I started my career as a full-time teacher 11 years ago, at the age of 23. I am a primary school teacher. It’s written all over me. For a long time, it was my main identity. I love what I do. Of course, some days, I hate what I do, with a passion, but those days are rare biscuits.
When I’m on old biddy sat in my armchair, telling anyone who will listen about my life, only the happy moments will be remembered.
When I was pregnant with my first son, I was gunning for week 37, as that was the end of the Christmas term and the start of my maternity leave. I couldn’t wait. I didn’t take too well to pregnancy overall, and it put a real strain on my work.
But then, my identity shifted from teacher to mum quickly, and it took me a while to settle with it. Some days I would be OK, and others I’d be convinced that I’d ‘lost myself’ in motherhood and needed to get my sense of self back.
After having my second son, I had no time to worry about loss of identity. I was mumming left, right and centre and didn’t give a second thought to anything else, let alone my teaching career.
My maternity leave went by terribly quickly and agonisingly slowly, and now I’m back to work, part time, and balancing my new life as both teacher and parent. I’m also a ‘preschool parent’ or a ‘school mum’ now, which has put me on the other side of the school life, and it has really got me thinking about my past teaching practice.
Here are 5 Things I’ve Learnt About Teaching Now that I’m a Parent
Parents know their children better than teachers do (generally speaking)
My youthful arrogance led me to believe that I had a more insightful relationship with the children in my class, than they did with their own parents!
How unbelievable is that!
But it’s the truth. I may have known their children well in a school environment, and I may have understood the way they learnt more, but that’s as far as it goes. I never expressed this view to any of the parents, but it’s something I felt. I’d give myself a good telling off if I could Marty McFly it back a few years.
Obviously, there are some exceptions to this, but, most parents know their children better than anyone else, especially at primary school age.
Cliff-hangers are mean
Often, I would email a parent saying, ‘Can we have a quick chat at pick up time?’
Or, ‘An incident happened during lunch break today, could I give you a call at 3.15?’
And, as the teacher, I wouldn’t think anything of it and wouldn’t even consider how a parent would feel receiving those messages. But now! When I receive messages like that from preschool, I go out of my mind with worry.
I come up with all sorts of scenarios in my head. I get upset, because I’ve assumed he’s upset. I get cross with him because I’ve assumed he’s been mean to someone. I start getting myself and my baby ready to dash to preschool to pick him up because I’ve convinced myself he needs me.
I cannot wait until pick up time to find out what the issue is.
I leave texts, voice notes and missed calls on my husband’s phone while he’s at work. I call my mum, which only makes her worry, because she’s just like me. I’ll message my brother because our boys are the same age and both get into ‘scrapes’ and ‘pickles’ at preschool, and he always seems to be the one who helps me see reason.
HOWEVER… waiting until pick up, or a certain time for a phone call, takes me back to my horrendous teenage dating life, where I regularly found myself waiting on a rejection text. It’s that feeling where your heart is in your throat and you can’t quite function until you know what’s going on.
When that meeting or phone call finally happens, more often than not, it’s nothing to worry about. And when that happens, a huge feeling of relief sweeps over me, and is swiftly replaced by a relentless migraine.
So, from now on, if I have something I need to tell a parent about their child, I will tell them in the message, or I will wait until I see them at pick up and tell them there and then. I promise, parents, there will be no waiting game from this Mrs.
Parents have no idea what their kids do all day
It drives me mad! I’ll pick my son up from preschool, and I’ll ask him general questions and very specific questions, and casual conversation type trick questions, and I get NOTHING! I am so desperate to know. I want to know who he’s played with, what stories he’s read, who he sat by at lunch, how he felt during every second of the day, what teacher he turns to if he needs help, if he had a wee, if he was too cold, or hot, or uncomfortable etc.
And yet… nothing.
As a teacher, I waited until parents evening or reports to share what their child had been doing for the past however long. I can’t imagine not knowing anything, until you get 7 minutes with a teacher once or twice a year!
Luckily, our school has now started to use an educational social media platform to share daily photos and events with the parents. This makes me feel better. And if a parent asks me how their child’s day was, I’m going to fill their boots with information.
Teachers get it wrong
I back myself on being a good, caring, and reflective teacher, but when I look back at how I dealt with some of the situations that popped up during my pre-motherhood teaching years, I shudder. I was doing the best I could with the life experience that I had, but my goodness, I had no idea.
As a mother, I have tackled each stage of my children’s lives with an open mind and a willingness to learn. This started during pregnancy, where I enrolled in The Bump to Baby Chapter, and then when they were newborns I absorbed all the knowledge I could from the more experienced mothers in my life, I read books and articles online, I trialled different practices which resulted in a lot of errors, but eventually I learnt what worked for them.
The toddler years were like Oz to me, even though I have been a preschool and reception teacher myself. So, I went on a course to help me understand why these bizarre and illogical things were happening, and how I could support my boys through this time.
When learning how to be a teacher, I was taught how to teach primary school aged children how to learn. I don’t think I was taught how to manage their big feelings, or discipline them effectively, or support them socially.
Each school has a behaviour management policy to follow, which I have always done, but when it came to talking to the children about their behaviour, I just went with what I thought was right. Luckily, I’m still happy with the majority of the behaviour support I gave, but there are a handful of times where I wish I had the understanding that I have now.
At least I know that going forward, I am coming from a more knowledgeable and understanding place and should be able to support the students better.
Children can behave differently at school
This one has hit me quite hard, recently. It has become apparent that my son cries a lot at preschool. He cries over things that he wouldn’t be bothered by at home. He is quiet and reserved there! They are yet to see his resilient, happy-go-lucky, imaginative, funny side, because he’s not reached that place of confidence to let them see it yet.
It’s made me think back to parent’s evenings where the parents took those few minutes to tell me what their child was like at home, and it was almost as if we were talking about two different children. I never thought much more on it and carried on with the side of the child that I was familiar with.
But, now it’s happening to me, I want to send the preschool videos of my son singing Bear Necessities, and role playing Peter Rabbit with his dad, and giggling incessantly with his brother. I want them to see him, and I want them to encourage him to be himself at school.
I hope that my future teaching practice enables me to see the world through the child’s perspective and their family’s perspective, as well as my own. I am sure it will make me a better teacher and will also make the families I work with feel seen and listened to.
This is all for personal reflection, and I am not claiming that you need to be a parent to be a good teacher…. because I also know, that as soon as that school bell goes, this Mrs is running home – straight to her own boys, because being a teacher is no longer her everything. I used to stay at school until the caretaker kicked me out! Being a mother has simply given me a new perspective, which I will take with me in my teaching career.