Teacher or Parent: Does One Role Trump the Other?

The Teacher Becomes a Parent

I was a teacher for two years before I became a mother, and I approached the two “jobs” in a very similar fashion. I started with an inventory of what I already knew, participated in classes to expand my knowledge and sought out the advice of peers. I felt fully prepared to be a mom, right up until the day I brought my son home from the hospital.

That first night my son would not stop crying. I called my pediatrician and was told that if he was fed and wearing a clean diaper he’d just have to “work it out.” That didn’t feel right to me, so I tried everything that I had read, heard or could think of to ease his discomfort. Finally I called my mom to admit my defeat. She calmly told me, “Julie, does he cry when you’re holding him?” I told her no, but that I was afraid of spoiling him. My mom laughed and said “Just hold him. We’ll worry about him being spoiled later.”

Teaching, like parenting, is a complex and challenging job that requires a certain amount of participation to fully understand the job. To fully understand what teaching entails, one has to do the job.

Even though I had prepared myself as best as I could, I struggled at first. I remember many late night conversations with my husband where I cried because I felt inadequate, that I had made a bad career choice. However, I was determined to learn and grow and be better every day. My experience in teaching has provided me with some unique insight that I hope to share.

The Parent-Teacher Becomes an Advocate

I think teachers are sometimes at a disadvantage when talking about education policy because they feel their teacher role trumps their parent role. As someone with insight in education policy, I have a responsibility to help other parents understand how legislation and policies impact what happens in the classroom.

Yes, I am a school district employee, but I have a voice as a parent, too. No matter what, my job as parent comes first.

Nicholas and Julie Hiltz, First Day of School, 2013

There are times when I struggle to find the balance between what I think is right as a parent, and what I think is right as a teacher. For example, I support teacher accountability, but not the current approach of using high stakes testing. What was gained by having my six-year-old son take a year-end test on Music and Physical Education? Sure, he learned some new vocabulary, but did that demonstrate that he had learned to appreciate music as an art form or that he has embraced a healthier lifestyle? I hope to change that for him and many other students.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I want to learn to be a better mom and teacher, and I’m certainly open to feedback from those who have more experience than I do.

As a parent-teacher, how do you balance your roles, especially when policy flies in the face of what you know is best practice?

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  • BriannaCrowley

    Although I’m Not a Parent…

    I may have reacted the exact same way to a newborn had I not read your post! I found your post to be engaging in that you shared your own learning curve in such a vulnerable way. I love how you illustrated the blancing act between the classroom, district, state and national initiatives vs. the very personal role of advocate for your child. 

    I wanted you to know that I cross-posted this on CTQ’s GOOD.is profile. Hope some fellow parents, teachers, and parent-teachers stop by to join in on this fantastic conversation!

    • JulieHiltz

      Thank you for your kind words

      Thank you for your kind words and the cross-post. I certainly hope I can engage more parents and teachers in this discussion. There’s not a clear division between those two roles. In fact, we have more in common when it comes to “our kids” than most people would imagine.

  • ReneeMoore

    Teacher Parents

    So glad you have brought attention to the important connect between these roles in a way that often gets lost in the public dialogue: many teachers are also parents (and we’re all taxpayers!). Sometimes I hear people discuss teachers vs. parents as if we are totally separate and opposing groups. 

    As a teacher, when I look at my students, I see the faces of my own children (sometimes literally as some of my children have been in my class in public school). I remind myself constantly that I must deal with other people’s children the way I want my own children to be treated.  It helped when I would talk with my students’ parents for them to know that I was also a mother; and it helped me to understand their concerns and questions. 

    On the other hand, I worked in a district in which teachers were not allowed to attend school Board meetings–even if we were parents–we could get in trouble if we were seen talking with a school board member. It was considered insubordination, a violation of the chain of command. I’ve also been in the position of having to be in some fairly tense parent-teacher conferences with my children’s teachers, who were also my colleagues. Sometimes, being a teacher in the same district, gave me an understanding of the policies that I might not have had, but conversely, it also gave me an understanding of what was a violation of policy that I might not otherwise have known. It can be a delicate balance.

    • JulieHiltz

      Your colleagues are like your family.

      Oh yes. The conversations I have with my peers about my own child is a lot harder than any conversation I’ve had with a parent. I spend so much time with my colleagues that they’re like my second family. That connection sometimes makes it harder to have the difficult discussions because I’m afraid of offending them. Still I realize it would be more offensive to them if I held something back- and I would not be honoring my duty as my kid’s mom.

  • SandyMerz

    Roles support each other

    I’ll never claim that being a parent automatically makes someone a better teacher. But it does make you a different teacher. At least it did me. I also think being a teacher makes me a better parent.  We have a lot going for us and I am blessed to have the children I have.  Sometimes, after a particulalry trying day with a struggling family, or heck, I’ll just say it – a family who through their own dysfunction is messed up and not easy to like, I go home and thank my kids for making parenting so easy. 



    • JulieHiltz

      Thanks for the honesty, and

      Thanks for the honesty, and the laugh. There have been a few times that my own son has tried to get out of trouble with me by pointing out that what he did is not as bad as what one of his peers did in my classroom. I suppose that’s human nature for a child to try to make those comparisons with their siblings and friends. He just has a larger peer group to draw a reference from.

  • JustinMinkel

    “Have you tried…” vs. “Wow–you’re doing a great job.”

    Julie, I love your reflections.  Of all the harmful “wisdom” about baby-raising, I think the worst is to make parents feel like they’re doing something wrong when they’re doing exactly the right thing by holding their babies. 

    Here’s my connection: As a new (and stay-at-home) dad, I got lots of advice.  What I needed, though, was support.  I needed my parents and other peer parents to just tell me once in awhile, “You’re doing a great job.”

    When mentoring new teachers, there’s so much I want to convey to them from everything I’ve learned in the past 12 years.  But I try to remind myself that sometimes they’re overwhelmed, and what they most need is the reassurance that 1. their instincts are usually right, 2. they’ll get better at this, and 3. they’re doing a great job.

    This is new territory to me because my daughter just started kindergarten.  Many friends thought I’d be extra critical of decisions my daughter’s teacher makes, because of my background as a teacher.  I’ve found the opposite, though–I so deeply appreciate her work and understand the barriers that can get in the way of optimal teaching, and I try to convey to her, the principal, and other support staff how grateful I am for their work, whether it’s a passing comment when I see them or a letter to the editor about how great the school has been for her.

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece.

    • JulieHiltz

      Great Connection to Mentoring

      Congratulations on the new baby and thank you for making time to respond. What a great analogy about mentoring and parenting. If we only spend our time making corrections or suggestions about what our new teachers or kids should be doing, and not acknowledging what they are doing, then we’re not doing all we could for them. 

    • JulieHiltz

      Great Connection to Mentoring

      Congratulations on the new baby and thank you for making time to respond. What a great analogy about mentoring and parenting. If we only spend our time making corrections or suggestions about what our new teachers or kids should be doing, and not acknowledging what they are doing, then we’re not doing all we could for them. 

  • Maria Kart

    The balancing act

    Hi Julie – Thanks so much for posting this. Although my kids are older now, I remember how difficult it was for me when they were younger. For one thing, I was often exhausted from working with kids all day and then have more demands when I got home. I do know that teachers without children can be so misinformed about what life is like at home when they assign homework. If both parents work, it is hectic sometimes to finish things on a certain night. I remember my daughter’s second grade teacher, a single, assigned homework on Halloween weekend. I was infuriated. I had a church Halloween function on Saturday; then church and Halloween on Sunday. I wrote her a nasty note saying that my daughter was NOT going to do her homework because it was Halloween.  This is always a big holiday for kids, and having homework on weekends has always irked me in the first place. I am reminded of this as we head into the Halloween season and I prepare lessons and decorate at school. To many kids, this is second only to Christmas or Hanukkah. Frankly I think about this teacher from time to time and wonder if she has had kids and what she would say to me now. So yes, I do think teachers with kids have a different perspective on reality of family life.

    Thank you for posting this blog. I will continue to follow it.

    Kudos to you!!