Oh my goodness, the lessons I learned. My husband and I taught school for several years. We are not perfect parents, and we were not perfect teachers (Jeff was), but WOW did teaching give us so many tools and trial runs for our own family.
I can’t claim these lessons without first praising the phenomenal schools we were a part of. At first a charter school and then a public high school, I was blessed with many mentors who heaped knowledge and grace on this CLUELESS new teacher. I could do a whole post on each of these individuals and the lessons they taught me about LIFE. I also taught with Jeff at a small, private school focused on teaching students through a Christian worldview. We were part of an incredible model where administrators, veteran teachers, and countless others patiently walked alongside us as we (learned to) patiently walk alongside our students. We witnessed strong examples of discipline and encouragement all founded in love and belief in a child’s highest potential.
As I “grow up” with my own children and find myself in a conflict or trying to correct a behavior, I often think in my head “Aha! I’ve done this before! It was with dealing with an 8th grader not wanting to write his book report…but my 4 year old not wanting to clean up a toy I’ve asked her to is the SAME THING!”
So here are 5 lessons my students taught me about parenting:
1. Use Love and Logic–This one is just straight up a curriculum I went through during professional development. No deep revelation here. It just WORKS. There are so many practical tools for creating and supporting rules and boundaries. The gist of it is “I LOVE you too much to let you act this way” so here are some LOGICAL actions and consequences that I can firmly enforce with empathy. Most frustrating tension with my kids can be avoided (on my end at least) by anticipating their actions and reactions, and implementing the consequences already planned and thought out. The great thing about this curriculum, someone has already done it! I don’t have to reinvent any wheels! I use all this extra parenting time to keep a spotless kitchen (HA!…)
2. Don’t Take Toddlers Personally–I only have tiny people right now, so the realm of my experience extends to age 4.5. They will be mad at you. They will say things to hurt you. They will try to manipulate you. Students HATED when I didn’t forgive late or missing assignments. They HATED that I designed tests and assignments that required homework to be not only finished but understood. They HATED that I focused class and didn’t let them waste classroom minutes. And teenagers will let you know it. You get a thick skin practicing consistency.
My children HATE that dinner is dinner, there is nothing else. They HATE that I never let them finish a fight (Hank fights hard and fast, Cora fights dirty). They HATE that they can’t get away with lying, unkind words, or building climbing towers to the top shelves of their closets. Hank even prepared me the other day, “Ugh! I’m going kick you ‘cause I DON’T like you!” But thanks to years of practice irritating students by standing firm, I almost laughed at his sweet, mad little face before dodging the ferocious would-be blow to my shin. At this young, fresh age, I know that I can reinforce love over and over with him. I know he’s mad right now, but after we deal with this whole kicking issue, I’ll make him a sandwich in the shape of Elmo’s head and I’ll be awesome again. I try to take all toddler fits like this and move on confidently.
3. It’s A Marathon, Not a Sprint—I hate running in general, but you get the sentiment.
So, if I set clear expectations, with clear reward or consequence, I’ll have the perfect classroom. No? What? Some students STILL won’t bring their homework on time? They won’t study for the test? They might still copy from each other? Plagiarize?! Cheat?!?! They still have choice. Every day, some students search for ways to juuuuuuust push the boundary. Some give excuses. Some argue semantics. Some just explain and explain and explain why it’s not really their fault. And this is exhausting. Unless you prepare for it. In my 6th year teaching, it is THAT student’s FIRST year being an 8th grader. This is new for them. They’re still experimenting. I wait and watch for slow improvement.
The same is true with my darling children. We have the same rules. Every. DAY. How do they wake up with so much energy for testing them again???
Cora is a brilliant boundary pusher.
M–Cor, please don’t use your markers while you’re eating.
C–I’m just putting my lunch on this side and my papers on this side…
M–All the way, right away, Cora (whole post coming on this little poem…)
C–As sooooon as I finiiiiissh thiiiiiis flloooowweeerrrrr(she’s also the queen of
dragging words to waste time)
Here’s where I calmly take the markers, she melts into a wounded puddle, I take
her to her room so she can collect herself. It’s a whole thing…
She’s kind of listening. She’s kind of doing what I say. Not because she’s hateful, mean, or trying to make the day hard. She’s testing her control. Her weight. Her power. Her independence. She’s also testing how serious I am when I set an expectation for her.
Maybe we do this marker challenge every day for months. Maybe she learns the marker lesson, but then pushes me
tomorrow 5 minutes from now with what she is and is not allowed to throw at her brother’s head (there are, in fact, acceptable items). The key to my sanity and my success as her parent is that I expect it. I expect her to push. And I am prepared with patience. A lot of patience… I never run out! I’m kind of amazing… (where’s the “sarcasm” font…)
But I keep at it. I take a deep breath and know that I am running the long, patient race. I will stay steady and consistent as she learns to practice obedience.
4. Be You!–Confession: I was terrible at the creative parts of teaching. Like bulletin boards. And decorations of any kind. Some teachers are amazing. You guys are magical. I almost failed that section of my student teaching because my observer was confused about why I had Dickens on the board while teaching Shakespeare. Honest answer? I forgot the board was in the room…and I hadn’t done the Dickens one anyway, that was my supervising teacher…but I digress…
So I figured out ways to make my classroom fun in a way I could be successful. We had OK-Mondays where I would simply play one of OK-Go’s incredible music videos as they walked into class. I had Terrible Joke Tuesdays (I bought my friend an elephant for his room. He said, “Thanks.” I said, “Don’t mention it!”) Just patterns of fun they could expect when coming to class. Little did they know, hidden in all these videos and jokes were all kinds of English-y things we “naturally” ended up discussing. Symbolism! Irony! Poetry! ENGLISH! Ok…back to parenting…
I’m not great at some things that other parents do. Exhibit A: I’m not great at taking pictures of my kids. Like, the intentional ones each month where you document their growth. And I LOVE these! I love seeing my friends and family members do this, and edit with pretty fonts to show all the cute new things the babies are doing! So precious! And then when the baby turns 1, and you put them all in a slide show and watch them grow!!! I seriously can’t get enough. It’s just not muh jam… I tried… I have 3 kids, and only 6 months of progress pictures…for one of them…
But there’s so many other things that we love. That I’m GOOD at! So we have dance parties. They help me cook. We go on walks and talk about everything. I sit with Cora and look at anatomically accurate pictures of the human heart because somehow she already knows it’s “not really shaped like Valentine’s”. We set up the tent in the living room. Hank paints entire sheets of printer paper with ENTIRE bottles of acrylic paint and is amazed every time at the colors and the brush strokes.
I love inspiration from others, but ultimately, I just do what brings us all joy.
5. Laugh Instead of Yell–Obviously, I don’t laugh at disobedience and disrespect. I’m not talking about true discipline issues. But sometimes I catch myself getting frustrated with honest to goodness mistakes. Or silly accidents. Or messes that I just didn’t plan on. My students gave me years of practice in letting the little things go and laughing at innocent mistakes. Who needs the pressure of perfection? So to finish my long-winded little post here (props if you’re still hangin’ with me…I’m practicing brevity), a list of things I chose to laugh at instead of get frustrated with.
Can you guess which incidents happened in my classroom and which incidents happened at home? Choose S for School, H for Home… (maybe I miss teaching some, can you tell?)
_____ An entire bottle of hot sauce shattered on the floor when I was 8.5 months pregnant and not in love with how ANYTHING smelled
_____ Grapes all over the floor because someone was “being a puppy” and “spitting out tennis balls”
_____ Flower petals everywhere inside because someone wanted it to snow
_____ Bruises from running into a parked car because running with eyes closed “made it easier to run fast”
_____ All potholders missing because it was cold and socks and gloves were needed
_____ All socks mismatched, and some gone missing, because we just like to share
_____ Hair cut and moderately ruined by someone who was not a professional stylist
_____ Someone eating baking soda because all powdery white substances are sugar, right?
_____ Clothes ruined by mud, because…well, mud
_____ Spills, intentional and whoops, because we are all people who will never completely master spacial relations
Love my students. Love my babies. Love learning how to teach them and really learning WAY more about myself.
Each Friday, we are bringing you everyone’s favorite…A LIST! Because…internet… Sometimes these lists will be funny, sometimes reflective, maybe just 5 of our favorite cereals for those nights I’ve just given up. But we promise it will be Friday, and there WILL be five.
If you were a former student of mine, I owe you two things. 1) THANK YOU for all your patience with me. Teachers are learners too. 2) I’M SORRY you had to be a guinea pig. Thank you for letting me practice. If you were a student when I student taught, I’m especially sorry. I’ve gotten SO much better 😉