Isaiah, my second son, will celebrate his 2nd birthday on May 4. When he was born and I held him in my arms, I thought about all the things I had learned from his older brother. I went home a few days later and shared my thoughts with you all. Now two years later, a toddler’s lessons for educators resonate even more:
1 – The next second time around is easier. I’m in my 14th year of teaching, and I’ve taught it all. I started as a long-term sub in 6th-grade science and now teach 8th-grade social studies. In between are stints at the high school and crossing over curriculums into math, reading, and English. I’m at ease teaching just about anything at the front of the classroom because I know it’s not about me. It’s about the faces who are giving me their attention. Seeking a lesson. Looking to laugh and learn, often in the same breath. And I have the confidence to teach just about anywhere, anytime.
2 – Until it isn’t. Yeah, I wasn’t ready for full-on, splayed-across-the-floor sobfests whenever I firmly said the word “no.” But that happened – and still happens – with Isaiah. In a similar vein, that almost too-self-assured teacher who stated his full confidence above was NOT ready to teach digitally at home for 6 weeks, and soon to be 5 weeks more.
3 – Not all kids are equal, and we shouldn’t treat them equally, either even if they look the same. My wife is the youngest of 3 sisters. Her oldest sister was keen at challenging authority and incredibly talented at art. Her middle sister was a nose-to-the-grindstone lover of science. She often explains how teachers would read her name from the first-day roster in different fashions based upon which older sister they taught. And that’s not fair. With all the push for equality in education today, it does not exist. Nor should it. We need to treat each kid not with the Golden Rule (treat others as WE wish to be treated), but with the Platinum Rule (treat others as THEY wish to be treated).
4 – Support networks are everything. One way I’m able to accomplish my work from home is through teamwork. Thankfully my wife is able to step up on the weekends and take over as I lesson plan, grade, and contact home. Similarly, her mother takes the kids for part days and, when this is all said and done, my family is always there for me as well. A teacher and a parent are only as strong as the weakest link on their support chain. Build yours strong.
5 – Decisions about kids’ futures are hard. There are so many question marks for so many of us as adults, I couldn’t imagine what it’s like to be a graduating high school or college senior. Or to face the threat of not having a job. But when kids stand at the precipice of uncertainty, a teacher should be there to support them, even for as crazy as the venture sounds. I imagine there were plenty of people who dismissed Jeff Bezos’s idea that there’d be an online market to sell used books – and look at what Amazon has become in the meantime, banking $4 billion in profits just in this quarter.
6 – Harder when you watch them suffer don’t personally agree with them. Last night Isaiah would not help clean up, and it was painful. The pain was most certainly his own, and it was largely his doing and needed to be his undoing. I’ve watched my students get arrested and even lose their lives based upon their decisions; used and abused by the decisions of others. At the end of the day, feeling helpless about helping them is a thing that breaks many teachers. But remind yourself you can control what you can control, and sometimes that’s just sitting there occupying a supporting role next to them.
7 – Modeling is the most important instructor. I’m trying to stop the yelling in my household and that’s largely because I’m a yeller. My kids have picked up on it and have started to yell at one another. There were periods in my teaching when I was mean because I thought I was being funny. I wasn’t, and I only noticed that when I saw other students acting like I was. They’re watching what you do and what you say, even when it seems like they’re not.
8 – There’s no peace like being there for someone holding a baby in your arms. My kids are getting a bit big to “hold in my arms,” but not too big yet. That said, one of the proudest roles I play is being there when they stub a toe or find frustrations. That’s equally true for our students, and though it’s frowned upon in this day and age, if a kid asks for a hug, I give them one. And if they don’t ask for one and need it, I give them all the love they need with attention and intention.
9 – It’s great to move from inexperienced, wide-eyed bystander to active participant. I welcomed Rachael as a student-teacher to my classroom this year, and it was fantastic to watch her jump in feet-first from the get-go. It was even better watching her grow by taking full ownership of the classroom and, more importantly, the students that occupied it. Similarly, I love watching my kids grow from watchers to doers. In the beginning, we built the Legos (their favorite toy) together, meaning my wife and I constructed 90% of it. Now we’re completely unnecessary in the construction and yet still active participants in the enjoyment.
10 – Experience builds character. Each day is a new journey filled with only a certain amount of hours and steps and words in it. But that time can be spent making ourselves better, whether we’re learning how to run or pronounce “r’s” properly, or whether we’re figuring out how to best plug the hole in education digitally for our kids in the midst of a pandemic. But if you do your best each day, you’ll at the very least be better.
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