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Four Lessons From Motherhood

If you asked me what time I woke up today, I couldn’t give you a straight answer.  And if you asked how my spring break was, or how state testing went this year, I’d raise my eyebrow. That’s because this teacher is a new mom! My baby girl was born February 24th and it’s been a whirlwind of intense love, intense learning, intense feeding—and short bursts of sleep—ever since. Many blog posts have come and gone, being written only in my imagination as I’ve wandered through this new life over the last two months. But here I am, finally putting fingers to keyboard, while she takes a luxurious nap. Among the many things I hope to comment on, I’ve got some thoughts about motherhood and teaching. Here goes:

1. Learning by doing. It turns out, despite no prior experience, I learned how to change a diaper the instant my daughter needed me to—bam! Success! My mothering instincts just took over. The technique was not described to me in a parenting class or a book, nor was it honed through careful practice. I just did it! Some things are that way…and other new parenting skills, of course, did not come as easily ;) Either way, as all the parents out there know, nothing truly prepares you for this experience. It’s unlike anything I have ever done before. No matter how much I might have read up beforehand, I’ve had to learn to be a new parent by actually being a parent. In the throes of this intense first-hand experience, I am constantly asking questions pertinent to my child’s development. I’m highly motivated to collaborate with my husband and to consult the expertise of others to meet each new challenge. The most powerful education works this way too—the learner asks the questions that correspond to real experience, needs, and interests. Motivation is high, application is immediate, and new questions continually fuel the learning. No quizzing or drilling necessary. 

2. The Value of a Network. There are so many other parents out there to learn from—and most will happily give you their best advice, whether or not you ask for it! Even though no one can actually tell me exactly what to do for my child, I benefit tremendously from the experience and knowledge of other parents. These include family members, friends, colleagues, other moms who blog or comment in forums, and even the most casual of acquaintances who just want to talk about babies. I would be quite lost without wisdom from this very wide network of advice and support (even though this sometimes means dealing with conflicting information). The same is true in my teaching. I’m fortunate to have a wide network of teachers—in person and online— with whom I talk shop and learn… but this is not necessarily the norm for teachers. Sadly, we do not always readily share our knowledge with others or make ourselves vulnerable with our questions and concerns. Though I believe our profession is moving in the direction of more systematic development of teacher networks, most of the burden of connecting with fellow educators still rests on each of us. If you are reading this, you probably are, on some level, a connected educator. But if you’d like to build a network? Join the Collaboratory if you haven’t yet! Join Twitter and find a great  education chat (try #edugeekchat, for example). Couple that with asking each of the teachers on your floor for their best piece of advice or organizing a monthly happy hour for your teacher friends. But geez, no one should have to go it alone in parenthood or teaching!

3. Respect for the Caregivers of my Students. Becoming a mother has made me instantly feel a new level of respect for the primary caregivers of my students. I’ve always seen my students’ parents as important allies in my teaching, but now I know just how fierce the feelings of love, responsibility, connection, fear and sacrifice associated with raising a child are. Just imagining that every one of my middle schoolers was once a tiny baby, whose caregivers had to go through some version of what I’m going through gives me a new level of empathy. I'm moved by just how much this role challenges me, and I'm fortunate to have the time, materials, and personal stability I need. How many, many parents do not have everything they need, yet love and raise their children. I’m not sure exactly how these thoughts will change me as a teacher, but my heart feels something different. I'm humbled both to be a parent myself, and, as a teacher, to be a part of so many parents' journey of raising their children. 

4. Anything But Standard! If there’s one thing that every single resource I’ve consulted about raising a child agree on it’s that every child is different. Yes, there are a few fundamentals (like, they all must eat!), a ton of great research and indispensable advice (like how to wear your baby), and some patterns (like, they tend to smile within two months), but ultimately it’s up to every parent to be patient and accepting of his or her child’s uniqueness and to respond with creativity and devotion to figure out what works. And what works one day might not work the next.  The lesson? Babies are all different, and human beings seem to grow more complicated with age, not less so… so why would we presume to standardize how we educate children? Yes, there are patterns in how kids learn and how we can teach, but education is component of a child’s complex development, and there needs to be plenty of flexibility, creativity and acceptance in response to the differences in each child we educate. I’m extremely troubled by policies that seem to edge out the space for our understanding of human development in education. The voices of parents in education are probably more important than ever right now. 

4 Comments

Kita Grinberg commented on May 4, 2015 at 10:25pm:

I love the thoughtful and

I love the thoughtful and poignant connections you articulate here! I'm excited to hear how your experience as a mother will possibly influence your teaching as you go back to the classroom.

Susan Graham commented on May 6, 2015 at 6:24pm:

Happy Teaching Mother's Day

Dear Friend and Fellow Mother,

As a Mother who Taught and who now is Gigi, here are some of my shared thoughts.

First: For someone, every child is as much of a miracle as my own; and in most cases there is another mother out there has the same dreams and hopes and concern that I had for our own children. Those parents expect me to be the kind of teacher I wanted for my own children. Someone trusted me enough to put that child in my care and I owed to it them to be as concerned and compassionate as I wanted my child's teacher to be and to act in their child's best interests.

The other possibility was that a child in my classroom didn't  have anyone who that cared that much. In that case, as a teacher and a mom, I owe it that child to do what I can, during the time I have with that child, to fill as much of that gap as possible.

Second: I used to have a State Superintendent  of schools who constantly shared this message: "Remember, you are your child's first and most important teacher." I loved that woman, because she might have been running a state school system, but she never forgot that parents are the experts and educators are there to assist, not direct the nuture of children. And she also never forgot that teachers were parents who were their own children's first and most important teacher.

Third: Balancing parenthood and teaching is a tightrope of responsibility. We need to learn to lean in on colleagues and family because there are stages in a career as well as a family. There are times when we can do it all. There are times when we have to acknowledge or limits. There are times when we have to set professional limits in order to honor our primary responsibility to hold our own child's head when they're sick, to attend their school program, to get home in time for  dinner, to take time to read a story or  just lie in the grass and watch clouds. Remember, you really are your child's first and most important teacher.

To all the teacher moms out there, Happy Mother's Day.  To all the teacher dads, an early Happy Father's Day. And to all those other caregivers and educators who fill the gaps and stretch the net when parents can't be there, you are a gift everyday.


 

Matt Renwick commented on May 9, 2015 at 6:10pm:

terrific post

Hi Ariel. When Regie Routman tweets out a post, the author must have something profound to share. And you do! Every point you make hits to the heart of what it means to be an important adult in our students' lives. 

stuwart elisha commented on August 4, 2016 at 9:16am:

Great post. Learning by doing

Great post. Learning by doing is the ultimate thing to make things perfect.

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