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.