This I Believe

Elizabeth - Piedmont, California
Entered on June 15, 2007

I believe that when I became a parent, I finally understood the awesome power and responsibility I have as a teacher. Having taught high school English for years, having been consumed with worry that my students wouldn’t read enough great literature, that their grammar might not pass muster with a future love interest or employer, or they’d be afraid to put their hearts and minds into their writing when called to the work, I thought I understood my profession.

Fifteen years later, I had a child and everything changed. When I sit in classrooms observing other teachers in my new capacity as an Instructional Coach, I wonder how the rowdy kid in the corner, the quiet one passing under the radar, and the precocious one in the back of the room are all being served. What would I do if any one of them were my kid? They could be my kid. Someday, they may be my kid. Wearing the parent hat has made me realize in a profound way that every student is somebody’s kid, and that all those little victories, first smile, first time he points up at the sky and says “plane,” first time he speaks a complete sentence, all add up to the student sitting across from the teacher. How can I tell the teacher that although she might not see growth right away, growth is mysterious and incremental and often doesn’t show itself until much later. And, that part of teaching kids is about the simultaneous leap of faith that learning is taking place and the thrill when your expectations are far exceeded.

In my first classroom, more than a few students’ parents would ask me if I was a parent. This usually happened when they were exasperated by my rigidity around grading or concerned that I didn’t understand their child (both of which, in hindsight, were probably the case). I hated the question, and saw it as a parent trump card. No, I’d mull in my head, I am not a parent, so therefore, am I less of a teacher in your mind? Is my colleague, the one with the inch-thick disciplinary file and a few kids of his own, more qualified for the job? The question was a threat to my authority and I couldn’t hear it for its subtext: your student is my child, I want the best for him, he’s not always an angel – no kid is – but he’s a wonderful, amazing child and I want those who teach him to believe in his potential and look carefully for all the opportunities to teach him the best they can.

So where does this leave me? I believe you don’t need to be a parent to be an incredible teacher, but I recognize that being a parent means understanding that nobody sees my son the way I do. Being an educator means reminding myself each day that every student is someone’s kid, and the work of teaching is about doing the best we can for all kids, even when they aren’t the easy student to teach, because they are all our kids.