Friday, June 27, 2008

Oh, the Cobbler's Children

Friends of mine whose parents are doctors or nurses would joke that their folks never believed them when they said they were sick. I guess after seeing so much at work, these medical professional parents didn’t jump to the concerns some of us lay parents do when a fever strikes. My parents both worked in education, and as a parent-educator myself, I’ve started thinking about the impact it has on a kid to have an educator parent. How does my relationship to the big machine of education affect the way I participate in the education of my own kid? Since my kid is young, I’ve focused on some basic stuff here. I don’t know yet how I’ll be with helping my kid with homework or when I’ll go to school to advocate for my kid…

Because I teach, I believe much of the real teaching goes on at home.

I’m not talking about running drills or reviewing workbooks here at home; after years of observing students, I’ve concluded that kids really do know what they live. By reading ourselves, by discussing the world, by taking trips to see natural and historical wonders, by living lives of intellectual curiosity, my husband and I are teaching our son a way of being in the world that we hope will serve him well, not just on state tests but in the long journey of life. (I also don’t think there are guaranteed recipes for a “successful kid.” It's not like I think I've got raising a kid figured out; I just don't think what teachers my kid has will matter as much as other parents I know seem to think it will.) Yes, I want my kid to have great teachers, but I realize sometimes he won’t, and I don’t believe all the power of whether or not he loves learning rests with his teachers. (As a loving and supportive teacher, I haven’t wielded such power, so I should know!) Yes, teachers have a big influence, but at this point, I think our home’s influence is bigger.

Because I teach, I'm less likely to yell.

It took years and years of classroom conditioning, but I really don’t yell much any more. I yell more as a parent than I ever do as a teacher, but it takes way more to get me there than it might if I didn’t teach. Teaching has helped build a pause button between my feelings and my mouth that really helps with parenting. Let’s hope that lasts! I'm told by fellow teachers that this changes when our actual children are the same ages as the students at school.

Because I teach, I'm resistant to helping my kid right away.

I think it was somewhere in the middle of my second year of teaching when it dawned on me that students claimed they didn’t understand something as a stall tactic or as a trick to get me to do it for them. Instead of rushing right in with clucks of “Of course you can do it! You do it just like this…,” I’ve learned to ask, “I’m really happy to help you with your questions. What don’t you understand?” I’ve found this skill transferable at home. Sometimes I think I may appear…well, callous to other mothers. I want my kid to know I think he’s competent, and I trust him enough not to solve everything for him right away. No, I don’t wait until he’s in a puddle of tears, either. It’s like “wait time” for parents, and I think teaching has given me the practice needed to resist the knee-jerk desire to sweep in and fix things.

Because I teach, I'm more focused on genuine ownership of learning gains rather than quantifiable objectives or benchmarks.

Because I give grades and sit on committees to determine benchmarks, I understand the shortcomings of what they can measure. Will I have no comment to a child of mine bringing home D’s and F’s or even C’s? Not likely…I think a modicum of effort can keep most failures away in American public education. Right now, we’re still in the stage of life where achievement is measured by what age a child does something. Reading by three? Prodigy. Riding a bike by five? Olympic athlete. Sigh. I’m surrounded by people really concerned about their kids’ mastery of the alphabet and basic phonics. I, too, love a student with a strong command of alphabetical order, but I’ve failed to see it correlate to long term life achievement. It’s difficult for me to buy-in to a Hooked on Phonics score when I know that so much more of long term learning rests upon genuine ownership and curiosity.

Because I teach, I think I’ve seen it all.

Okay, so I know I don’t know everything. But teaching the public gives me a broader view of people’s lives and skill sets and interests than I would have if I worked in an industry where I didn’t see the general public. My dad taught high school, and he’d always try to shock me with “stories from the ‘hood.” “I know what goes on at these parties,” he’d say, shaking his head. “I know about the drugs and the sex. I’ve helped girls out of garbage dumpsters after boys have tossed them in there; I’ve seen things that would curl your hair, my friend. So don’t tell me you’ll be home at 1 a.m. You’ll be home at 11 p.m. or you’ll not be out of this house again.” Stuff like that. I hated it. I thought he was histrionic and slightly out of his mind. We’re still a stretch from these concerns at our house, but I already know I’ll sound similar. Teaching takes some of the rose color off the parenting glasses. I don’t think “nice kids” look a certain way, and I don’t think “good kids” don’t have sex or bully or drink, and I’m sure I’ll bring the full impact of what I’ve seen to my kid’s house rules, too.

I hope my classroom experience enriches my parenting identity more than it detracts from it when everything’s said and done…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nothing beats teaching. Nothing beats helping minds develop. See the new book on "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better".