child now almost finished with Kindergarten, I get what he was saying. Here are a few things I’ve learned about school, now that I’m a parent:
1. My words really, really matter
Anna loves school. Loves. Aaron loves school so much that he cries most Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings because he can’t go to school. I credit great schools and teachers for that, but I got to thinking the other day about how many times I dealt with kids who had huge chips on their shoulders about school. Teachers were always out to get them. The system was always ‘stupid’ or rigged. In my years teaching, I always blamed that way of thinking on being a jaded teenager. It never occurred to me that those were sentiments they were probably hearing at home, too. So even though I’m totally in support of asking questions about methodology and rationale, at home it’s really important that my kids hear that I think their teachers are worth listening to and learning from.
2. Teachers don’t get paid enough
I mean, who doesn’t know that? But I know it so much more now, now that I’m part of supporting a family and trying to figure out budgets and college and savings plans. So many teachers are parents, too. We can’t possibly think it’s okay to keep them juuuuust above the poverty line, when their jobs are so important. We can’t possibly put the demands we do on teachers and not compensate them for it. And yet we do.
3. It’s a little, teeny tiny bit okay to miss school sometimes
I was a strict teacher in several ways, and one of those ways was with attendance. If school is in session, you go. Unless you’re sick, someone is dead, or some other major calamity is going on, you get to school. I had very little patience for kids who were constantly off to long weekends to hunt or play a sport, and I had ZERO patience for the parents who sent me emails from the car telling me their kid was missing the next couple days to hang with grandma so could I please send some work.
I’m getting angry just thinking about it.
But now, on the other side, I am more understanding of this. Don’t get me wrong- Disney is not an excuse to miss a week of school. And no, your family trip up north isn’t equal to the learning you get in your classroom environment. But family time is so scarce for some families (mine included), and sometimes there are some things that can be carefully calculated to be an okay-ish reason to skip school.
As long as you tell the teacher FAR in advance.
And don’t email from the car.
And don’t act surprised when your kid comes back to school and is behind- that is what happens when you miss school.
4. Why didn’t I ask for help??
I often tell the story of the time I was photocopying the play Antigone for my sophomores because I didn’t have enough copies for my class. Not only is that illegal, but it went against everything I stood for as a writer and reader. But what was I supposed to do? I needed the books and didn’t have them.
It never occurred to me to send out an SOS call. I could have asked the PTO, I could have emailed the parents in my class, I could have put out a desperate plea on Facebook. I don’t think it was pride that kept me from those things– it was this weird sense that I was on my own island and that no one was supporting me.
But now, on the other side, I would welcome an email like that from my child’s teacher. In fact, I just sent an email asking her if there’s anything I can re-stock for her room for next year as an end-of-year gift. The parent community is there to help, and I should have asked for it when I needed it.
5. And speaking of community…
We are in this together. Principals often say things like that, how ‘we are a community’ and ‘we are a team’, but I can’t say I ever truly felt that when I was teaching. I often felt like I was just trying to keep my head above water as the waves of work and expectation crashed over me. But we are a community, and those aren’t just words to appease parents and board members. We are all working toward the same objective of lifelong learners. It would be awesome and transformative if we acted like it.