“Becoming a mother will change your teacher view.”
-teacher mama friends
I was 23 years old when I started my teaching career. Up until this point, my experiences included working with students of varying ages and levels. Tutoring, summer programs, daycare teacher life, and student teaching helped shape my passion and view as an educator. At 23, the mound of responsibility and work placed on teachers was a challenge I was excited to tackle.
I was new with a fresh outlook on education because after all, I was going to change lives, right?
Although I was mistaken for a student in the hallway (many times by hall monitors), and had to dress a bit more “teachery” for my middle schoolers, my first year of teaching was everything I expected. Tough, smooth, fun, rewarding, busy, and most of all THE BEST DECISION I EVER MADE. Although I referred to my students as “my kids,” even before becoming a mother myself, I was unaware of the shift that would come…when a teacher becomes a mom. Fast forward 12 years later, here are four things I’ve learned so far:
Every kid is now your kid
Once I returned to the educational world (after leave), it was as if I was viewing the world with new eyes. Every student I saw in the hallways, in a desk, and at the lunch table was now “my kid.” Many mothers who return to work after their baby is born go through a stage of wonder and what ifs. No matter how great your child’s care may be (and I LOVE my son’s school), you still wonder….
- Are they loving him enough?
- Is he ok?
- Are they looking out for him?
- Are they noticing when he’s unhappy?
I found myself also wondering the same for students as I would see them going about their day. I checked in more with students who seemed to fade into the background. The squirmy kid that can’t manage to sit still. I’d check. The unruly kid that has run their course with most teachers. I’d check. The kid who lacked motivation that day. I’d check. The angry child in the hallway. I’d check. The crying child immersed in middle school drama. I’d check. The student who seemed to have a no good, horrible, very bad day. I’d check. I was now unofficially everybody’s mama because now that I have a child of my own, I’m more conscious of how I would want someone to stand in the gap for him.
How you respond matters
This is already obvious, especially in teaching, but it was like my senses were heightened. My radar was peaked even more on how we speak to students. I realized that we are in such a hurry in our country and our educational system. Many teachers know the struggle of having to ensure that “all the things” are done and done effectively. Are we taking enough time to greet our students? Speak to them with genuine concern? Love? Or are we in such a web of busyness that we rush past the small things that can affect the heart of a child?
It can many times be difficult when you are in the midst of the hustle and bustle to notice your tone. I can admit I even struggled with this at times in my own classroom. However, there is something about growing a set of mama eyes combined with your teacher vision. You now see the child who had a rough morning and could do without sarcasm that day. You now see the child who is in desperate need of a laugh or for someone to let them know they are good. You now see that your rushed response may have needed more patience. You think, would that response or tone be ok for MY child? In light of the spike in depression, drug use and shootings among our children, it’s quite evident that even the smallest interactions matter. How we respond to kids can make a world of difference.
I wouldn’t say this is something I didn’t already know, but a good reminder nonetheless. Families come with all sorts of unique stories, blessings, and challenges. We could never know the roads others have taken, or the valleys they have endured to bring them to their current place. Having a healthy child is not something my husband and I take for granted. We are very aware of many who have had vastly different journeys and stories. We are also aware that we haven’t been in the parenting game long enough to even know what bumps may lie ahead. Nonetheless, becoming a parent further emphasizes the need for gratefulness and not to discount those whose path may be more difficult. When I think of kids with special needs, reading challenges, autism, varied disorders, etc., I struggle as I know how many times they may have been discounted in their education (and even in their world). Some may have already predetermined their potential or thought they would never reach a level of normalcy. My late uncle was born with cerebral palsy and was not given the best prognosis for his life. However, my grandmother refused to accept that his life would be comparable to a vegetable. She was his greatest advocate and raised him as any other child while also accommodating his needs. My uncle thrived and lived longer than most who are born with this disability. He traveled, attended school, was in bowling and swim leagues, and even worked for a spell. It didn’t matter that he was unable to speak, walk, or have control over his muscles. What mattered is that he was not discounted. He was seen, advocated for, and received the resources that he needed to live a quality life. My uncle is one of the main reasons why I’m passionate about supporting students that are typically underestimated. My son is now my newest reason for advocacy no matter the journey of the child.
I would describe myself as high strung with a side of Type A. If I’m given a task, I’m all about ensuring it’s done and done right (which means exactly how I think it should be done). Change is typically not my friend. Unplanned plans are an even greater enemy, and to top it all off I must have a clear explanation of just about everything. So, if you can imagine, my classroom was nothing short of a print-rich Pinterest land. I was the teacher that made sure no one left until all the glue sticks had their tops and markers were in their bins. Now, throw a child into my Type A world and….well….let’s all just laugh, shall we? I would describe the first 5 months of motherhood as joy mixed with a constant intense look that you’ve forgotten something. You’re trying to keep a human being alive while convincing yourself that you won’t die from sleep deprivation. For me, the 6th-month mark is when I actually breathed. I also gained a new freedom by learning — it’s whatever. After months of being on autopilot, being spit upon, and smelling like a combo of breastmilk and sweat, you’ve pretty much run the gamut of unplanned, sweet chaos. For this high strung mama, I am now free from being frazzled at the disarray simply because I’ve learned that it is part of my new normal. It’s whatever and I’m cool with that.
I’m sure I’ll learn more as my motherhood journey continues. If anything, a new baby reminds you to slow down enough to see what you’ve bypassed for so long. On a broader scale, I enter work every day with the realization that we are working with someone’s child. Not just a student on your roster. SOMEONE’S CHILD. No matter their lot, no matter their challenges or struggles….we owe it to our country and our world to guide them. My child is every child and what I want for my son, I want for all children. I wonder what strides we could make in our educational system if we truly viewed all kids as our kids.
Motherhood has caused me to be more in tune with how we handle one of the most precious forces in our society — our children.