Can being a mother make someone a better teacher? The answer is “definitely yes.” I already knew this before I read Starr Sackstein’s Mother’s Day article, “How Being a Mom Changed My Teaching,” in Education Week Teacher. But I was glad to have my opinion confirmed.
I remember the year I helped to open a new public high school in New York City. It was a small school—that was all the rage in 2009—and we co-founders had the privilege of handpicking a brand new faculty of six very bright, mostly young professionals. Three were married, but only one had any children.
All six were full of high expectations—just the way we wanted them—for our first class of ninth graders. But, as it turned out, some of those expectations would need to be put through the “mother filter,” which they didn’t have yet. Ms. Sackstein said it best in her article: “. . . I’d characterize my early career self as rigid. The expectations were clear and absolutely NO exceptions were made.”
Ms. Sackstein tells us in her article that her son was born in her fourth year of teaching and that she has now been a mother for a bit over 10 years. Here are a few of the ways that she believes being a mother has changed her teaching (excerpted and quoted from her article):
- “Seeing the ‘special’ in every child became easier. I imagine what his/her parent loves about the child and suddenly they aren’t just a student but someone’s baby and who can’t empathize with that emotion. Trying very hard to treat this person’s child, like I’d want my own child treated in a similar situation, helps put it all in perspective.”
- “Exceptions must be made and differentiation must happen. Every child is different and expecting the same result from every person in a room is downright foolish.”
- “Flexibility in deadlines, projects and classwork must be assumed.”
- “I’m far more patient now than I’ve ever been.”
- “My stance on homework has changed a lot since having a school-aged child as well. I value home time differently and therefore have worked hard to make homework (when necessary) flexible. Projects are done over time rather than on demand.”
If you are a mother (or a father, of course), you can probably relate to these, and you likely hope that your own kids’ teachers feel the same way as Ms. Sackstein.
When teachers at our school saw me on the way to their classrooms to talk to them, they used to say, “What do you want now? Which student needs an extra day, an extra chance, an extra make-up assignment?” Looking back, I don’t regret one single request I made on behalf of one of our students. Not one. Thank goodness that our exceptional principal didn’t mind my making those trips to chat with our teachers. Here’s why: He has three kids of his own, and he is a great father. He gets it. All mothers and fathers watch their kids and their kids’ friends get into scrapes and get out of them—and sometimes they just need a little help from a teacher.
So, happy belated Mother’s Day and happy early Father’s Day to all the teachers out there who bring what they have learned from having their own kids into the classroom—in the best possible way. We parents are truly grateful.