Becoming a Teacher Mom Changed the Way I See My Students’ Parents

better mom

When I first started teaching I was 23. I had a brain full of theory, slim files full of ideas, and a whole pile of naivete when it came to the relationships I would build with my students and their parents.

I knew so little and I thought I knew so much.

Nowhere was this truer than in dealing with my students’ parents.

To be honest, parents were one of my biggest fears when I graduated from college. I come from a family full of teachers; growing up I heard all sorts of horror stories that I internalized as I considered my future career. I continued hearing the same horror stories in education classes as we worked through potential scenarios and how we would handle each individual case, well aware that there was no way we could possibly practice every single situation that could pop up once we had our own classrooms.

While my worst fears have not been realized, I’ve had my share of extraordinarily difficult conversations. I’ve needed the help of an administrator, I’ve shed tears, and I’ve had to seek the advice of many a colleague in how to handle a particular situation. But that hasn’t been my norm. Most of my interactions with parents have been cordial, friendly even. Over the years, some of those parents have become genuine friends as we have worked on extracurricular projects or as I get older and more of them have become my peers.

Still, there were certain parent behaviors that drove me crazy from the beginning, ranging from being too hands-on with their child to forgetting their own deadlines for important things like permission slips and yearbook orders. I’m embarrassed to admit that I spent much of my 20s thinking to myself, “You (parent) need to fix your parenting.”

Then my daughter was born and I learned to be just a little more patient with the over-involved parent who wanted the very best for their child. My daughter started school and I began to understand the irritation of too much-assigned homework and not enough clarity in expectations. Even though I have easy access to my children’s grades, I don’t check them very often and, like my parents before me, I trust that they are getting their homework done, which has led to some unfortunate surprises, reminding me that my students’ parents may not be as informed as I believe them to be. I learned that, like many of my students’ parents, I have so many emails come from school and teachers that I occasionally ignore news bulletins that make important announcements such as deadlines for making payments or signing up for events. A couple of weeks ago my daughter reminded me that she had forgotten to have us sign her permission slip (which I vaguely remember being mentioned in an email from her Language Arts teacher) and she needed to have it signed immediately otherwise she wouldn’t be allowed to attend a play with her peers. I’m lucky that my son’s teacher trusts our son’s reading ability because we usually sign for his nightly reading assignment half as often as he brings his red folder home. I’ve mixed up meeting dates and I never fail to race the clock for nearly every school deadline.

I’ve had to grapple with the fact that I’ve become the type of parent that annoys me most.

It’s a realization that hits me multiple times a week, coming back to haunt me when I’m irritated with yet another email from a parent asking about yearbook deadlines. I have to remind myself that just this week I wrote an email that essentially said, “I know the deadline was yesterday but can I still sign up for the informational dinner for future middle school parents.” The answer was a forgiving, “Yes.”

Becoming a parent made me a better teacher because I was finally able to see my students the way that their parents see them. But it also helped me better understand the perspective of the ones raising them.

Some of the remaining irritations have changed with age and experience and I’m not always as forgiving or gracious as I probably should be. Being a working parent has brought with it professional challenges as I try to balance being a good and attentive mom to my own children while meeting the needs of both my students and their parents. But becoming a mom has also helped me mature as a professional in my interactions both in and out of the classroom.

After years of trying to teach my students empathy, becoming a parent forced me to learn empathy for the one group that I didn’t think needed it: their parents.

It’s just one more bonus gained from the two littles I have the amazing responsibility to raise to adulthood.

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Sarah is a high school English teacher and yearbook adviser in the Houston area. When she's not lesson planning, grading, or revising yearbook pages, she enjoys biking, running, reading, writing, and camping with her family. She spends her "free" time writing about camping, faith, family, and occasionally politics on her personal blog Accepting the Unexpected Journey.

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