(This was the basis for my #140edu presentation called “They See Us” delivered on July 31, 2012 at the 92nd Street Y. Slides for that presentation are found here)
My wife and I haven’t finished a conversation in nearly eight years.
What I mean is that the same conversations keep happening on a fairly regular basis–a sort of marital Groundhog day in which, our thoughts, still as profound as they were back when we first met, are never fully finished. Rather, they are partly made then broken off as one or another emergency shrieks in from the outside:
- Charlie poured the water from the tub into several of the small mini-Tupperware cups that Audrey set up for him on rim of the tub.
- Parker got a bug lodged so far back in his eye that we actually couldn’t see it anymore.
- Audrey hasn’t found the matching dance outfit and leggings to wear to the playground, because, everyone knows, and they really do, that you always wear leggings, a dance outfit, and rain-boots to the playground. Sheesh, Dad.
We’ve practiced the art of relationship bookmarking–a highly adapted social skill in which you can pick up the fragments of interrupted conversations, often days later, and not have missed more than a few gist’s or so. We have it down to an exact science.
Both of us being educators, our friends, parents and extended have some unique expectations for our kids. They live with the stigma that they probably will do well in school because we are teachers and that they will love school because we obviously did. They also get the unique perks of having parents that are teachers: an odd love of stickers that smell or shine, the perpetual reliance on a 10-month calendar that no one else in the world above the age of 22 uses.
And we are hyper-aware of this, and our experience with our two oldest children and school has been rife with situations where we ask ourselves if the problem merits further looking into or whether it’s just a blip that the teacher shouldn’t be bothered with.
And it is those blips that began the stunted conversation that led to me being here.
It’s true that you are never the same once again as a person after having a child of your own. I’m not here to argue that point. What I do believe now is that after our children were born, our ideas about teaching changed. It’s not as if having children suddenly opened up our empathetic pathways and we saw the light, but rather that certain things sharpened.
Our aspect ratio changed.
We realized we had some things to more consciously consider as we went back to our work as teachers.
We learned that we needed to be present when we were home. We learned that the example we set in terms of our attention span and the gadgets that we have is of the utmost importance with our kids.
The same is true for the students we have. We wanted to make sure our students feel like they have all of us, all the time. There have been countless examples we remembered where a student wanted our attention and we just didn’t give it, or gave it with the most horrible body language.
We could see the message were sending when we were either plugged into our devices or too preoccupied with our own lives to be present in theirs, and we didn’t like it. We are consciously aware of how much they matter and that what they say has value.
Be the teacher that you would want your child spending 45-40 hours a week with.
Both of us now work, and our kids are either in school or in childcare while we are there. A typical day for us gives them a full eight hours in the care of another in one day.
Our children spend close to 25% of their week in the care of their teachers.
As we prepared for this, we really began to see how many of our students’ parents were in the same position. How would that shape the work we did?
The time they spend with us has to be a time that is sacred, anticipated and adored. Everything from the things we learn about to the space we learn in have to be designed with the idea that our job is to make them matter. To make them love to learn and be with us. Parents drop off their most prized possession every morning to us and say, “please take care of them and teach them,” and it’s our responsibility to to do just that.
Make the work matter
Parker, our seven-year-old, loves math. Neither my wife nor I can figure out a) why he likes it so much, and b) where those tendencies stem from as not one of us can think our way out of a matrices or balance an equation to save our lives. However, even he was struggling with measurement last year. He muddled through that unit, with my wife and I being of whatever consolation we could, but did not truly grasp the concepts.
Then, in June, after school let out, our neighbor’s son learned from a cousin of his that you could make wallets out of duct tape, and he and Parker began asking if my wife if she could teach them how to do it. Enter the world’s newest teaching tool–YouTube– and within minutes the three of them were on their way to learning how to make wallets out of duct tape. But, each video stressed the need to be precise in the length of each piece of tape used to make the wallets. Guess who learned measurement?
We both realized that the work we ask our students to do in school should at least make an effort at reaching kids where the duct tape wallets did for Parker. Does it matter to them in a way that would push them to learn more about it on their own?
kids can see through it from a very early age.
Deliver the Goods
If you say you are going to do it, do it. Nothing eats at me worse than when I make a promise to my kids that I don’t deliver on. It doesn’t matter if the reason for not delivering is a natural disaster, seeing them disappointed is difficult to bear.
A wise colleague of mine told me when I arrived in a new district to spend the first year listening to the various constituents within that district and ask them what is one thing I could do to make their jobs easier. Then, after listening, spend the next year trying to make that one thing happen for that group.
We need to be wary of the promises we make to children, because we as adults have learned that there is disappointment all around. But the children we teach have not. Let’s not be their first lesson in it.