Reflections on teaching and parenting from a parent who is also a teacher

I was first a teacher in August of 1990 in inner city Atlanta. A “Damned Dehydrated Yankee” even before I met my students, I passed out from the heat and an ambulance was called. I was told to drink and start eating collard greens, and fried okra. My first classroom consisted of stained carpet, desks, chairs, cockroaches, and a thirty kids who looked more like adults than I.  At a young age of 22, I was  to show my expertise from my great education from the North.

The second year I was first grade teacher. I found myself lying on the floor with lights out and doors locked. To disguise the “action movie like scenario” to more “business as usual” I started telling a story about the time I saw Santa Claus for the first time.  Screams, slams ,and bangs of a “shooter intruder” may have drowned out the excitement of my story. But the kids found my story to be more interesting because the other noises were all too familiar to them. A note from one of my students sticks out plain as day: Miss Roger, ( My name was Miss Rogers at the time) you is thin. You like a toothpick. You got big teeth and your eyes pop out like a ghost.  Perhaps in a nutshell the impression that I made. ( There was a filled “water balloon” incident and a trial for a threat over a pencil but let me just wet your appetites for now) The focus of those times were more survival and developing a thick skin than actual real teaching.

The Parent Teacher Conference time was three hours. A handful showed up. Those that did,  it was the first time I ‘d met them. Those that I met, I shuddered to meet. I was some suburban, young, goodie goodie from someplace they never heard of. Who was I to teach their child? Those I met preached the “My child is gonna be a doctor or a lawyer. Like I tell them, you gotta get your education.” Many kids were nagged  and raised by the older sibling.

In 1994, I was  teacher in a small southern town. The classroom was new smelling with whiteboards not chalkboards. There was a nature trail. The kids had teddy bear names like Amber and Clinton or Jessica and Trip. They got excited about going roller skating and cooking a hot dog in the sun. ( Really you can do that in Georgia)

Parent teacher Conference time was designated for three hours. Turn out was nearly 100 percent.
 Their vowels and word drawls were a challenge. “Where did you see it?” was really “Where did you sit?” “Yes, ma’am  and No ma’am were insisted by them and foreign to me. The mentality for good grades and character were valued.  Comments like “We are really working on Johnny being sweet.” were frequently spoken.

After six years of the south, I was teacher in suburban Grand Rapids, Michigan. School was just like I knew it to be with some positive differences. The artistic size and shape made the room feel modern. There were workrooms for teachers, computers at our desks, lockers in the hallways, and shiny bright teacher’s manuals. For the most part the kids lived a life they were supposed to live. They got their kicks out of light up shoes, trinkets to dangle and weigh down their backpacks, and who was going to be first in line. Motivation to learn was strong.

Parent teacher conferences were nearly 100 percent. These were hard working professionals and stay home moms who would be sending their kids past college through graduate school. They were seen often in the classroom and kept teachers on their toes. For the first time there were labels for parents- which I won’t relay. After a year of teaching in this district,  I came to a halt in my thinking… Wow! I have come full circle!

I was parent in August of 2006.  I now had two roles when it came to kids. I had the teaching part down pat, my parenting was a blank slate. I had taught inner city kids and deep south kids. I knew kids of various nationalities and kids of special needs. I helped kids of high economic status families and low. All that was under my belt and now I was at the very start of parenthood.

It has been six years of parenting thus far and twenty three years of teaching. With that  kind of experience I am more a teacher than a parent. That’s what you get when you are a mommy come late! Things learned from the classroom have come in handy. For discipline and management, there’s plenty to draw on. Thinking on my toes isn’t too hard as far as a consequence or a correction. It’s easy to be creative and inventive. I’ve had to do it all along. Teacher first then parent has its advantages.

I’ve dealt with parents of school aged children for years. Now, I am that parent.  Like the inner city Atlanta parent, I will have big dreams for my child. Like the deep south one, I will surely want them “sweet”.  Like the parents I work with now, I will inherit my label.  Like all parents, I will advocate for the success and well being of my child. As a parent of a special needs child, I picture myself  ready to advocate armored with  research, experience, and emotions.  This is my child, the one I bore, and will be investing a lifetime in not just one school year. Of all the kids, I am most concerned about MY child’s well being.

Yet, this is a parent talking who is also a teacher. I was and still am at the other end.  I know those parents that come with their defense dissertation. I know the feeling of being told “You blew it! Don’t do it again!”  I know the curriculum and what is developmentally appropriate. I know the questions to ask at conference time. I can remediate at home using best practices and not just what I learned way back when. Maybe I could even be in the “teacher shoes” of my child’s classroom and have understanding for their perspective. Wearing two hats will be a challenge and a benefit all in one.

Here goes my first official school year as parent and teacher. Two roles that are significant all in themselves. Yet for me intertwined.  I am parent and teacher in August of 2013.

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