When I first announced my pregnancy last year, my dear friend and colleague Natasha told me that “Becoming a mother will completely change your teaching.”
I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical at the time: after all, with four whole years of experience under my belt, hadn’t I transcended the possibility of professional improvement?. But Natasha has three children of her own and extensive experience in the classroom, so she’s the one to trust when it comes to parenting, teaching, and their inevitable impact on each other.
Here I am, six months into motherhood, 2 months into my 5th year of teaching, 7 hours away from the start of annual parent-teacher conferences, and I can already tell that she was right.
The season of parent-teacher conferences is traditionally a time of anxiety, discomfort, and frustration for educational professionals. While the majority of conferences are pleasant exchanges with pleasant parents about the success of their pleasant child, there’s always the lurking possibility of conflict. Inevitably, there will be one parent who disagrees with a teacher’s grading system, with the discipline policies, with the presentation of curriculum, or with the enforcement of deadlines and voices his disagreement loudly. Then there’s the parent who suspects the teacher of secretly disliking her perfect child, who makes accusations of unjust treatment and occasionally makes threats. And, naturally, it’s the negative interactions that teachers remember most, and those memories put us on the defensive year after year. So my attitude towards the parents of my students has, unfortunately, been a little cautious and mildly suspicious: “Are you the one that’s going to attack?”
But this year I’m discovering a new sympathy for the mothers and fathers of my ninth graders. Instead of preparing myself for a verbal battle when I have to deliver bad news about a student’s performance, I’m trying to put myself in the parent’s position: How would I feel if a teacher told me that Sam cheated on a test and then lied about it? How disappointed and anxious would I be to learn that my son wasn’t reading or writing at peer level? And how much would I love to hear another adult praise my child and pay attention to his small victories?
It’s just clicked all of a sudden. Of COURSE parents over-react sometimes to bad news from teachers. It’s not that they are blind to their child’s imperfections: they’re just struggling to deal with the choices that their child is making, the consequences of those choices, and the painful fact that–as 9th graders–they need to be allowed to fail sometimes in order to learn. Considering how anxious I am about Sam’s reluctance to start crawling (when I KNOW that every baby is different and hits the milestones at his own pace, ect.), I can imagine how heart breaking it would be to watch your son struggle in academics, in social interactions, or especially in making moral decisions.
Each of my students is as dear to their mothers as Sam is to me. If that knowledge doesn’t make me a better teacher, nothing else will.
Back to grading now: Here’s hoping that I’ll have lots of good news to deliver to parents tonight.
*I’m usually intentional about NOT talking about work on the blog, as other teachers have been fired for making unprofessional comments in a public forum, and some states have recently passed laws limiting teacher/student contact online and I’m wary of the possibility of misinterpretation. None of my comments about conferences or parents are directed toward any specific individuals. If you find my reflections unprofessional or offensive, please contact me directly with complaints.