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15 Things My 4-Year-Old Taught Me About Education

For the last four years, I’ve been updating this list of lessons that my son has taught me about how to be a better teacher. Here is how he has done that:
1 – Make an assessment of life’s priorities. If COVID-19 has taught us nothing else, it’s really — what are your priorities. For me, it’s been my family, then my profession, then my faith. For others, it’s been their liberty, their justice, their need for interactions with others, or their sincere necessity to limit those things.
2 – Sacrifice for them. I spent some time re-reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and habit #3 is to put first things first. The analogy is that to properly fill the jar, one must put in the “big rocks” before the pebbles, sand, and water. Teachers really struggle at prioritizing this, and sometimes their family is worse for the wear. That shouldn’t be.
3 – It’s a shame teachers – and people for that matter – don’t get more paid maternity, paternity, AND SICK time. For four years now, and this comment still stays on the list. If there’s a “second wave” of the COVID-19 virus, that’s just going to complicate things for families and their line of work, especially if their job is physically demanding, in close proximity, “essential,” or something that isn’t so easy to take off, well, we have that to contend with now.
4 – Learn to laugh at the mistakes and redirect your own frustrations. As a father of toddlers, I’m noticing that they’re picking up so many things that I’m doing: modeling my language, my actions, and my expressions. My least favorite is the furrowed brow, which I started to do plenty of last year, especially in negative encounters with my kids. I learned I was placing my needs over theirs, and making many conflicts directives. Instead, I needed to learn the subtle art of deflection and redirection.
5 – Worst experiences are learning experiences. My 4-year-old has lived a pretty good life, so we try to talk about the tough stuff other people go through. He’s slowly unwrapping that onion, and this is essential — otherwise those teenage years are going to be terrorizing for him and me.
6 – If you really want to make an impact, you RALLY the team. Last year I said it was essential to “be the best player” on the team. I think that was a bit too presumptuous and personal. Instead, be there for others on the family team. You don’t need to be the best — if you do your job right, one day your kids will be better than you.
7 – Sometimes you know what’s best. Otherwise, ice cream would be for breakfast every day. Or students making their own due dates. Don’t get me started on that.
8 – Sometimes your child knows what’s best. God, this kid is still wearing long-sleeve shirts and fleece pants in June, but I’ve been through that battle for 2 summers now. And it’s not a hill I want to die on. Reminds me of some battles I’ve pitched in the classroom.
9 – Know how to play all roles and share all hats. Right now my time is much more intense with our children, and it’s been, if only because our district created the flexibility to work asynchronously. My wife didn’t have that advantage. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
10 – Don’t lose sight of those you love. I ran for office last year, and that’s why I missed this article on my son’s birthday (November 1, 2019, was just 4 days before Election Day). I didn’t win, and while I learned plenty as a social studies teacher that carries over into my classroom and my community-building, it’s that I know I missed out plenty on my family.
11 – It’s amazing how many people are there to pitch in. My in-laws take the kids every other day for a few hours, and it’s a lifeline right now. Whenever teachers feel alone in their classroom, then we need to just open the door.
12 – And how many just want to see ONE ANOTHER. I recently wrote about my love-hate-love relationship with Zoom and video tech, but the day we all comfortably see one another in a new normal is going to be bliss.
13 – Everybody deserves a loving home. I can’t sleep at night thinking about the kids who are shut-in with the ones they’re supposed to love but don’t love them back.
14 – The most important classroom is your small one at home. I’m doing science lessons and history lessons, crafts, and exercise regiments. Teaching about Jackie Robinson and racism. Free speech and civil rights. This is the most important thing I’m doing right now.
15 – Everybody has advice, but the best I’ve heard is do what you feel is right. And right now I’m glad to have the time to write this well-overdue article.
At least until next year when the lessons will refresh me again.

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