I never really considered if and how becoming a parent would change my perception of teaching. It’s just not something that had ever come to mind before I had kids of my own. The changes to my own dynamic have also caused changes in my perceptions of the world, and as teaching is such a large part of my world, it’s (in hindsight) only logical that this has changed too.
I wonder, if you’re a parent teacher too, have you noticed any of these shifts? Or was it just my own ignorance before children that has caused these things to be thrown into such sharp light?
Many of the things I’ll mention through this post may seem blatantly obvious. And they are. They’re things that I’ve always thought a bit about, but now they seem so much more clear and focused. And different. Ever different. I can tell even as I write this that they will continue to shift and evolve over time, especially as my own children grow and develop. It makes it that little bit more exciting I think, relives some of the monotony of this job (because yes, even though it is crazy busy, it can still feel monotonous).
I see my students in such a different light now. I see them not only as ‘students’, but also much more clearly as ‘children’. I don’t necessarily mean that in an age-related sense, since I teach high school, but more in the sense that I see them as a young person with a full life outside school. I can see them as someone else’s baby.
I value time a heck of a lot differently now. I can’t even stress this one enough. Which brings me to the next one – stress. OH BOY the stress of being a teacher and also a parent. It’s like nothing else, truly.
Along with that change in stress has come a change in loyalty. To be expected sure, but not without its shockwaves rippling throughout my home life and my career.
Perception of the Students
I really feel like becoming a parent makes me a better teacher, even with the restricted time, added stress, etc.
The reason I feel like this is now I feel like I understand my students on a whole different level. I can look at them more clearly as the young adults that they are, but from the perspective of a parent. If you’re not a parent yourself, you can’t truly understand that, forgive me. I thought I got it before, but now I realise how I never truly did.
I can truly take a step back now and ask myself ‘What if this were my own child?’. I could never have genuinely answered that before now.
I can see elements of my toddlers in every student I teach. I don’t mean that they necessarily act, speak, or look like my toddlers – though sometimes the behaviours and melodramatics certainly mirror those of my 1.5 and 3.75 year olds. But even those behaviour outbursts are more understandable, more relatable now. I feel them as a mother, and not just a teacher. I hesitate more with discipline now, and find myself leaning toward a more gentle, positive approach. I think more about how their own parents might react or respond to their different behaviours, and am in more frequent contact with their parents/carers where I feel it’d be helpful.
I better see their emotions, even the ones they are hiding. I feel like I can better respond to changes in their emotional state. This is partly due to my own learning about early childhood emotional and cognitive development, and how to parent more peacefully with toddlers. Sure what I’ve learned is toddler-specific, but I’m finding a lot of it is still applicable in some way to the teenagers I teach. I can use a lot of the same tactics and get similar positive outcomes. I can better see their tangled web of emotions relating to the dynamics at play within the classroom and the playground at any given moment. I better understand their reactions, and how to gently guide them to respond instead of react or outburst. I can better differentiate between malicious intent and thoughtlessness.
I better see their relationships with each other and with me. I better see the impact of my own words and actions, and the need to be an un-obvious role model.
I better see their potential, and how their personality influences that. I can fill in gaps in their education without turning it into a big deal or embarrassing them. I can have better discussions about career pathways and their desires for their dream adult life.
I better see their struggles as a student and as a younger human. The reality of their immature, undeveloped brain and emotional intelligence is more evident now. Of course I *knew* all this before, but I *understand* it better now. Their lack of ability to control impulses, or make decisions, or think about consequences.
I’ve always called my students my ‘kids’. But now that holds just a little more true.
As a child-free professional, work was my biggest stressor. As I’m a partial perfectionist, along with being a multi-potentialite, I always wanted to do better, be better at my job. Explore ways I could improve, different things I could do. I took great pride in going above and beyond, producing outstanding lessons, taking on extra responsibilities, planning documents etc. When things were going poorly at work, my whole world crumbled. When assessment and reporting time hit, I was engulfed.
Now my greatest pressures come from home. Sleep deprivation has been the biggest one, as I’m sure any parent with a poor sleeper understands. You’re never quite tired like parent-teacher tired, that’s for sure.
Health has obviously been another very big pressure. Declining health in my children is an immediate high-pressure system for me. Besides being concerned for the child who is sick, I’m also concerned about the rest of us catching it, as well as about the impact it will have on my job. Being effectively harassed by leadership for taking time off means that any time I now need to, I end up in a roiling ball of stress/anxiety. I honestly cannot believe that I am being put under more stress for having the audacity to have sick toddlers who need their mum at home. Far out.
But on the flip side, I am less pressured by the goings-on at work. I know that is inadvertently adding more to my colleagues plates, but that is a problem with our system. There is less than zero lee-way in any aspect of what we do. If I have to say no to something, that means that someone else has to say yes. There’s just no flexibility, and we’re all already stretched to the max. Many of us on the literal edge of true burn-out.
I depleted my own sick leave this year in seemingly record time – see how it affected everything by clicking here.
Before my own kids, I was free to place my loyalty with my school. Now, I’m not. My loyalty is first and foremost with my own kids. That means they come first in *everything*. Unfortunately that might mean that school takes a back seat, but so be it.
I mentioned in a previous post about how my kids have had an extremely long run of illnesses, meaning I took a significant amount of time off work. While that ruffled some feathers, a very wise colleague of mine reminded me that I am always replaceable as a teacher, but I’m not as a parent. If the school really had that big of a problem, then actually come and speak to me about it instead of grumbling behind my back. And I’d tell them what I’m saying now – my kids are my ultimate priority, they deserve my unrepentant loyalty. Their health and wellbeing comes before everything else, and that’s that. Next topic.
Returning to teaching for the first time after parental leave? Click here to see how it can all pan out.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes pre to post children is my time.
Before having my own babies, my time was my own outside of school. I could come home and have the entire evening to do schoolwork and to also spend time with friends, my partner, family, and hobbies.
I never truly appreciated that. Literally having hours a day to divvy up as necessary. I could spend three hours on school work, and still have time to cook a nice dinner, watch some tv, have a shower, and read a book. The weekends were entire days of freedom really. And the school holidays were actually holidays – I could spend a bit of time here and there doing the things I needed to do, but it was completely on my terms.
But now with two toddlers, my ‘free time’ is extremely restricted, comparatively.
I can’t really do any work while the kids are awake. That means my hours and hours of time after school are now limited to the time after they go to bed and before I go to bed. On average, that’s just two hours.
Two hours to clean up, shower, do school work, spend time with the hubby, and participate in my hobbies.
Some nights this is shortened significantly, especially if I’m solo parenting for an evening, or one or both kids are having a difficult time going to bed. I might end up with less than half an hour ‘free’, and have to decide if I want to get my work done, or do something else. Putting it off can just mean increasing the stress of the next day, but sometimes its necessary. All work and no play make Emily a dull girl, after all. And it can sure lead to resentment – a dangerous feeling in a job where you have a literal and direct impact on so many people. If a teenager feels like you resent them, that’s it, they’re gone. If your colleagues feel like you resent them, same deal – that’s it, they’re gone.
The reverse can also happen – feelings of resentment toward your own children, partner, home life for getting in the way of the job. Because teaching is so all-encompassing, it can be quite difficult to switch off and focus on the other things. It’ll always be niggling in the back of your mind, that little thing you just need to get done. Learning to switch that off can be challenging (or maybe that’s just me?).
My weekends are no different – the only real ‘free time’ is still those two hours in the evening. I know we could choose, as a family, to split up the kids awake time, but we don’t really work like that. I’d rather not be doing school work while the kids are up. So far this has worked well for us, but I know other families split the wake-time so each partner gets time to themselves. For many teachers, rather than that time being allocated for hobbies, it’s allocated for work. So not really a fair split after all.
School holidays are a bit more flexible at the moment. The kids go to daycare three days a week (as I’m working part time this year), so as long as they are well and we’re not in a lockdown, I theoretically get that time to myself. So far this year that’s only happened in one school holiday block. I got a glorious six days of time to myself, and it was truly restoring.
During the terms I’m pushed to the limit, even as a part-time teacher. I just literally don’t have time to sign up to extra school commitments – I’d burn out faster than a match. That’s been a big adjustment for me – usually I love getting involved in unit planning, organisational stuff, even the occasional STEM club. But not right now. Maybe again in the future, but not now. Because along with all this physical time comes the mental strain.
Before kids I’d happily spend hours and hours planning lessons, adding in cute pictures, designing graphic organisers from scratch, giving extra feedback. Now I just don’t and can’t and won’t. I have been teaching for 8 years, and am at that stage where I can run good, even great, lesson pretty much on the fly if necessary. I know the content (of the junior sciences at least) well enough to just run with it. I know behaviour management and relationship building well enough to adapt as and when needed, without extra planning or reflection.
This may come across as unprofessional, but having this level of experience allows me to take a step back from the extra layers of our crazy profession when needed.
That’s not to say that I’ve become lazy or complacent – I still spend careful time planning for each lesson where and when I can, which is still the extreme majority of the time. But it means I can remove some of that mental load of stress, purely because I’ve done the hard yards already and have a heap of resources and experience under my belt. All this allows me to minimise my outside-school-hours time dedicated to work, and gives me the freedom to reallocate that time where it’s truly needed – with my own kids.
All this time stuff is something that you really can’t understand unless you are a teacher with kids yourself. There is something truly unique about having your own kids ‘taking up’ time that you used to have free for a job that requires SO MUCH outside school hours work.
How did your perceptions change with the expansion of your family?