I chose the teaching career path after a successful but stressful first career as a store manager at a large cosmetic company. I enjoyed the job and paycheck but felt empty after long days and a rotating schedule that caused me to miss many holidays and major family events. My children were a big reason why I decided to leave my former position and pursue teaching.
It has been a long long road from day one completing general ed classes and finally graduating with my masters degree (6 years later). I learned from colleagues, mentors and professors along my journey, but the most profound learning came from my own children and their individual school experiences. Here are some things I learned through my own children that I keep in mind while I teach the future generations in my classroom.
Be personable: My oldest son was the perfect example of that kids that knew how to push your buttons. While you are giving important (always) instruction, he is creating a project with your paperclips. When you stop and ask him to repeat what you just said, he repeats it back word for word. It is just enough to drive you crazy. His grades were never terrible but he wasn’t at the top of the class. His mode of learning was tactile, mechanical and he probably had ADD, but this was almost 20 years ago so he was labeled as distracted. He never talked back or was disrespectful, but teachers still had reasons to call me into their classrooms at the small tables to discuss his behavior.
One specific teacher went to battle with him each day. It was clear she did not care for him. She finally asked me to come in and speak about her concerns. Before I met with her I asked my son why he disliked this teacher so much and why he felt it was hard to do his work. His simple third grade answer was, “She doesn’t tell us anything about herself. She never told us about what she likes or her family.” I was shocked. My third grade son was telling me his teacher was lacking the human quality that kids and adults connect with. He didn’t find it important to work for her because he knew nothing of her and obviously the same was for her. The teachers who connected with him were the teachers that found a way to help him learn in his own way and would connect with him personally first and then try to work on his “behaviors”. As a teacher, you can start the very first day getting to know your students with a simple morning meeting prompt. Take time each day to share a funny story or relate your own experiences to what you are teaching. This makes being a teacher rewarding because you have gained 24 more life experiences and they have gained an adult that will stick with them through their milestones of life. Trust me.
Build parent relationships: As a parent have you ever had your first conversation with your child’s teacher be a positive one? Yeah me either. I get it, teachers are busy people. We have so many things required of us daily and it can be overwhelming. So are parents. They like communication and updates just as much as we do from our leaders, family, and friends. These kids are their precious genes sitting in our class. We owe them the good along with the not so good.
My middle son did well in kinder and seemed to be progressing as well as the other students. We had to move him schools for first grade to a smaller school, but one that was a hybrid charter. He went three days at school and two days at home. At the time I was not in education so I knew very little about reading skills or levels. He went the entire year with good grades, a promising progress report and nothing close to a red flag.
Once again we moved back to a public school. After two months I was called into a meeting with the principal and his new teacher, who had many years of experience, to discuss his reading. He was almost a whole year behind. I was blown away that I was never told he struggled or that I could have increased his reading at home. I was totally in the dark. I contemplated that the teacher either found it too much work to tell me what I needed to do extra or she was just too nice and thought he would eventually catch up the following year. He ended up being held back (hindsight I would not have chosen this) but in the long run we still had to help him through daily reading and keeping him encouraged. Had this teacher given me a chance to help him more and even get him tutoring I believe he would have caught up.
With your parents, be honest when you are discussing student’s progress and how they can help in the home. Do not assume that parents won’t follow through with your requests at home by making it simple for them to take over when their kids need extra help. Build the trust and confidence with parents and share with them your own experiences so they feel encouraged. Send updates when students meet small milestones so parents can encourage their child at home. I take a simple picture of the student and send it immediately through Class Dojo so parents see it in real-time. Create simple tasks that parents can do at home even if they get the help of a sibling, cousin or babysitter. It takes a small village and we all know this!
Be creative with challenges : I will be honest some days I am better at this than other days. Some students challenge my patience and good nature more than others, but I remind myself they are children and I am the one with experience and age (ha). What I don’t want to do is let my fragile kiddos think those anxieties, fears, and frustrations are insignificant. Because of my life experience I need to be creative in the way I handle situations dealing with social emotional issues with my students.
My sweet daughter suffers from many fears and anxieties. Making a long story short she suffered two major seizures (first grade and second grade) that are totally unexplained, but they altered her equilibrium and her response to sensory events. So imagine a child who loved all things fun and crazy just like her brothers and then one day not being able to even ride a carousel. In school she had fears of public speaking, plays, loud noises, the flag salute, picture day, PE. The list goes on.
We wanted her to be resilient and move beyond her anxieties, but we didn’t know how. Her poor teachers struggled with adapting her to a simple school routine where much is asked in way of speaking and communicating. They had to be creative when things would set her off and put her in total shutdown. They were amazing at finding ways she could express herself and build confidence without pushing her. She felt comfortable to share her poster while sitting on the reading chair. She enjoyed being a special helper when she could not bring herself onstage for play rehearsal. It wasn’t hovering, but a way of making school a fun place to be that felt safe and purposeful. She is now in a home school co-op three days a week with a smaller group where she feels amazing. Her teachers recognize her fears and make it possible for her to feel that way and also rise above to be a part of a community of learners.
Do you have that student that is the loud kid or the kid that struggles with new challenges? I know I could name a handful that all have different needs and require that I reassure them that our class is a safe place to learn and grow through these fears. Acknowledge the anxieties that your students have because they are more real than we know and create a community that inspires creative ways to handle these challenges.
I now have a high school graduate, a 7th grader, a 3rd grader and a preschooler to back all this up. I am by no means a perfect teacher or mama, but I know I have reflected on my experinces as both and they often melt together. Sometimes I am not sure where the line divides the two careers. What I do know is our children need us to show up each day willing to show our human qualities and connect on levels that may stretch us out of our comfort zone. These kids are worth it.