How Teachers Parent
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Education plays a crucial role in building the academic and moral knowledge that shapes one’s view of the world. That is the reason why teachers interact with students every day, hoping to shape their futures for the better. It is sometimes forgotten that parents share the same responsibility. When a teacher becomes a parent (or, for a lack of better words, a “teacher-parent”), the responsibility of both roles creates a unique worldview that can provide benefits to all parties involved, from student to child to parent.
Assistant Principal of English Eric Grossman explained how parenting has informed him of the diversity of family situations and how they can influence school performance. “Being a parent has made me even more aware how many students that I teach [...] don’t have that same luxury and privilege [as my family does], who can’t count on homework help, and it makes me respect and admire the work that my students do even more,” he said.
Children of teacher-parents shared that their parents provide them with valuable resources due to their expertise in education. Freshman Tamiyyah Shafiq remarked that their parents’ careers as teachers have influenced their parenting methods. “They generally let me experiment and figure out things myself while guiding me instead of just throwing information my way,” they said in an e-mail interview.
Not only that, the guidance from teacher-parents extends beyond academic help. Freshman Madeline Hutchinson, whose mother is an art therapy teacher, found that her mom’s desired career path was influenced by art projects she did with her sister. “Both her influences on writing and art have pushed me to want to pursue that kind of career,” she said.
Unlike what one might assume, the relationship between teachers, parents, and their children is not always oriented toward academic success, but rather to develop a healthy relationship with school. Freshman Khush Wadhwa remembers how his test anxiety was relieved with his parents’ help. When he got back a low test score, his parents’ emphasis on looking forward pulled him back up from mental defeat. He realized, “You bring home a bad grade and it doesn’t change the way the people around you will view you.” Wadhwa’s relationship with his mom is mutual and he helps his mom on her demanding days. “Something we do very frequently is she’ll take a walk with me and we’ll talk about [...] whatever is going on,” he said. “We’ve developed that kind of connection.”
Teaching students requires sympathy, and this emphasis on compassion applies to a teacher’s own child as well. “The teaching skills that I have been able to apply to parenting have to do with patience and navigating conflict and listening. I know as a teacher that when a student is upset, for whatever reason, in the moment, they are not receptive to learning,” Grossman said. “It’s important to help them to calm down before our relationship or our learning can move forward.”
However, being a working parent also brings challenges. “Work became my break,” Grossman said, mentioning how the constant struggle for work and parenting left little room for personal time.
Math teacher Dawn Vollaro, who has been teaching for 25 years, also explained how being a teacher and a parent can lead to an ever-present cognitive dissonance between those two identities. “Your identity can’t just be ‘I’m a mom,’ ‘I’m a dad,’ ‘I’m a teacher,’” Vollaro said. “You have to somehow keep that part of you that you’re still you. [...] If you can’t take care of yourself, you cannot take care of your child.”
Vollaro also elaborated on her experiences as a single parent with an autistic child. “It’s like apples and oranges,” she said. “My expectations for my child and for my students are high, [...] but there are certain things that I know my child will not be able to do.”
Age is also an important factor in relationship dynamics. Grossman explained that being a teacher could not prepare him for parenthood largely because infants bring different responsibilities than high school students. He explained how he finds it more manageable when his children need help on occasional English papers and college applications than when they were little. “Teenagers continue to be challenges, but they are challenges that I feel better equipped to navigate,” he said.
English teacher Maura Dwyer, who has been teaching for 13 years, noted the particular difficulties in raising an infant, explaining how these new challenges have impacted her career. Unlike teenage students, her nine-month-old son has a peculiar hobby of pulling heavy objects off the shelves; addressing parental responsibilities like these is a time commitment that she had to get used to. “I care about my students and put the same effort into the feedback I give. It just takes me longer because the time I have with my son and my family takes precedence, and I’ve had to learn to give myself a break if things don't happen as quickly as they used to,” Dywer said in an e-mail interview.
Though parenting and teaching are two different experiences, they connect in many aspects and are valuable for everyone involved. The unique relationship dynamic that teacher-parents have with their children gives them more opportunities for academic and personal growth. Hutchinson described her relationship with her mother: “She’s a mentor and a mom and a teacher all in one person.” Vollaro described her profession as building the fundamentals of children and students alike: “Being a parent, that’s the first teacher your child is going to have and a lifelong teacher.”