I once taught 8th grade. When I tell people that, I’m usually met with wide eyes and comments such as, “Yuck! How did you deal with moody teens on a daily basis!?”
Truth is, I actually loved it. Yes, it’s a challenging age group, but they’re also fun. They get sarcasm and can have complex conversations. Since resigning myself to staying home with my kids three years ago, I’ve missed it. I’ll return one day. While teaching, I learned many things about myself as an educator, coworker, and leader. I was also given a little Mommy 101 from my students.
For some of them, once the lesson was over, they needed me as a mom figure. Every year, I had a few who reached out to me for advice, a shoulder to cry on, and a sounding board. For some of them, I was the only one they felt comfortable enough around to trust with their secrets. When needed, I played many roles (other than teacher) to all of my students.
I always called my students “my kids,” and the experience truly was similar. I taught them, lectured them and gave consequences for bad behavior, supported them when they had bad days, and let them lean on me when they had no one else to turn to. Despite being happy on the last day of school that summer had arrived, I always shed some tears, watching as “my kids” walked away, going off to the high school, growing up.
I had my first daughter after seven years of “practicing” with my students. Here’s how they prepared me for motherhood:
1. Attitudes. I had my fair share of hormonal episodes, mood swings, and kids who couldn’t care less about what I had to say. Their occasional lack of enthusiasm when discussing the theme of a story is equivalent to my child’s excitement when I pick up the hairbrush. A classroom full of 28 13-year-olds definitely prepared me for the days my toddler screams “NO” at the top of her lungs in Target when she isn’t allowed to have a gigantic bouncy ball.
2. Thinking on your feet. One time, while teaching my unit on Anne Frank, I realized I had left part of my lesson at home. Beads of sweat appeared on my forehead and my heart raced. A group of students sat in front of me, staring. I wanted to fall to the floor and disappear; however, I quickly thought of something and rescued the lesson. This incident, along with many others like it, helped prepare me for the times I’m on the brink of disaster with my 2-and-a-half-year-old. When she has her heart set on going to the park, for example, and it starts pouring on our way there, I’d better think of a plan B in a second or the shit is going to hit the fan.
3. Patience. There were many days and moments when I had out-of-body experiences with my students, where I saw myself flipping the fuck out on them. They could really push my buttons. Perhaps the “class clown” was completely on his/her game and trying to get everyone else on board. Another day it might have been one interruption after another during a test. Sometimes, no matter how well I thought I was teaching something, I could see that the majority weren’t getting it, and I had to be flexible and change directions. I was constantly having to find my inner zen. This also happens every day with my two kids. Usually more than once. OK, fine, pretty much once an hour!
Me as a teacher: “Don’t forget, we have a test tomorrow…..OK everyone, see you tomorrow! Don’t forget about the test!”
Student first thing in the morning: “OMG, we have a test today!!??”
Me as a mom: “Maura, please put the paint back up on the table. No, put it back up there. Maura, the paint. Back up on the table.”
For both: “Come on, how many times do I need to repeat myself? It should stick after the first time!”
5. Names for future children. Being a teacher helps you think about names you’d love to give your future children and the ones you’d want to run away screaming from. Every year, I’d have a student whose name was unique and interesting, and I’d put it in my “mental list of names for future kids.” Sometimes, however, names would forever be ruined for me. On day 1, I might think to myself, “Totally love this name! If I ever have a boy, I might have to use it!!” On day 10, that amazing name has already gone to see the principal, told me to shut up, and tried to punch another student in the face. So now when I think of that name, this evil child’s face pops into my brain! No offense to anyone who loves this name, but I still shudder when I hear the name Brent!
So, to all of my students that I had the amazing chance to meet, teach, and bring into my heart as pseudo-children, thank you. Thanks for making me love my job, challenging me every day, and helping to prepare me for my two beautiful daughters.
And to all of my fellow teacher moms out there, I’m sure you too get excited on the last day of school. You might be extremely excited that your Brents are leaving you for good; however, you never know what’s going on at his home or how he might secretly wish he could call you “Mom.” Before you enjoy your long (who are we kidding, too short) summer break, give him a hug on his way out. It might be what he needs most.
Related post: How Motherhood Changed the Way I Would Teach