Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reflections On Being a Teacher and a Mom

Stella's hoping nobody will recognize her.

First off, I must apologize for two things. I'm sorry I haven't posted any new entries in a while. I hope the ensuing riots weren't too bad and that nobody went off the deep end. It's just that we moved into our new place and that cause me to be preoccupied with unpacking and setting up. Also, Stella's sleeping got all fucactad. Was it the teething? Maybe. Was it acclimating to her new environs? Possibly. Could it have been that she hit 4,000 developmental milestones in 2 weeks (flipping, sitting, creeping, almost crawling)? Could be. Anyway, I had little time to sit down behind this computer screen, and so I apologize.

The second apology is for the photo above. Not for its insane adorableness; I will never apologize for that. But because it has nothing to do with this entry. I couldn't help myself. That picture deserved to be on this blog somewhere, even if it's a complete non-sequitur.

OK. Onto the meat.

When people ask me what I do, my first instinct is still to answer, "I'm a teacher." This is a bit strange because, although I'm certified to teach, have taught for 6 years, and am still technically employed as a teacher (I'm on an unpaid childcare leave), I am not currently working as a teacher. Instead I spend 24 hours/day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year working as a mom. Happily. Jubilantly. I just can't forget that I'm a teacher, no matter how much of a mom I become. Teaching is honestly my calling.

When I was growing up, my mom had a sort of...prejudice against teachers who were also parents. She thought they pushed their kids a little too hard, that their kids' work was always a little suspiciously perfect, that they had some sort of unfair advantage. To be fair, my mom is an awesome person and now LOVES that I'm a teacher. She, of course, thinks that I'm the exception to the weird parent rule.

And although I didn't always know I'd be a teacher (there was that short-lived, completely non lucrative career as a playwright/director), I kind of always knew I'd be a mom (someday in the DISTANT future, I always said). And I knew I'd be one of those moms who's kid was brilliant.

I always thought of kids as sponges. It seemed like such a waste to me not to speak a foreign language in front of your child, read them every book known to man, teach them to play the cello and solve complex math problems with them from the moment they popped out. I knew my kid would speak fluently by 1 year, read by 2 years, and begin working on her novel by 3.

That was before I actually became a teacher and met parents who lived that philosophy.

Now I really don't want to dog parents of students I've had. I've known incredible parents and forged wonderful relationships with them. However, in my former neighborhood there were parents who would push their kids so hard it nearly broke my heart. I would have students who would be falling asleep at their desks. When I asked the little boy or girl why he or she was tired, the reply was usually something like this: "well, I had my after-school French class, so I met with my tutor later than usual. After that, I had my African dance class and then came home to have a quick dinner before practicing my harpsichord and doing my homework. Then there was a special program on NPR about the economy that dad wanted me to hear so I didn't get to sleep until midnight."

Did you notice what was missing from that? Downtime and play.

Now that I teach, I've begun to view downtime and play as so much more crucial to a child's development than constant drilling of information in an attempt to fill up that sponge. Just today, waiting to get Stella's shots, I saw a man who seemed like a loving and attentive father. His toddler was adorable and very bright! Not a moment was wasted waiting for the doctor. Books weren't read, they were evaluated. "What do you think will happen next?" "How would you solve this problem?" Games left in the waiting room weren't played, they were used to teach. "If the red ball travels on the blue line and gets to the green triangle, what do you think will happen to the orange ball if it travels on the same line?"

To be fair, the little girl was engaged and having fun. But it just made me wonder, if this is how the dad acts waiting for the doctor, I wonder what kind of training is happening at home. Stella was chilling on my lap, gazing at all the people (much like my mom, Stella can people watch for days). I had a chewable book on my lap, in case she needed to munch, but I wasn't reading because she didn't look bored. And can I tell you that same father kept throwing me expectant glances? I mean, I honestly think he was concerned about the fact that I was wasting precious teaching time with my 7th month old.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm still a teacher at heart. I read to Stella daily. I'm working with her to say "mama" (to enrich her vocabulary but also because I'm peeved that she only says "dada" so far). I'm putting things in a container and showing her how to dump them out.

As she gets older, we will find ways to solve real-life math problems daily. We'll make predictions about books, write a bit each day, discuss current events in child-appropriate ways.

However, we will also finger paint. We will make messes. We will roll around on the floor and tickle each other until we almost pee our pants. And finally, and I hope you don't call child services on me for this one, we will VEG OUT. Stella will relax on her bed, flipping through a picture book or holding her teddy or just staring at the ceiling. How else can you relax and process what happened to you in your quickly evolving life?

That's that. I'm not judging others for how they raise their kids (no matter how tempting) because the fact of the matter is we all make mistakes. I've already made 3,473, according to my latest calculations. But robbing Stella of her youth just to make her a prodigy is not one I'll add to my list.


Lauren said...

You said it, BBM!

After all, did your mom drill you on fractions or quiz you on flashcards? Mine certainly didn't. And we're both pretty smart cookies, in spite of/because of it. :)

Rosewood said...

Very good advice, however, I do come from the other extreme, where my parents had me involved in nothing, and I regret now what I most likely missed out on.

Martin said...

Love it love it love it. Right on the money. I'm lucky - Squirk and Buddy's parents and I are in complete agreement on activities, downtime, etc.

Welcome back to the blog-o-sphere!