Here’s How Being a Father is Changing Me as a Teacher

Some of all y’all might know that the thing I love the most in life is my beautiful four-year old daughter Reece Penelope.

She’s equal parts princess and punisher, ready to jump off the back of the couch in her Tinkerbell dress to land in the center of your chest while shouting “I’m Bringing the Justice” without warning.  Tickle or be tickled is her creed and bugs — caterpillars, ants, spiders, butterflies — are her passion.  Better yet, she’s a comedian with an incredible sense of timing who always finds a way to make the people around her laugh.

#mygirl

Reece currently goes to preschool at a five-star day care that’s costing me an arm and a leg — and while we can barely afford to pay the $1,200 bill each month, she’s learning a ton.  Every night before bed, she tells me about the things she’s studying and we watch follow-up videos on YouTube together.  Just in the last week, we’ve studied the animals of the Plains, the Amazon Rain Forest and the life cycle of Monarch Butterflies — and yes, she knows what a chrysalis is.

What I realized the other day, though, is that I’M learning a ton as Reece goes through school, too.  Here are three lessons that I hope to better translate into my teaching practice:

Parents WANT to know what their kids are learning about in school.

My daughter’s teachers use a tool called LifeCubby to communicate with parents about the topics that their children are studying and the progress that their children are making in school — and it’s nothing short of remarkable.  Not only do they fill out regular developmental checklists and reports on Reece that I can see instantly, they also upload pictures of her working in stations to tackle individual tasks.

As a dad, I’m addicted to checking LifeCubby.  Knowing what she is studying helps me to start conversations with her that reinforce and extend what she is learning.  Just as importantly, however, seeing tangible evidence of the progress — or lack thereof — that she is making as a learner helps me to better understand just what she knows and can do.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?

I have to remain committed to sharing as much as I can with the parents of my students.  Whether it’s through our team website where I try to give parents a general sense for what we’re studying each week or through the unit overview sheets that my students use to track their own mastery of essential outcomes, keeping parents up-to-date is a role that I have to fill well.

Parents NEED to hear positive words about their kids.

Last year was a difficult year for Reece at school.  Because she’s not your typical quiet, passive little girl ready to play dress-up and sing songs in circle time, she doesn’t ALWAYS fit the mold that teachers are hoping that she’ll fit.  Turns out that not EVERYONE celebrates caterpillar collecting comedians who would rather jump off of a table than sit at one.

#whoknew

The results were disastrous.  Every day, I’d go to pick her up and her teachers would have negative reports for me.  “Reece didn’t have a good day today, Daddy,” they’d say.  “She’s not being a very good listener at all.”  And every day, I’d have to have “a talk” with Reece about what “being a good girl” was all about.  It got to the point where I dreaded picking her up each day — and where she dreaded going to school.

In September, though, she was assigned to a new classroom with two AMAZING teachers who really do love everything that makes my daughter unique.  They’ve given her a new definition of what “being a good girl” means — and that definition includes all of the things that make my kid stand apart from her peers.

Now, picking Reece up from school is a celebration!  Almost every day, she hears her teachers tell her that she’s had a great day — and she smiles the minute she hears it.  The results have been remarkable:  She’s confident and happy when she gets to school because she knows that her teachers are happy to see her in all her Reece Penelope Glory.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?

Parents — particularly of the quirky kids in my classroom — need to hear positive words about their children, too.  Those words literally sustain them, no matter how hard being a parent of a quirky kid can sometimes feel.  I need to find more ways to let the parents of my students — all 140 of them — know what it is that I admire about their children.

Parents CAN’T always provide solutions for the challenges that kids are having in schools:

What has frustrated me the most in the two-and-a-half years that Reece has been in school was the feeling of helplessness that came over me every time that her teachers told me that she wasn’t “being a good girl” in class last year.  Not only did I struggle to understand exactly what her teachers believed “being a good girl” actually meant, I have absolutely NO experience working with 3 and 4 year olds.

That meant I had absolutely NO ideas how to change her behaviors in the way that her teachers wanted her behaviors to change.  I didn’t know if I was supposed to yell at Reece every day when we got home, supposed to take television privileges away from her, or supposed to create some kind of point chart to reward her for being good.

So our family got caught in a never-ending cycle of misery:  I’d pick Reece up.  Her teachers would tell me she’d been bad, expecting me to do something about the behavior at home.  I’d go home and try to pull some kind of rabbit out of my parenting hat.  We’d go back to school the next day only to have her “be bad” all over again.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?

I need to stop expecting that the parents of the struggling students in my classroom are going to have the answers to fixing their kids.  No parent wants to see their child in trouble — either academically or socially — every day, y’all.  If they COULD have solved whatever problems their child has, they WOULD have done so a long time ago.

So instead of dumping responsibility for intervening on behalf of the struggling students in my class into the laps of their parents, I need to do a better job tapping into the professional resources and expertise in my building.  When a child’s behavior is disruptive to his/her own learning or the learning of others, I need to turn to the guidance counselor or social worker in my building.  When a child can’t grasp a concept that I’m trying to teach, I need to turn to the peers on my hallway for help.

Being a parent doesn’t automatically mean that moms and dads are better prepared than I am to address the academic, social and emotional challenges that their children are facing. While parents will always play an important role in supporting the work we are doing in our building, to expect them to play a leadership role in addressing unproductive behaviors is a recipe for failure.

Long story short:  Being a father is changing me as a teacher — and that’s a REALLY good thing.  Anyone else had the same experience?

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Related Radical Reads:

Welcoming the Newest Radical!

Can the Quirky Kid Thrive?

My Middle Schoolers Love Our Unit Overview Sheets