Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Five Ways My Teaching Career Prepared Me for Motherhood

Last night, while I was in the bathroom, I was thinking about how my teaching career gave me some great skills that I was applying daily in my new (can I still call it that?) job as a stay at home mom.

I bet you're thinking "yeah, yeah, yeah. She knows activities to do, she understands how children learn, she's got behavior management tips, blah, blah, blah".

No. As most teachers know, stuff that works in the classroom rarely seems to work on your own kids. Plus, I taught music in an elementary school. Yes, I have a degree to teach reading as well, but my own girls are a good two years younger than even my tiniest kindergarteners were. That's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the practical, the day to day ways that being a teacher really prepared me.

1) You go 8-10 hours without getting to take a bathroom break, and that feels normal.

This is where I had my revelation last night. The girls were in bed and I was peeing for the first time in hours and I was thinking about how awesome it was. That's a weird thought. Should I really be admitting this? It's not that I didn't have two minutes during the day to empty my bladder, but more that there always seemed to be something more pressing to do with those two minutes. I remember when I was teaching, I'd get a ten minute break or a prep period, and leading up to that, I'd be planning on all the things I needed to do, including pee. Then as soon as I had those precious free minutes, I'd get involved cleaning up and setting up, responding to emails, picking up my mail, filling out paperwork, and before I knew it, that time was gone. That's how it seems to go here too.

2) There's never any real downtime during the day.

I've alluded to this before. Breaks aren't really breaks. Prep time at school was just that: preparation for what was coming up. Correcting, grading, lesson plans, organizing, gathering. Nap time at home? Cleaning, dinner preparation, laundry, and, if I'm really lucky, a shower. Now I'm not saying I never spoke to another adult about random things at school, or at home - usually before the kids arrived (woke up) or once the last bus was gone (bedtime). But once the day gets going, sitting down just doesn't happen.

3) Any given hour consists of at least 10 activities.

I was a music teacher. I saw my kids for thirty minutes, twice a week, in a very high pressure district with a fantastic, and very thorough, arts education curriculum. There was a lot that had to be crammed into that time. Each class I taught had a minimum of five activities, probably double that for the little guys. With two toddlers at home, I'm finding that we're still doing that much. In an hour, I've probably had a tea party, read a book, dressed a doll, pretended to eat ice cream, built a tower, changed a diaper, found a stray piece, done a puzzle, etc, etc, etc. At school I had to be efficient. At home, I'd love if they'd (consistently) stick with something for more than a few minutes, but I have toddlers. Short attention spans are common.

I'm also pretty used to planning and preparing an activity that will only last 5-10 minutes, and I'm ok with that.

4) You're watching the clock.

Not in a I can't wait until I'm done with these kids way (well, most of the time) but in the I need to make sure we're sticking to the schedule way.

My classes at school were back to back. I used to call my room Grand Central, because as one class was receiving their final feedback and filing out, the next was ready for their instructions and filing in. Running late meant two teachers and one class waiting in the hallway, getting increasingly frustrated with me, and setting me up for some chaos. At home, I've found that my kids thrive on routine. They're now trained to be hungry at mealtimes, sleepy at naptimes, alert when it's time to play. When I break that routine, I better have a darn good reason or I pay for it. I'm asking for nap resistance, tantrums, overtired craziness, yelling from the crib. I watch the clock to make sure we're ready to be home for naptime, ready to eat at mealtime, read to wind down thirty minutes before bedtime, and ready to be able to get them out of bed when naptime's over.

5) You know the long reaching consequences of your parenting style.

Hover too much? It'll show in kindergarten.

Let your child be the boss of you? The teachers will know.

Overreact? You'll get flagged.

Look, it may not seem like a big deal when you fight battles for your two year old. They're only little once, and hurt feelings, a bad day, those break your heart. I'm certainly not telling anyone to tell their baby to suck it up and figure it out.

But teachers know when you've crossed the line.

They know when you've decided to swoop in and solve every problem for your kid.

They know when you're so afraid of an unhappy child that you let them completely rule the roost.

They know that you see absolutely no difference between kids learning to get along, and true bullying.

Two kids having a conflict is not bullying. Someone saying something mean is not bullying. Your child feeling sad because someone wouldn't play with her is not bullying. Your child being a consistent target? That is. Bullying is terrible. However, if anytime your child is ever made to feel anything less than perfectly happy has you running into the principal's office, you may get flagged as the problem. And your kid may get flagged as one who needs some serious help in figuring out solutions.

So when I think about what kind of parent I want to be, I think about how a teacher will view my style five years from now. I don't want a teacher seeing Madison's name and sighing, saying "ugh, you mean I have deal with her mom all year" or "oh great, I get Reagan, who has no limits at home".

I may not be teaching my girls how to read (yet), I may not be playing music games (often), but being a teacher definitely helped me learn how to cope with the day to day trials of motherhood, and to (hopefully) make the right decisions as a parent.

Oh, and a love of kids. That helps too.

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