Lessons Learned in the Classroom: How what I learned as a classroom teacher has helped me as a mother
I recently received a question from a reader who had read one of my posts. She said, “Yeah, but how did you get there? Where did you start and what did you do to get to where you are today?” So, today, I’m going to answer that.
In all honesty, that’s a tough question to answer, but I realized that it mostly stems from my time as a teacher. As parents, we’re always adapting and adjusting to new challenges and new stages. Our children go so fast, that it feels like just as we get used to one new development, problem, phase, etc, they’re on to something else. I’m not the same person or the same mother that I was last year, two years ago, or even last month because my kids have changed. And, as a result, I’ve changed too. So, here’s a little background on how I got to where I am today and some helpful tidbits I learned along the way.
Think long-term and “big picture”
Before becoming a mom, I read 0, that’s right ZERO, parenting books. Pregnancy books, sure. Breastfeeding? Sure. Parenting. Nope. I didn’t see the point. I had worked with kids for 22 years, so reading a parenting book probably wasn’t the best use of my time. Being a teacher didn’t just make choosing a name harder. It gave me LOTS of experience with parents, parenting styles, and kids. It also showed what that looks like in the classroom or “society.” Plus, I’m more of a middle of the road person, so the odds of one person’s (or “expert’s”) style matching mine were slim to none. And, there’s always Google, the library, family, and friends to ask. What I did do is think about what kind of children I wanted to raise and how to go about doing that.
- What helped me as a child? What didn’t? Same questions for my husband.
- What’s realistic for us to do? What’s not?
- What resources do we have to help us achieve our goals?
- What are we already doing that is working? What can we change?
My husband got a shit-ton (yes, that’s a quantifiable real number!) of praise for his “parenting” in those early months. He changed a diaper. Big whoop. He gave her a bottle. Yippee. But, like he said, that’s the easy stuff. That’s not true parenting. That’s caring for someone, but there’s not much conflict, no opinions or desires, nothing like that to contend with when dealing with a baby. Wait until she gets older and has a mind of her own and her own opinion, he said. And, he was right. As long as we keep the big picture in mind, and our long term goals as our focus, we tend to do pretty well. And, it helps put it all into perspective.
Say what you want or need instead of what you don’t want
I knew from my years in the classroom that telling children what we want instead of what we don’t want helps for two main reasons.
- They hear what to do, instead of hearing what not to do (and still possibly not knowing what they should be doing).
- When we phrase things positively (“Please sit on the chair” or “Chairs are for sitting.” instead of “Don’t stand on the chair”), we’re in a more positive frame of mind. This helps prevent negativity from sneaking in as much.
- If there are other children present, they also hear what to do, instead of what not to do. Always try to phrase it as a positive and reinforce the desired behavior/outcome.
It helps to be short, sweet, and to the point when giving directions. Explaining why or how or whatever can be helpful if your child doesn’t seem to understand WHY something is important, but this is probably best done after they’ve had a chance to comply. It also helps to have realistic expectations and be consistent. That way, your child knows what to expect. Predictability is key with kids! 🙂
I’m very fortunate that my husband lets me be the expert when it comes to our kids and how to teach and raise them. If I tell him something that makes sense, he’s all for it. I usually tell him the reason behind it, but he generally doesn’t need it. So, I told him that we’re going to say what we want instead of what we don’t want Sweet Pea to do, and he went with it. He also pointed out that it’s what we do with the dogs (give a command to follow instead of randomly yelling about what they’re not supposed to do). Uh, true, but probably not what most people want to hear.
Choose a Positive Attitude
It was more obvious when I was in elementary school and had the same kids all day, but I also noticed that my approach to the day and general attitude and energy level impacted how my kids (aka, my students, who were “my” kids for the year) acted. If I was stressed and distracted, they were more out of sorts and “all over the place” too.
Rainy days were especially dreadful as a teacher- no recess, no bathroom break or lunch break. But, if I showed up to work all bummed out because it was raining (I hate the rain), the kids would be harder to deal with. It’s all about our mindset. So, instead of letting them see that I hated rainy days, I was upbeat and went a little more with the flow (not too much or they’d start to expect it and take advantage). We did things a little differently to accommodate the rain, lack of recess time, and so on. And, it worked.
The same thing works at home with my little ones. If I approach a situation with excitement and wonder, they often do the same thing. I refuse to tell them when I don’t like a particular food because I don’t want them to copy me too and not like it. Last week, my seasonal allergies started acting up, and when my husband asked me what was wrong, I lamented, “oh! My allergies.” Guess what Sweet Pea is saying now. One guess. 🙂 Those little eyes and ears are always observing and taking everything in, so we might as well try to be as positive as we can.
Model what you want to see
Ok, I don’t mean go grab some clothes and strut down some imaginary runway. What I mean is demonstrate, or show, your kids what you want by being it and doing it yourself. For example, if you want them to eat their vegetables, eat your vegetables. If you want them to be active, get out there and play with them and do something “active.” If you want your little one to say, “please” and “thank you,” start saying it at every opportunity you get.
I’m honestly not sure how I learned this one, but I saw Sweet Pea copying me when she was close to a year old, and REALLY start copying me when she was 19-20 months old. I realized she was paying attention to my every move. Like a mini spy. And, even though she couldn’t report back or say what she saw at a year old, she was taking it all in. That meant that I needed to be my best self so that I was modeling that for her.
Plus, the “do as I say, not as I do” thing never really made much sense to me. So, while there are somethings I do simply because I want to and because I can, I try to minimize it around the littles, and, we explain it as an adult thing. Because, that’s what it is. One of the benefits of being an adult is getting to decide what I do, when, and how (within reason, of course). So, if I decide to have a soda, I have a soda. I don’t share it with the kids, and Sweet Pea will probably say something like, “When I get bigger, I can (have a soda).” Which is true. When she’s older, she can have an occasional soda. Maybe 1 a week on pizza night like I had growing up, maybe not. But, she doesn’t need to be drinking soda at 2 years old.
Last, but certainly not least, I ask. Or I do research myself. Have you seen that meme that says, “a worried mother does better (faster) research than the FBI”? Yeah. That’s me.
But, kids don’t come with instruction manuals and each child is different, so I believe there’s value in asking people who have been there before, whether it’s a mom friend with kids similar in age or slightly older, a family member, mom/mother in law, or someone who has experience with kids. I once said to a mommy friend (and former teacher), “I know I’ve read that counting down when giving a time limit is bad, but I can’t remember why. Do you know? What’s your experience with it?” And, after a discussion, we decided that, at 2, it’s a perfectly reasonable strategy to use with Sweet Pea. The only “dumb” question is the one you didn’t ask.
You can do it!
Start small. Choose one thing to work on each week. Gradually build upon that. For example, if phrasing directions positively would help you, work on that this week. Put a post-it note up to remind yourself. Then, next week, add in the next thing you want to work on. If you want to do more stuff with your child(ren), start small. Start with one activity a day. Aim for 10-15 minutes, or even 5 minutes depending on the activity and the age of your child(ren). Build up from there. Give yourself time to make changes and grace when doing so. Go with the flow. It doesn’t need to be an “all or nothing” type approach. Being present and participating goes a LONG way!
What’s one thing you’re going to work on this week?