A Word With • Teacher Moms

Teacher by day, witch by night

How did becoming a parent change how you teach or see kids?

Amy in Evanston (preschool): All of the years of teaching before kids, I was like “These boys are coming in with their bedhead and super short pants. My kids will never be like that.” I judged so many parents. My kids' pants are mid-shin now and the last thing I care about is brushing their hair.

How did becoming a parent change how you see your students’ parents?

Amy: I now think, “Oh crap, I have to tell you something amazing about your kid.” From the teacher side I used to be like, “Well, this is what I’m telling you,” and now if I'm about to tell them something negative I realize, “This sucks, you'll be really hurt by this.”

Sara in Evanston (high school): Something I’ve learned is that bribes help—last year I gave all the main teachers bouquet of flowers. If a parent come in with treats I’d feel more favorably towards them.  

How did teaching inform how you view parenting in general?

Helen in Chapel Hill (Speech Language Pathologist, formerly in a first grade classroom): White middle class boys in particular are smart, they can ask and answer questions, they can tell you about dinosaurs and thermodynamics—but then it’d be time to clean up and all my little Latina students would get a broom, but Hudson would have his head on the desk looking out the window. He was like “Martina’s cleaning up for me!” I see upper middle class white children have no social skills and no responsibility for anything other than their own curiosity and interests. This made me determined to teach my children to have some basic manners, coping, and life skills.

Kate in Portland, ME (third grade): I have perspective, more than my husband, on what’s normal for a 7 year old. He gets so mad at our son because he doesn’t want to make is lunch or doesn’t want to clean up when he’s told. I’m like, “That’s what 7 year old boys do.”

How do you maintain enough energy to teach children and then parent?

Sara: I work close to where I live and have my kids in aftercare so I can go exercise and have a break in between. I cannot help them with homework. That's why my daughter’s recent project was so crappy.

Kate:  Coming home to kids after working with them all day is freaking brutal. I used to have a really long commute and now it is only 10 minutes, which is great, but I do miss the time to come down and regroup. In addition, my older son is now in my school. He was coming right in my classroom after school, sometimes even overlapping with my students. I could not even breathe for a moment between teaching and parenting, so I increased his aftercare. It’s more expensive, but even my husband was like, “Something's got to give.” By the time it got to 7 PM I wanted to to kill everyone because I’d been with kids all day. We also have a secret code when either of us are about to lose it:  “I need the dark cave.” It’s a grownup time out. Shut the door, turn the lights off, pull out your phone, do what you want for 15-20, a half an hour. Do what you need to do so you don’t explode on the kids, or each other. 

What have you picked up from the classroom has helped you at home?

Kate: The power of positive reinforcement. Kids respond so well to it and I learned to do it at home. It’s really easy to get on the nag train—if you can point out something good they did they’re much more likely to do it the next time.  For every negative interaction, one positive goes a lot further in terms of getting the behavior you want. When we get into a bad cycle we start a “Noodle Jar.” A dry noodle goes in the jar each time my kid does something remotely good and we say, “Thank you for….” That’s it. No punishments, no big deal, just a thank you for something simple. Once the jar is full he gets to pick an outing with a parent. It’s effective for parents too—it forces you to notice the good things too, even while you say, “Thank you for not hitting your brother with that bat,” through gritted teeth.

How did parenting change how you teach?

Kate: I give so much less homework that I used to, now that I know it’s such a pain in the ass as a parent. I’ve seen some research that states pretty clearly that before 5th grade, homework can actually be harmful to students. It can be a struggle, which makes them feel negative about school, and it takes away from time doing other things kids need to do, like run around and play. Where I work, parents take homework really seriously, which is great, but then they get into these huge battles with their kids and the kids come in and they are miserable because they had a terrible night. Now that I know what a battle it is to get ANYTHING done between 5-7pm, let alone confusing homework, I try to keep it minimal.

Sara: I used to send emails home and I’d contact the mom, not the dad.

Does your spouse sympathize with you that you’re getting it at both ends, at work and at home?

Amy: It’s like, “We take it seriously but also we kind of think it’s a joke." The way it comes across to me is like, “You’re home by 4. Why don’t you do all these other things at home?”  

Kate: My husband had no idea what my day was like until he came to school to pick me up once. He sat in the back for the last hour or so. His perspective changed completely. He walked out and was like “I need a drink and a nap.” He kept saying, “They just kept saying your name over and over again.” 

What do you wish more parents understood about teachers?

Kate:  First, I am a human. And a mom. And I’m not crazy.  If your kid comes home and says something that I said and it sounds crazy, DON’T BELIEVE THEM. Give me the benefit of the doubt before you get all up in arms—chances are it was a misunderstanding.

Are bigger kids much easier to handle than littler kids?

Sara: There is an expression I learned in grad school that rings true: Toddlers and teenagers need you the most. I get to work at 8, and until I leave at 4, I’m nonstop needed. I’m needed all day long, and i’m needed after that, still.

Does teaching prepare you well for motherhood?

Kate: Fuck no! Nothing prepares you for that shit.

Helen: I wasn’t prepared for my own lovely children to freak out for not reason. It is disheartening to think “I’m so great with other people's kids” and I just don’t have it for my own.

What advice do you have for classroom teachers about to become mothers?

Amy:  If you are taking some amount of time off and you don’t feel at all ready to go back, don’t go back. Don’t push it. It would be a huge disaster, emotionally.

Also, back off your own kids’ teacher. What are you getting out of picking at them, trying to give them your expertise? You know it’s a hard job. You know, hopefully, that they’re trying to do their best.

Kate: If you can help it, don’t change schools/grades/jobs right before or after you have a baby. It’s hard enough to come back to a place where you're comfortable and you know what you are doing.  I started a new job when my youngest was only 8 months old and it was brutal. I was pumping in a closet, navigating new curriculum, and trying to set up a new classroom, all while still up 1-2 times a night. I love my job now, but that first year was a mess.

Helen: I remember a parent told me she had been a public school teacher and then became an ER doctor. She was like, "I needed something less intense!"