According to a panel conducted by Teacher Tap, 54% of the teachers had children. That’s over half of the teachers who juggle work and parenthood. And although we know these are two of the most rewarding jobs, we also know they’re also two of the most exhausting.
This survey got me thinking about how teachers change after becoming parents. Because based on this mom’s experience, it’s impossible not to change. After having my first child, my world transformed, and my perspectives shifted. I found myself more empathetic with my students and their parents.
In spite of the sleepless nights and increased sick days, motherhood has made me a better teacher, overall.
Disclaimer: I want to share my teacher to parent journey, but I also know these aspects of life are deeply personal. I base these changes on my personal experiences, but other teachers/parents may see their transformation in all or some of them.
9 ways being a mother and a teacher changed me as an educator
1. I lessened the homework load
When I first became a teacher, I’ll admit, I loaded on the homework. As a hard-core English teacher, I assigned a lot of writing at home. But after having my first child, my thoughts on homework dramatically changed.
Even though my milk-guzzling newborn didn’t have homework, I quickly discovered that nights were hectic with a child — regardless of their age. I craved a sliver of time at home that didn’t require grading a hundred papers.
It was then that I realized that homework is often as hard on the parent as it is on the kid. After a day of school, work, and life, everyone’s tired, and writing a paper on Carl Sandburg probably doesn’t bring a smile to any of those exhausted faces. (Although, I must admit that I do love his work.)
So, I went easy on the homework.
But I didn’t get rid of the work altogether — rather, I decided that all writing would happen in class. This actually turned out to be great. It allowed me to more accurately evaluate each student’s performance without outside interference, like parents or online resources helping them. By having students complete writing assignments in class, you know that it’s purely their work.
Let me emphasize that even though I cut down on homework, I didn’t eliminate it. I leaned toward assigning reading at home, which I thought was more worthwhile since many kids don’t read a lot nowadays.
Research released in 2007 by the National Endowment of the Arts found that:
- Not even a third of 13-year-olds read daily.
- Students ages 15-24 only spend 7-10 minutes a day voluntarily reading.
- Only a little more than one third of high school seniors read “proficiently.”
Clearly, it’s more important than ever to get our students reading. But it’s also arguably easier to manage reading at home. Most kids can zone in on “Harry Potter” while a zonked parent catches some breathing time.
2. I became more transparent
After having kids, I discovered the value of transparency. I understood that parents wanted to know what was happening and why they were so anxious. Many wanted a foot in the door without having to step in the classroom. So, I raised my communication through emails and phone calls. I also utilized my class wiki more, something I encourage you to do.
One school I worked for also had teacher blogs, and we used these every day to communicate with parents. Before having kids, I wrote short blog posts. Afterward, I made an effort to be clear, concise, and detailed.
It took more time, but countless parents told me they appreciated the recaps because this allowed them to check in and understand the homework, as well as their child’s day.
My attitude toward blogging as a teacher changed, too. The extra work used to annoy me, but then I noticed the value in this detailed daily communication for parents and kids alike.
3. I used sick days (many of them)
Before becoming a parent, I rarely used sick days. I would go to school with a cold, and I rarely called in. When I had my first kid, he was sick a lot, so there were times when the only option was to take the day off.
You may think that this negatively impacted my class: However, it resulted in a lot of positives. For one, if I didn’t take a sick day, I’d feel guilty all day and get stressed out. Secondly, many times, I would catch whatever my child had and would stay home to prevent the germs from spreading to my students and colleagues.
Although being home with a sick kid was not fun, these absences gave me a mental break from the classroom, a luxury I’d never experienced in the past. But these breaks are important for teachers, since the National Library of Medicine emphasizes the importance of taking a break from chronic stressors.
Sure, a sick kid is a whole different type of stress entirely. But for me, it was a welcome break to comfort my kid during the school week while binging Netflix, as opposed to making 15,000 decisions during a school day — an actual stat, by the way.
4. I listened — like, really listened — to the kids
Having kids also helped me to listen more attentively to my students. Previously, there were times when I had other things on my mind, and I didn’t fully hear the student. After having a kid of my own, there was still a lot on my mind, but I also became more attuned to listening to the needs of young children.
I realized that I needed to provide students more opportunities to state their thoughts because it hit home that this was a tiny human with valid fears and intelligence just like my child. And each one of them deserved to be fully heard.
5. I appreciated the uniqueness of each student more
After having my child, every time I spoke to a student, especially if they were in a difficult situation, I would ask myself, “How would I want them treated if they were mine?” or, “How would I want my child treated at this particular moment?”
I never asked such questions before, and this shift in perspective has arguably made me a better teacher.
6. I revamped my parent-teacher conferences
My parent-teacher conferences changed after becoming a mother. I developed a sense of empathy with parents. Often, I felt like I was staring at myself across the table, especially when discussing difficult topics like bad grades, absences, and missed homework. I felt a connection and understanding to a caring parent whose bottom line, most of the time, was to do what they thought was best for their child.
I remember saying to one parent after her kid failed a test, “I get it, we don’t want our children to fail. It hurts, but sometimes it happens. The best you can do is to teach them how to avoid it in the future.”
That parent listened to what I said, and then we worked out a plan — together.
7. I let a few tardies slide
Before having kids, I was strict when it came to punctuality and absences. After all, tardies affected my teaching. When you get interrupted, you must go back and restart, and that’s annoying!
Excessive tardies and absences are national problems. But don’t take my word for it — according to the U.S. Department of Education, over 7 million students missed 15 or more days of school the 2015—2016 school year!
After having kids of my own and teaching for several years, I still found tardies and absences to be an inconvenience, and 15 or more is still a crazy number in my mind.
However, I also understood there were times when I had to give a kid a break because maybe their parent was having a bad day or running late, and it wasn’t the kid’s fault. So, I became more lenient with tardies.
This is not to say that you should let little Joe come late for a week without saying anything, but you could let the first one slide. Kids and parents are human, after all.
8. I loaded on the happy grams
After having a child of my own, I raised the happy grams. You may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Happy grams are positive comments to deserving children. At one of the schools for which I worked, we were supposed to send out a few happy grams a week.
After having kids, I saw the relevance and the importance of these happy grams way more than I did before, and I tried to do as many as I could fit in.
Searching for these positives and letting the parents know about their kids’ good behavior in school was incredible, especially considering how we’re used to only notifying parents when something goes wrong!
As parents, we don’t always want bad news. We also want to hear the good. Happy grams changed the whole mentality of my classroom.
9. I leaned on (and covered for) more co-workers who had children
When I first began my teaching career, I didn’t have kids, but many of my co-workers did. From my naive perspective, I noticed many taking off a lot of time, missing extracurricular events, and dedicating more time to their personal lives. And I hate to say it, but sometimes I felt like I was covering for them without knowing exactly why I had to.
And then I became a parent, and it all became crystal clear, and I felt like a screwball for questioning these extraordinary parent-teachers. Because I knew they were doing the best they could, and they were still doing a superb (if not better) job at teaching, only in a different way.
Many also prioritized their personal lives (as best as they could) so they could be there for their kids. This was a powerful recognition that still sticks with me. From then on, instead of wondering why they were missing an event, I found myself stepping in more when I could. And because of this, others returned the favor.
The day my teaching career changed
Before having kids, my life didn’t extend much outside of the school walls. I didn’t prioritize a personal life, I didn’t even prioritize my life. It was all about the school and the students. But whether or not you have kids, you quickly find that this mode of teaching catches up with you and becomes unsustainable over time.
The day I had my son is the day my teaching career changed. It was also the day I stopped saying yes to everything and realized that I needed to take care of myself to take care of others. This profound lesson not only affected my life as a parent but also made me a better teacher.
Photo: Google Edu