Unfortunately I was confronted by an upset parent about an incident on the playground at the beginning of last year. The parent was in tears when she came to me, and I honestly didn't even know anything about the incident other than that it had happened. (I wasn't on duty that day.) During this confrontation, she spoke words that hurt me to the core and that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. First she asked, "Am I remembering right that you don't have any kids?" When I replied in the positive, she said, "Okay, then you just don't understand."
This isn't the first time someone has said something like that to me, but it was the first time it was directed at me in a negative way. Many of my cooperating teachers for various practica and student teaching told me they became better teachers when they became parents, and that that would likely happen for me to. In those situations, though, their intent was never that I was a lesser teacher because I wasn't a parent, just that I would become even better because of that. When the comment was directed at me in a way that implied I wasn't as good or qualified to be a teacher because of the fact that I am not a parent, it hurt.
Of course, in the moment, I remained calm. I remained calm while discussing the incident immediately afterwards with my fellow kindergarten teachers and my principal too. The second I got to my car that afternoon, though, I broke down into tears. How dare she say that to me! She didn't know a thing about my life, and since it was the beginning of the year and I was new to the district she didn't really know much about me as a teacher. I felt torn down and deeply disrespected.
I wish I could have said this:
Here's what I know about my ability to teach and care for children:
- I have been trained in child development, effective teaching strategies, and differentiation, and I understand what to expect from my children I work with.
- I have cared for hundreds of children in many different capacities for 11 years including: babysitting, before/after school care, daycare, and teaching.
- I know how to keep kids safe, and I go out of my way to do so. (I was that teacher at the end of the year school picnic who was spraying down children with sunscreen as they ran past.)
Here's what I know about what it means to be a teacher and not a parent:
- Because I do not have children of my own, I have a ton of time to devote to my classroom. I spend nights and weekends researching and planning for ways to make my classroom better fit the needs of my students. I can do this, because I don't have to put my own children first.
- Because I do not have children, my heart is completely open to love my students. After God, my husband, and my family (who all live far away and who I wish were much closer in spirit), come my students. I've got a whole lot of heart left for them, and they quickly fill it up. At night, I think about my students; they often keep me up at night (out of excitement just as much as worry). I plan for my students constantly and think of them frequently when I'm out and about. I pray for them every day. I spend a good chunk of my paycheck on them, because I want what is best for them. (I am not saying teachers who are parents don't do this. I'm simply saying I can do more of this since I don't have children of my own to think of first.)
- As a teacher who is not a parent, my students become my children. I talk about "my kids" all the time, because that is how I think of them. For the year I have them, they are mine. My kiddos last year occasionally referred to me as their school mom. I take my job seriously, and "my kids" mean the world to me. At the end of the year, I am more sad than happy because it means "my kids" are no longer mine. All summer long, I can't wait to meet "my new kids," and I love nothing more than getting to know "my kids" throughout the year.
I am not in any way saying that I am a better teacher by not being a parent than those who are parents. I want to be very clear about that. In fact, I want with every fiber of my being to be a parent, and that is a daily heartbreak for me. I am 100% certain that becoming a parent would make me a better teacher and I would understand on a deeper level, and I have a profound respect for the teachers who do such a beautiful job of balancing being teachers and moms/dads; however, I am not a bad teacher because I am not a parent.
I didn't have a chance to say any of that to this parent (nor would it have been very professional for me to do so), but I've wanted to say those words since that day. I am certain I am not the only person fighting that perception, and I am more than happy to be a voice for those in this battle with me.