Middle schoolers and toddlers aren’t so different after all. Here are a few life lessons from teaching that apply to parenting, too.
Every year as August wanes I start to get nostalgic. I feel drawn to all those back-to-school displays in the stores, I have a desire to start decorating bulletin boards, and I day-dream about all the students meeting their new teachers and embarking on new adventures.
It’s been four years since I have actually stepped foot in a classroom on the first day of school, but I’m still a teacher at heart.
When I studied English Teaching in college, I figured I would probably just teach for a year or two before I had my first child (funny how we sometimes plan out our lives like we actually know what is going to happen). By the time I was finally in a position to leave teaching six years into my career, I did so with mixed emotions.
I loved my career. People always looked at me like I was crazy for choosing to be a middle school English teacher, but it was one of the biggest blessings of my life. I taught close to 1,200 students during those six years, and I learned a lot by watching them, their parents, and the other teachers and administrators who also worked with them.
So, although I’m not decorating bulletin boards this week, I’m reflecting again on those lessons that have been emblazoned on my soul and affect my actions in my current career…motherhood.
Here are four life lessons from teaching middle school that make me a better mom.
1. Independence is an essential skill
As a teacher, I often struggled with students who didn’t take the initiative to figure out a solution when they were faced with a problem. More than once, I approached a student sitting at a desk staring at the wall and asked why he or she wasn’t doing a given assignment and got the response, “I don’t have a pencil.” That was it. There was no attempt to get a pencil from a friend or from me. They just sat there and waited for someone to come along and solve the problem for them.
I realized how important it is to step back and let our children learn to solve their own problems. Sure we can guide and direct, but with my own boys I try to let them struggle a little bit before I offer to help. Sometimes, they need me to step in eventually, but other times they surprise me by doing something I didn’t (and they probably didn’t either) know they could do. Hopefully, by practicing young, they’ll be able to handle getting their own pencil by middle school.
2. Show them you care
I will never forget a particularly vicious email that I got from a parent accusing me of demeaning her child in class. I was genuinely shocked by the her perspective of the situation as well as the harsh way she chose to handle it. I hate confrontation, and I’m a serious people-pleaser, so her accusations really shook me. As I pondered how to respond to her concerns, I felt a strong impression that the key to diffusing the situation was to show her love (which was not what I was feeling at the moment)…to help her see that I truly had her daughter’s best interests at heart. When she came to my classroom the next morning, and I expressed my concern for her daughter’s feelings, I could see her visibly relax. It didn’t matter who was right or wrong. It didn’t matter how the situation had started. It only mattered to mend the relationship, and move on with compassion.
The same holds true for motherhood. When I take the time to show my boys that Mommy loves them, they are more able to hear my guidance on the things that they can and cannot do. When I allow it to become a power struggle, no one wins.
3. Enjoy small victories
One of the first pieces of advice I was given by a fellow teacher before school started my first year was this: “Ask yourself each day: Did one child learn at least one thing today? If so, you’re doing okay. Just keep trying.” Sometimes, the idea of getting every child proficient on every skill when they come with such varied backgrounds, skill levels, and life challenges was extremely daunting. Not that I didn’t want to try…goodness knows I had visions of changing the world as a brand-new teacher, but I just didn’t know how to do it. And some days, despite my best efforts, I really wasn’t sure what my students learned, but I always found hope in that question.
In motherhood, too, it’s hard to see on a day-to-day basis what we’re actually accomplishing. Sure, there are the golden days when your four-year-old finally learns to pump his legs to swing himself, or the day that your toddler says “love you” for the first time. Most days, however, are a lot of cleaning, refereeing, and trying to hang on for the ride. So I still ask myself a similar question: “Did at least one good thing happen today?” Did you actually get a load of laundry done? Did your toddler get over his tantrum quicker than usual? Did you keep all the children alive? Even little successes are cause for celebration.
4. Laugh…a lot.
Laughing together builds unity and often diffuses tricky situations. Plus, it is sometimes the only alternative to crying or screaming. Seventh graders sometimes do really dumb things, but that’s okay. By the end of six years of teaching, things that really got under my skin as a newbie just made me laugh. I mean, what other response are you supposed to give when a student complains, “Miss W, he just licked my paper!”? Kids want to be silly, and within certain boundaries, I found that everything went better if I just played along.
My little boys are complete goofballs…and sometimes their antics really are not that funny. However, I’m trying to make more of an effort to get on the floor and play with them, to run a “horse race” even when I don’t feel like it, and to laugh at Little Man’s horrible knock-knock jokes. I find that when I get out of my own narrow vision of how our day should go, and I take the time to laugh and enjoy life, I make some pretty priceless memories with my boys.
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