Does being a parent make you a better teacher?

Just over a week ago, Teacher and Blogger Craig Kemp wrote a heartfelt post on his blog titled ‘Being a Dad makes me a better educator‘. It’s a lovely piece which has clearly resonated with many people. It’s been shared several times in my twitter timeline over the past week by different people, and I’ve spotted many comments from people who related to that post and felt that parenthood had impacted their teaching in a similar way. But his post raised some issues for me…

I am a woman in my 40s and will never have children.

When I learned that  this would be the case, I had to confront the painful idea that my life would lack any meaning or significance. The schema I have been raised in as an Australian female had taught me that family is the most important thing and that the most important contribution I would make to society as a female would be that of a mother to my own children.

I grieved for the children I would never have, and feared for my future, imagining a shallow, barren existence. I still wonder from time to time, who will care for me when I’m too old to care for myself, and who will visit me in the nursing home of my future.

I had to work hard to reimagine a future for myself without children and challenge the notion that a woman’s life can only be fulfilled if she is a mother. Some years down the track I now realise what garbage that notion is.  I do live a life that is enjoyable and  fulfilling, in which I thrive and in which I contribute meaningfully to society and to the lives of others.

However other people, raised with the same assumptions about womanhood, find my childless status hard to understand or appreciate. When they discover I have no children, I am given either bewildered,  pitying or judgemental looks. Some, apparently trying to relate and empathise, will tell me how sorry they feel for me since my life must be so empty. Others are more judgemental, assuming I’ve put my career ahead of children. These tell me that I really should get on with it or I’ll run out of time. I’ve even been told that I’ll never truly understand what it is to be a woman until I’ve given birth, so apparently I’m just half a woman.

I’m used to these reactions now. They irritate me, but they no longer sting.

But one part of my experience as a childless woman, that I never, ever will get used to is the prejudice that I encounter as a teacher. 

I’ve been told, when a fellow teacher disagreed with a decision I’d made, ‘If you were a parent you wouldn’t have made that decision.’

Parents of students I teach, who’ve discovered I have no children of my own, have openly marvelled at the way I can still relate their kids.

And on countless occasions now, I’ve sat and listened respectfully as  parents, who are also teachers, talk about how parenthood has improved the way they relate to their students, helpfully  telling me, ‘until you’re a parent, you’ll never understand ‘  As if somehow I’m incapable of truly relating to my students and having empathy without children of my own.

Apparently, my childless status means that not only am I incomplete as a woman, I am also incomplete as a teacher.

I’d like to make something very clear.

BEING A PARENT DOES NOT QUALIFY ANYONE TO BE A TEACHER OR MAKE THEM BETTER TEACHERS THAN THOSE WHO DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN.

Successfully completing a teaching degree is what qualifies us to be teachers, on going professional experience, learning and reflection is what makes us better.

This is not intended as a criticism of what Craig Kemp has described. His experience as a father has added depth and perspective to his work as a teacher. And he never suggests that his experience is universal, or that all teachers who are parents are better than those who are not. He writes from a personal perspective about a powerful life experience.

All life experiences impact and change us, and add to what we bring to our work as teachers.

My experience of being bullied in primary and high school has taught me to care deeply about that issue, and work proactively in my school community to minimise bullying and to support victims.

My childhood experience of being lousy at sport, and finding it a humiliating experience,  has given me special insight in to the experience of children who struggle with sport, and led me to arrange special opportunities for those children to learn the  basic motor skills required for games, to arrange mentoring for them in playground games, and a range of other  opportunities that help increase their participation in and enjoyment of sport.

Life experiences, with or without children, will impact us all. I’ve experienced grief, trauma, heartbreak, loneliness love, joy and friendship. Each experience touches me, changes me and makes me who I am. I bring all of that passion, wisdom, insight and empathy to my work.

Life makes me a better teacher.

Advertisements

Quality Education – No Longer a Right in Australia?

Our federal politicians and their conservative think tanks want us to imagine a society where quality education is no longer a right.

A user pays society where the more you pay, the greater your educational opportunities.  Where wealthy students access a broad curriculum, individualised attention from teachers, smaller class sizes, well maintained and modern classrooms with access to cutting edge technologies, sporting facilities and performing arts spaces.

Children from poorer families could access a no-frills state provided education but with inferior facilities and a narrow curriculum focusing just on the basics.

To avert the risk that  people with the capacity to pay would try to get a free ride from state provided education, a levy would be imposed on higher income earners who choose to access state education. This would discourage all but the most economically disadvantaged from attending state schools.

Last week, the Centre for Independent Studies released a report by Jennifer Buckingham called ‘School Funding on a Budget’

The report contained 8 recommendations:

1.  Review the federal government funding

2. Abolish the federal department of education

3. Reduce the cost of state and territory bureaucracy

4. Remove mandatory class size maximums and eschew further class size reductions

5. Education bursaries for low-income students to attend non-government schools

6. Charge high-income families to attend government schools

7. Reduce the oversupply of teachers by elevating entry standards to teaching degrees

8. Decentralise teacher employment and make it easier to dismiss ineffective teachers

The report is based on some flawed assumptions.

The first assumption is that we need to reign in spending because we need to reduce our budget deficit. Here’s what the IMF has to say about Australia’s budget deficit.

bugetdeficit

source: FactsFightBack.org.au

The report also assumes that higher income families who send their children to public schools are getting a free ride. This ignores the fact that parents are already contributing to their children’s public education not only through our tax, which structured so that those who earn more pay more, but through the voluntary fees that public schools charge.

Buckingham claims education research shows increasing class sizes would have no effect on learning while allowing huge savings on teacher salaries. But again, that claim is not well supported. This paper from David Zyngier at  Monash University  rejects that notion. His literature review of 112 studies showed only 3 that suggested class sizes don’t have an impact on learning.

The Thatcherite view that there is no society seems to have been embraced by the Centre for Independent Studies, the Commission of Audit, and our current federal government. Perhaps they prefer to think of us living in an economy.

Following their recommendations may well save money but, if we look at the social consequences, the benefits don’t add up.

Saving money on education will leave us all poorer.

Related Articles