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Uncategorized   |   Nov 9, 2009

Your thoughts: how does parenthood affect the practice of educators?

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Your thoughts: how does parenthood affect the practice of educators?

By Angela Watson

Every now and then, a student’s parent will ask me if I have kids of my own. They always look a little disappointed when I reply “not yet”, as if I don’t understand their struggles as well as they’d hoped. I’m looking forward to starting a family soon with my husband, and I wonder a lot about how the experience of parenthood affects those who work in education.

Musings of this sort are what makes my personal learning network (PLN) so invaluable. What an amazing experience to be able to toss this question out via social media and get replies from educators all over the world. I started these conversations a month ago and allowed the initial responses to shape the way I pursued the topic later. I went to my Facebook fans and The Cornerstone yGroup first:

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I received dozens of thought-provoking responses, most of which hit on at least one of four categories. Here are the main ways becoming a parent has affected the way these teachers view their students:

1) They have increased empathy toward parents AND students.

Katrina Andres Murphy wrote: “I think I have more patience for individual personalities. My expectations are now more in line with their development. I also understand that this little person is the whole world to these parents. They are sending the best they have to school. They are not leaving the good ones at home. :-)”

2) They are less frustrated about students not completing homework.

Many teachers who used to get angry when homework was repeatedly missing have a new understanding and don’t let it bother them once they become parents themselves. Angela Rodriguez Gibson shared: “…I can see how homework might not get done. I understand not being able to miss work for conferences. I understand that everyone thinks their child is a genius and an angel. I also understand the frustrations of the school system.”

3) They hold a new and deeper respect for individuality.

J from the Cornerstone yGroup says: “Since becoming a parent, I’ve also learned that kids are who they are–even with the best parents in the world. Just because a child has issues (whatever they may be), does not necessarily mean it is due to poor parenting. At nearly 2 years, my child is super high energy, busy, into everything. I can’t even imagine what he will be like in kindergarten!”

4) They develop a truer sense of the importance and ultimate mission of teachers. Marcella Martinez: “…Being a teacher and having your own kids in school you realize what kind of teacher u want for your kids. Now I try to be that teacher to my students.”

So does being a parent make you a better teacher?

Cindy Rice Magruder says yes. “I think being a teacher has made me a better mother and vice versa. I am a better disciplinarian, more patient, and more understanding of those issues that kids may have at home. I am thankful everyday that I have that insight!! The children I work with often don’t have a strong support system at home, so I feel like that motivates me to be a better mom and teacher to those kids!”

And Laura Jewell Qualley agrees: “…I have learned to relax about certain things, like homework that doesn’t get done, and I am also much less critical of both parents and children in general. Parenting is hard, and working full time on top of it is often a crazy life. I think being a parent has made me a better teacher, and being a teacher has made me a better parent.”

But not everyone feels that simultaneously playing the role of parent and teacher is beneficial. Heather Mason responded on Twitter with a link to a brutally honest post on her blog, Teacher in Transition. It’s an interesting read about how parenthood may make you a better teacher, but the effect might not be reciprocal: “I want to be good at both. I know that it must be possible, but I just can’t seem to find the balance; the fulcrum keeps moving. Some days I am the better parent and falling behind as a teacher; others I am a better teacher but missing my kids in the process. I am always at the top of the see-saw waiting for the big drop.”

What are the implications for teachers without kids of their own?

Developing a greater empathy for parents and a deeper understanding of children’s individuality is an important goal for any teacher, and those of us without kids should start disciplining ourselves in this area now. A good place to start is by reading the smashing blow of humility that is cleared delivered by John Spencer on his blog as he concludes that with 3 kids of his own, he can no longer complain about parents: “Is it possible that the confusion and terror I feel about things like sickness [of a child] are what many parents feel about things like homework and grades and independent projects? Is it unreasonable for a parent to assume that the teacher should be more knowledgeable than the parents on issues of classroom management, assessment, instruction and motivation? Yet, I’ve seen many teachers who not only request, but demand that parents serve them and fix any potential problems. I’d be offended if the doctor called me in and said, ‘Your child is sick. I want you to come up with some solutions at home and bring me back when he’s well.’” [Be sure to read the post comments, especially the one by Teacherfish who shares a mortifying lesson about the demands of parenthood.]

What are the implications for policy makers and those in other out-of-classroom positions?

Melanie Williams Weber, a teacher and parent, shares “I’ve begun to notice more of the limitations of the school system. I see how much my kids (6 and 4) learn through natural interactions and how simplistic school learning standards are.”

In some respects, aren’t kids capable of learning so much more than what we’re expecting them to learn? And in other respects, aren’t we demanding too much of them? Parenthood clearly affects the way teachers teach. But does it affect the way educational change is created? I tossed this question out on Twitter:

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It’s that second question that I’m wondering most about now, and hoping to get more responses on. How did parenthood affect those who created the No Child Left Behind Act? Do any policy makers have young children or grandchildren who must be subjected to the culture of testing and obsessive accountability they’ve created, or are they bowing out with private schooling? Becoming a parent seems to produce deeper empathy and purpose in the lives of teachers. Is there any such effect or correlation with education policy makers?

What are YOUR thoughts on parenthood and education?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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Discussion


  1. Thanks for this post. I"m not a parent and only a teacher, but I often wonder if being a parent makes you a better teacher. I do not think it makes your less of a teacher…definitely not. But I wonder how much more sensitive being a parent makes you? Great question!

  2. For me, it changed my perspective. I'm more patient with students, more attune to individual needs, more understanding of the maturation process, more respectful toward parents who act "crazy" (parenting is really scary).

    But I'm also more tired, less capable of working as hard, more scattered in my thoughts, a little less passionate (or at least outwardly energetic in my passion). I don't grade as well as I used to. I don't have patience for dumb meetings, either.

    So, it's mixed. I'm glad there are teachers who have more time and can focus a little more on the classroom (not that teacher without kids are necessarily getting huge chunks of free time) and I'm glad there are teachers who have kids and have a little more empathy as a result.

  3. Being a parent at first didn't seem to change how I taught or responded at first. Then my oldest son started kindegarten. I began to see how being at school al day and then having homework on top of it was tiring. I also began to have more patience with parents. Working all day and then coming home to do the homework fight is not fun. I have become way more sympathetic and empathetic with my parents and students by having a child in school. It has also helped push myself to be the teacher I would want my son to have.

  4. Being a parent and a teacher allows the teacher side of me to understand better the parents of my students because we are both parenting.

    Before I had kids, when a parent told me I just didn't understand, I thought, yeah. Right.

    Well, they were right. I didn't understand. Now I do. Parenting is hard, frustrating, terrifying, satisfying, beautiful and brings out your inner lion.

  5. Anon: I like the way you phrased that. Not having kids of your own doesn't make you less of a teacher, but it probably does make you less sensitive.

    John: Interesting point about being less passionate about teaching once you're a parent. I've definitely seen that to be true about most parent-teachers, and they'll admit it outright ("I used to stay at school till 5 creating these elaborate projects; now I can't wait to get my babies right at 3:00!"). I can imagine that's very hard to balance.

    Anon: You mentioned trying to be the type of teacher you'd want your son to have. I think about that a lot in my classroom now: Is this what I'd want MY child's teacher to say/do? It's pretty good ego check. 😉

    TFT: Oooh, bringing out your lion. That's a good way to put it, and explains the defensiveness I see sometimes in parents.

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