My unborn son transformed my teaching. Before he was even born, he opened my eyes to what was missing in my classroom, especially for my most struggling boys.
I used to think I was good at working with these boys. Until I got pregnant.
My first awakening took place in October shortly after learning I was expecting. October is the time when students start to settle (or not) into the classroom routines. This is when the “honeymoon” ends.
Students who are mentally ready and who know how to play the game of school start pulling ahead. And for the others, well, let’s just say that back-to-school enthusiasm quickly fades with summer’s twilight. The glossy finish of a new pencil box only holds these kiddos’ interests for a moment and even brand-new mechanical pencils cannot hide the truth – school is hard!
Students less mature or prepared for the rigors of school are a challenge to keep motivated. Some never had the enthusiasm to begin with, at least not by the fifth grade. These students have already learned who they are in school and they recognize the disconnect between who they are at school compared to who they are everywhere else.
These are the kids I love. I strive to help them unlearn past failures and relearn what school can be, to energize them and to help them see what they are truly capable of.
Motivating immature, unprepared, or hyperactive boys to stay out of trouble had always been my passion. I love to support and nurture these little fellas with a special blend of tough love and patience, teaching them the hidden curriculum of school so they finally find success before they find trouble again. Unfortunately, and despite my best efforts, my motivational systems also seemed to have a twilight. It took getting pregnant to learn that I was far off the mark with what these kids really needed.
It was an early November morning when I walked out to meet my class at their lines. As usual, Thomas (not his real name), stood toward the back of the line. He was a textbook example of a kid who would have greatly benefitted from the “gift of an extra year” before starting school as a Kindergartner. He was significantly younger and more immature than the rest of the class, standing out like a rodeo clown. True to form, this morning he was spinning his backpack precariously over his head, coming dangerously close to smacking the boy next to him.
Normally, I would discipline him, but this morning, something was different. I didn’t see Thomas. I saw my future. I saw Thomas’s simple joy and I laughed. This could be my son someday. Mine might be like any one of these kids.
Suddenly, I realized I had been doing things all wrong, all wrong for Thomas.
For the rest of the day, I looked at the classroom order I had created, perfectly designed for a quiet learner yet patiently coercive for all the rest. I felt trapped! My well-oiled machine suddenly felt like an authoritarian regime run by an overbearing discipline designed to manage and placate boy energy rather than utilize it.
Through the lens of my future son, it became overwhelmingly clear that I was stifling my most creative kids here under the guise of classroom management. My mood darkened and I felt sad. I closed the door on my classroom that day for once understanding my students as their parents do. Their hyperness revealed creative energy, their talkativeness, unencumbered curiosity, their daydreaming simple blessed wonder.
I knew I had to change.
My son brought me to the sunrise of my career.
Every Day is a Fresh Start
My skin crawled as I imagined my unborn son 10 years from now sitting in my classroom. What had happened? I should be proud of this world I have created for my students. Fair, consistent, predictable, fun, engaging, challenging, scaffolded, welcoming. I loved it and I knew from years of student and parent conversations, my kids and their families loved it, too. I had a textbook classroom. I had done everything right.
Something was missing, but I didn’t know what it was.
I began to see my classroom through new eyes. I began to question my choices, my purpose, and the purpose of SCHOOL! If my classroom was ideally designed, why did I feel so yucky all of a sudden?
How had it been good enough for other kids, but not good enough for my own son?
I thought about Thomas, my rowdiest student. That ONE boy consumed nearly all of my attention. What if my son was like him? What would I want for him? I reeled trying to understand what he really needed and how I could give it to him. I saw him like his mom did, full of enthusiasm, hope, curiosity, and simple joy. No longer was his energy something that needed to be tamed. It needed to be harnessed, directed, and explored! But how?
I replayed over and over again in my head the first meeting I had with Thomas’s mother, her obvious love for her son, her sadness over his continuous school struggles, her fear over his school-based anxiety and stomach troubles. I had promised her he would do great in my class, that I would take care of him, and I meant it. But now, I questioned if how I would I was “taking care of him” was enough, or even the right way.
Just seeing Thomas as his mother sees him, imagining him as my own precious gift, changed my career. My baby, Beau, changed my perspective 180 degrees. I once looked at Thomas’s actions — physically out of control, mentally lost in the clouds, oblivious to the world around him — and felt like it was my job to get him to learn how to calm his nature and how to play the “game of school.” Now, in him, I saw my future son. And in his mother, I saw myself.
Thomas had a near anxiety free year – after I learned that I would be a new mother. I let up on him. I laughed with him a lot more than I disciplined him. He learned to trust me and because I believed that he was giving his all, I trusted him, too.
Every day was a fresh start, for him and for me. I hadn’t changed much, just my attitude towards Thomas’s behaviors. I saw his motivations in a positive light, and I treated him as if he were my son. We both had the best school year of our lives — so far. His mother thanked me for truly taking care of him. I thanked my unborn son.
Good Teaching is Just Good Teaching…
for Boys AND for Girls!
My “Beau Baby” was born in late June. Summer had already begun. My classroom was buttoned up for the fall. Knowing that I would be on maternity leave through the opening of school in September, my classroom stood ready for the long-term substitute who would be tasked with the ever-important first month of school, the essentials of classroom routines, structures, and expectations. Only they would be her students when I returned, not mine.
I was stressed about going back to work. Even as I was enjoying the “pleasures” of figuring out how to care for a brand new human, I was focusing on school.
I knew about the class I would be returning to. They were the class everyone warned about as it moved up through the grades — They had LOTS of “boy energy.“ They preferred to be at recess rather than in the classroom. They were notoriously lazy and hard to motivate. And there was this one boy in particular whose name everyone on campus knew. I would have Jonathan in my class.
I needed to prepare myself for this rude awakening. I feared that I would resent going back to work when I could be home with my son, especially if this class caused me grief. Realistically, as a veteran teacher of 15 years, I knew that the class would only cause me grief if I let them or if I let them down. Kids will respond to whoever is in front of them. Be firm, consistent, dedicated, and fair, they will respond one way. Be distracted, aloof, and hesitant, they will respond another way.
My fate was in my hands, and I was afraid that I would let my class down by wishing I was somewhere else, the mortal sin of teaching.
I was determined not to do this to myself. I needed to be the BEST teacher I could be for my class so that I could go home and enjoy being the best mother I could be.
So all summer, I ruminated about how to approach my new role as teacher-mom. After my revelation that my son would one day grow up to be a fifth grader, not only was I concerned about having a positive return to work, but I was also dedicated to making sure that this return was to a classroom my son would enjoy.
So, between naps and nursing, I read about boys and how to best utilize boy energy in the classroom. I learned tons about raising and teaching boys, but I also recognized what I have always known, good teaching is good teaching. Everything I read about what boys need in the classroom would simply make school better for the GIRLS, too!
Good teaching is good teaching, for one and for all.
I went to school that year Beau was born and taught my butt off. I worked hard at school, implementing my summer learning in earnest, so I could go home and be 100% mom for my baby. I said no to extra duties at school and focused on maintaining a strong work-family balance. And it worked, too! I won Teacher of the Year that year.
Becoming a mom was a boon for my career, making me a better teacher than I thought I could be.
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I will be sharing my personal lessons in motherhood and teaching learned through research, queries, the good old-fashioned art of trial-and-error.
Past Blog Posts…
- “Boys Adrift” – What Boys Need to Succeed at Home and at School
- Genius Hour – The BEST hour of the week!
- High-energy or not, kids need to be allowed to be who they are, for all our sakes – Part 1 of 3
- Ten strategies for making life at school easier for high-energy kids (and their teachers!) – Part 2 of 3
- How to advocate for your high-energy child at school – Part 3 0f 3
- Say “Pay attention,” not “Don’t” – The art of positive wording to build competent kids
- Are the “Terrible Twos” a Declaration of Independence? What parents can do for their toddlers this Fourth of July
- Honesty is the best policy, in parenting as well as in life
- “Bringing Up Bebe” in The Cadre
- Assertive Parenting – Asking the right questions, or no questions at all, matters!
- What you say matters – Constructive Praise for the Growth Mindset
- Tell the truth, always! Trust starts early.
- Finding the balance between helping kids discover and be who they really are and maintaining discipline…it is a fine line worth walking!