Sunday, August 25, 2013

I'm a Better Teacher Now That I Have Kids

I'm a better teacher now that I have kids. 

I realize now that it's a little funny typing that sentence--because of course I've had "kids" as long as I've been teaching. My kids. The kids in my classes. 

But that's not the same thing as having your own kids. And that simple realization is something that has come to me only after holding my own red, wrinkly babies in my arms. 

No, those kids at school aren't really my kids at all. They are merely lent to me for a brief period--yet I have the potential to have a powerful impact on their lives. 

If you'd asked me before the days of pregnancy, I might have said that I knew what my students needed. And, to a degree, I did. I knew what they needed to become better readers, to become better writers. I knew what things were like for me as a student, knew what I liked about classes I'd attended, knew what motivated me, what annoyed me, and my goal was to replicate all the wonderful things about courses I'd taken and to leave out the bad--to bring that experience to my students. 

But what I didn't know was what it was like to be the parent of a student, and I hadn't seen my students in their weakest, most vulnerable moments like their parents had.

I had no idea what it could be like to put your whole world onto a yellow bus and hope that the driver would be safe, that the kids on the bus wouldn't be like the kids I remember on my bus. I had no idea what it would be like to turn away from the bus and realize tears are streaming down my face, no idea what it would be like to continue to cry the whole way back to the house, while all I could think about is how my oldest baby is in the hands of adults I don't know. I had no idea what it would feel like to cling to the 2 year old in my arms as I watch the rickety bus head down the road.

I didn't know what it was like to help a child with her homework. I never imagined those nights of scrambling to fit it all in, homework, snack, play, activities, a bath, reading before bed...Honestly, I had very little sympathy for kids--and their parents--when they didn't have my assignments done. I never imagined the crying, the emotions, when a child can't do an assignment perfectly (or doesn't want to do it at all). Now I know better.

I didn't know how much--how incredibly much--I'd appreciate an organized homework folder, with a spot for communication with the teacher, a spot for returned papers, a spot to send papers in. How I'd have organized my classes differently if I'd only known what  a lifeline this could be for a mommy trying to keep up with the child who's separated from her for most of the day! I teach high schoolers, and my oldest is just starting 2nd grade, but I now realize how much it helps parents--parents of any age--if they just understand how things are working. It's security. It's giving the student and parents a sense of what is happening. 

I knew a routine was important...but I didn't know how important. I didn't realize how hunger or lack of sleep could affect a kid's ability to think and behave like a human being. (I didn't understand how these things could affect a mommy's ability to think, either!) 

I didn't really comprehend the power I had to build students up or tear them down. I didn't realize that all those little anecdotes I would share in class would come home with students, be shared around a dinner table, among siblings. And I don't think I ever realized my name was being mentioned daily in houses around the community. 

I didn't realize that an award I gave a student could inspire them to work five times harder all summer long. I can only imagine the power that a negative comment or a mark on student writing might have had over the years. 

And even though I always knew every kid is different, it wasn't until I had two very different kids of my own that I really understood the gravity of those differences.

When I have my own classroom full-time again next year, I go back knowing that I'm better prepared to teach the kids that other parents share with me--and so much of my confidence comes from my sweet little girls and the lessons they have taught me.   

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc