How Teaching High School Prepared Me for Parenthood…
…and how it didn’t.
Now that Z has hit the magical age of TWO, my life has moved from the Fast Lane to the Super Fast Lane…with nightly visits to the Family Bed (Of Pain) [more on the Family Bed (Of Pain) in a future post]. Yet occasionally in the Super Fast Lane, we take a naptime break from mach speeds and I am able to reflect.
Recent reflection: Parenting a toddler is a lot like managing a classroom. No, I am not saying ninth graders are just like toddlers. Okay, maybe a little. But since all of my ninth graders have graduated or are now seniors, this list shouldn’t compromise any egos.
1. Routines! Kids of all ages thrive on routines. My ninth graders had a Daily Starter, something other teachers call “bell work”…it’s a short activity to keep students occupied while you take role, take a breath, and buckle up your seatbelt for the hour ahead. Z’s daily starter is a snack prepared by Daddy while Mommy lies in bed and growls at the cruel cruel world. (No, I am not a morning person.)
People like to know what’s coming next. Leave surprises for birthday parties, and keep your kids clued in by doing daily things in the same order every time. I cannot stress how important this has been for bedtime. Cannot. Stress. How important. For bedtime. The simpler the better, and we’re working on that.
2. Transitions. This is something I never quite “got” as a teacher. I guess some people like more warning than, “Hey! Put those papers away, it’s time to move on! Move it move it move it!” As a mom, though, it makes more sense. “Z, you have two more minutes of swimming time, and then we’re going inside to do something really fun, like wash the dishes!” And my daughter, bless her, cheers wildly because she LOVES doing the dishes. By the time I pause to wonder where she got this particular freaky genetic aberration, I’m sure it will have faded away.
3. Short Breaks. Those five-minute passing period breaks we got? Old students of mine, count yourselves lucky. Maybe it’s fine when you’re young to have an entourage every time you step into the bathroom. Me, I like the door firmly closed between myself and any other persons, yet most days Z and her “friends” walk right in. Sometimes she makes comments, which I will not share here.
4. Rewards and Praise. Every single person appreciates rewards and praise. Praise is inexpensive, but don’t give it away for free, or it will seem cheap. Stickers got me a long way on the Great Potty Training Experiment of 2010, but after awhile they lost their luster. And their stick.
5. Workload. I could write pages about how underpaid public school teachers are. They work so hard, earn so little…We all know this. Why isn’t it changing?
6. Kids can tell when you don’t know what the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks you’re doing. Now, the younger they are, the easier it is for you to pretend. But if they’re older, and they sense doubt, weakness? They go for the kill. I think substitute teachers have one of the worst jobs on the planet. I’m shuddering as I type this.
7. Inexplicable Temporary Deafness.
Teacher: Okay, class, your paper is due on Friday. When’s the paper due?
Teacher: Say it again.
Friday comes. Sixteen kids “forgot” the paper was due Friday.
Ever-Suffering Mother: Z. Z? Z! Stop playing with that. Bring it to mama. Do it now. What did I just say?
Z: Stop playing with that.
ESM: Yet what are you doing?
ESM: Yes, with that. Now stop.
Z: [does not stop playing with that.]
8. You are an example. Ah, how I hate this one. Wouldn’t it be grand if I could just let loose with a string of swear words every time some…poo-poo brain cuts me off on the road? But the truth is, as soon as I signed that teaching contract, and as soon as that baby was born – boom. I am now a person that another little person watches. All the time. And in the classroom it might be worse. Watched by many. If I had the good fortune of their attention.
There are differences between teaching and parenting as well. As a high school teacher, I got to go home at the end of the day. Maybe not always as early as I would have liked. Maybe I never felt like I was leaving my work behind me (often I was indeed carrying it along in the form of essays to grade).
Looking back from where I’m standing now (which is next to the potty while my child sits and sits and sits and sits), the most important difference was that my high schoolers did not ask me to wipe their bottoms. They went through Very Important Do-Not-Ever-Lose-These Handouts as if they were toilet paper, though.