I was a teacher for a decade before I became a parent. Over those years I saw many different examples of parenting, as I watched how my students and their families functioned together. There were a few examples that I think are worth remembering now that I’m a parent myself.
1) Teach Your Child to Be Responsible (aka Charge Them Gas Money)
One of my favorite, favorite things I ever saw a parent do:
I was teaching fifth grade, and the students had been working on a project for weeks. It was the big due date. One of my normally very responsible kids came up to my desk in a panic. He’d left his project at home. Could he please call his mom?
I let him, since he wasn’t the kind of student who was forgetful often and because I wanted him to get full credit for the project I knew he had worked so hard on.
His mom brought the project. She handed it to him, and after a quiet conversation, he went to his backpack, got out some cash and handed it to her.
She noticed me watching and came over to explain.
She charged him gas money for the drive to school!
I LOVED this idea. He knew that he could count on her to help when he had a problem, but he still had some consequence, so he’d be more likely to remember to bring the work himself next time.
I will definitely be doing this with my own kids.
2) Be Silly
One year when I was teaching 5th grade I had another very responsible student in my class. He was incredibly smart, worked hard, was friendly and cooperative, and was just generally one of those really great kids I always wished I could clone.
I was a fairly new teacher at the time. This student’s mom was also incredibly bright and very involved in her kids’ education. She had four kids, so she had more years of experience at our school than I did!
I’ll admit I was more than a little intimidated by her. I figured she’d be the first to realize if I made some mistake or didn’t do enough to challenge her son.
Then one day this student made an off-hand comment about his mom speaking with an English accent. I asked him what he meant.
He said that every day when he and his siblings came home from school, their mom greeted them with some different fake accent. Just for fun. Apparently she wasn’t actually good at accents, but she was really good at making her kids laugh and laughing along with them.
Something about that just struck me. I think of her now as the kind of mom I want to be.
3) Be on Your Child’s Team
I’ve been fascinated to see a very wide variety of family dynamics over the years of working with hundreds of students. No two families are alike!
What seems to be the key is for the student to feel like they have support and to have some consistency in routines and rules. Being consistent can be ridiculously hard to do (as a teacher and as a parent, I’ve discovered), but it makes such a tremendous difference in how kids respond.
I worked with two families that really stood out in this. In both, the students’ parents had divorced and remarried so there were four parents involved. They were impressively on the same page when it came to their kids. They attended parent/teacher conferences together, and they had conversations about what the homework routine should be for the student, so the expectations would be the same at either of the parents’ houses. I now know first-hand how hard it can be to agree on a plan with two parents in one house, so the effort these parents made impresses me even more.
4) Do NOT Do Your Child’s Work for Him or Her
When I was teaching 5th grade, my students participated in a big research project. The final product included a paper, a poster and a presentation to a panel of judges. The work for this project was all done at school so that we could assure that the students did the work themselves.
One mom, apparently, didn’t much like this idea. The student brought in a poster board on the day we were assembling the posters in class. Her poster board was covered in pencil lines. Apparently, the mother had laid out the pieces to go on the poster and traced where she wanted everything to go, so her daughter could do the “work” by gluing the pieces into the places her mom had chosen.
Is it really so important that your child’s poster look the way you want it to look? Really?
Then there was the time a student turned in his math homework in his mom’s handwriting. I’m not sure how they expected me not to notice…
5) Pay Attention
As much as you can, when your child is involved in a program or event at school, come and watch.
When you child has some measure of success in school, celebrate with him or her.
When your child is struggling with something, seek out ways to help. Listen to your child more than you talk. Listen to his or her teacher. Find out the teacher’s preferred method of communication and use that to stay in touch – not every day, because that gets really annoying – but often enough to truly know how your child is doing.
Someone once told me that it wasn’t possible to be a good parent and a good teacher at the same time – that being around kids all day and at home was too much. I don’t think that’s true for many people, but I do believe that because of my experience as a teacher I’m a better parent now. I’m grateful for all that I was able to learn from the many families I’ve been so privileged to get to know.