8 Things teachers don’t understand until they are parents

From the blog Clouducation:

There is something about being a parent and a teacher that is far greater that the sum of its parts. A parent who is not a teacher does not always see the day in/day out differences in groups of children, and the lack of context definitely makes it difficult to see a child the same way. Likewise, teachers who are not parents are often missing out on some crucial perspectives that teachers and other educators natively see. I mean this in no way to criticize teachers without children, but at the same time, I often feel like they THINK they know, but they don’t…until they have kids of their own.

  1. How to talk to other parents. While it may be true that the childless teacher may have a better time keeping professional perspective with children, there is just no substitute for being able to say the words, “I know, my kids are the same way.”
  2. How to read beyond the smile. This is something parents do instinctively and all others need to learn. Most kids are able to keep the smile on and laugh through a few hours or even a full day, but it can often be a thin veneer for a deep pain. Somehow, parents can see through this, even with children that are not their own. This was perhaps the biggest change in me when I had younger children, to see through the fake smiles at school. They were always there, I just could not see them.
  3. How hard the words fall. As above, a parent is often able to hear how words fall to the student. I have seen countless exchanges, all very well-meaning, where a teacher says something to a student, that makes the parent in me cringe.
  4. When appearance matters. Teachers without children and teachers with children notice much different parts of the appearance of a student. The parent will take a hard look at unwashed hair, yellow teeth, or dry skin–things connected to health that parents are constantly fighting at home. The childless teacher may look closer at the unwashed jeans and dirty shoes that almost every parent is guilty of allowing, yet missing the health concerns.
  5. How important recess is. Childless teachers get to be, well, childless in the evenings and the mornings when not at work. Many do not recognize the sheer energy expenditure of a child. The fact that these little people can sit nearly still for a great majority of the day is shocking to most parents who have a hard time getting their cherub to sit still at supper for a half-hour. Parent teachers are more likely to value recess as or more important than reading and writing.
  6. When and how to negotiate. This is a hard one to pin down, but in my experience, the teachers who have children negotiate differently than childless teachers. They tend to see the leverage areas differently and know how hard to press before abandoning the approach for something else. Since they negotiate nonstop with their own children at home, they have hours and hours more experience.
  7. That every kid has a story. Parenting is a tough job, and some are better than others at juggling the responsibilities. It is easy to make judgments about the child based on observations of the parents or other contexts, but parents understand that every kid is subject to bad days, excitable days, and out-of-character behavior, because they understand that the spectrum is far wider than it looks in school. Childless parents also tend to forget the whole big life the student has at home. I have too often seen teachers hound students about issues that the parent would know is beyond their control.  In the upper grades, teachers need to understand that those kids go home to raise siblings, help with chores, counsel their parents, or cry their eyes out all night. These are things that parents, because they often have similar stories may understand better than those without children.
  8. How lovable they are. I don’t know why, but I never have truly loved a student until I had kids. I suspect it is because when you have children of your own, it makes you realize that everything is lovable, and even the unpleasant parts of a child are forgivable and even unimportant. WHenever I get to the point where a student is pushing my buttons or daring me to dislike him, I try to see him as their parent does, and it creates a completely different lens with which to interact.
I understand that many of the items here are somewhat skewed toward looking at the childless parent as also young and inexperienced. I own that, and will freely stipulate that there are teachers out there who have years of experience and no children who are far better teachers than those with children. That being said, I would say that if all else were equal, there are some big advantages that teachers with children possess. However, there are some obvious  advantages to being a teacher without children:
  1. They understand that at the end of the day, the expectations of the world are similar for everyone. Parent teachers tend toward cutting children a lot of slack because they may understand all too well how much the background of the student is affecting them. The childless teacher may be better equipped to remind the student and the family that the expectations for college admissions, ACT tests, or hiring are pretty much the same for everyone, regardless of family background, culture, emotional makeup, or other factors that are easy to steer education around.
  2. They may have more energy and patience because their life at home does not revolve around the same things that stress teachers out. They can leave their kids to their own parents and recharge until the next class.
  3. They have far more time and energy for continuing education, technology exploration, and professional development. This may have a large impact on their growth as an educator.

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