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

21 thoughts on “Does being a parent make you a better teacher?

  1. Yes Corinne you are absolutely right. It is very arrogant and self righteous to think you are a better teacher just because you have kids. People like yourself who have empathy and life experience have just as much to offer and bring to educating young people.

  2. As someone in a similar situation I thoroughly agree. I have received those strange looks for being a childless female both in my teaching and role in my local netball club. Having taught at my school for nearly 20 years (in an area where it is common to have children early) I am now teaching the children of the children I taught. Being part of a community has also helped me understand challenges that I would not have learn by being a parent in another area. I believe what makes me a better teacher from 20 years ago is not just my experience in teaching but in life as well.

  3. Anjali Rao says:

    Beautiful and brave writing, Corinne. Especially the last paragraph – Thank you for your candour and honesty.

  4. This is a great piece. I must admit that Craig’s piece got me thinking to. I feel that the biggest lesson I learnt out of the birth of my daughter was how precious time is. However, the more I reflect upon that, the more I feel that really that has nothing to do with ‘children’, but more to do with me.
    I really liked your point about ‘life’. I have learnt so much in the last few months with the death of my mother (http://readingwritingresponding.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/missing-celebrations-and-successes-in.html). I think that we can learn from everything in life if we are willing. However, I think that we learn the most from failure.

    • Hi Aaron, thank you for commenting. It’s true what you say about failure. When I think about the experiences that have changed me the most they are either my failures, or difficult times.

  5. Allison Fairey says:

    Dear Corrine,
    Very much enjoyed reading your piece. A very personal journey. I honestly believe that a teacher who remembers their own childhood and their own school years has an edge when it comes to understanding and dealing with their students. Adults who have forgotten what it was like to be a child are the ones who will often stumble and have difficult times in their job. Parenting in many ways can make the job of being a teacher difficult.

    Working with young people is a blessing. You obviously love what you do and draw on your own experiences to ensure the best possible learning and social environment for your students. You have a great deal to give and give it willingly.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Allison,
      Thanks for the comment and your lovely, encouraging words. It’s an interesting point you make about remembering what it was like to be a child and a student. I hadn’t thought of that, but you could be right. I’m going to ponder that for a while.

  6. Jane Logan says:

    Hi Corinne, as my son’s all time favourite teacher, I fully appreciate your post. Thinking back, it was your experiences from your childhood that helped you make a connection with my unusual child. You ‘got’ him more than any other teacher since has, and he has had quite a few now! Also now I am a teacher myself, I often think and have been told, that being a parent can make being a teacher more difficult as you are trying to tackle situations with both hats on. It is very difficult to remove my parenting hat and I feel it can hinder my ability to be an effective teacher at times. I did not read the other post but I too believe that my success as a teacher has much more to do with my life experience than my parenting experience. Thanks for sharing.

  7. You’re right, life experiences make better teachers. Whether those life experiences involve parenting, or travelling, or several careers or something I haven’t even considered matters not.

    As an example I find my daughter’s ballet teacher who is daughter-less herself, able to commit to a studio of 200+ girls probably better than if she had a couple of daughters/dancers of her own.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. I suppose not having children does allow some people more time to dedicate to their students. But, in fairness, I wouldn’t like to suggest that being a time poor parent, or a youthful person with limited life experienced would detract from people’s ability to be a good teacher either. I think our life experiences enrich us as people and can’t help but impact on the way we approach our work, but ultimately it comes down to professional skills and standards.

  8. Hi Corinne
    Years ago I remember my aunt telling me off when I told her grandchildren to obey their mother. She said that I would understand when I was a parent and that I did not know what it was like. I told her that I already did because I already dealt with the results of “parenting” at school. Five or so years ago I worked in a (very) poor SES area and significant numbers of children would come to school still drunk or under the influence of drugs – though not so many in year 7, more so in years 9, 10.
    Parenting? leading by example?
    After that I worked in a behavioural unit for a year. Many of those children with significant issues really just needed a parent transplant.
    Being a teacher (for nearly 30 years) has made me a better parent — my daughter was made to go to bed by 8 pm until she 13 and then we extended it to 8:30 when she turned 14…At 16 she now stays up until 9:15..
    My daughter works, does her homework and has high expectations– we lead by example.
    I see one of my colleagues who has been a parent for nine years and a teacher for two. Parenting did not help her to be a better teacher .. her difficult life experiences helped her – especially with VCAL students.
    Nil Bastardo Carborundum, [ “Dopey Exhortations Are More Forceful in Latin” ]
    So many teachers fail as parents and so many parents fail as parents.
    The ability to self reflect and learn from experiences and then be able to share that learning –> that is the key.

    Learning from life makes you a better teacher in my opinion

    • Hi Andrew, I really like the point you make about reflection and I think you’re spot on. Without that, we can’t learn from any of our experiences. Thank you so much for commenting.

  9. I think becoming a parent made me a better teacher, but I also know quite a few brilliant teachers who aren’t parents, and knowing them and watching them has also made me a better teacher. Spending the time to get to know my students has made me a better teacher. Being a teacher has made me a better parent.

  10. Hi Corinne and Craig
    Thank you both for your posts. I waited to comment wanting to think a little about what you had written.

    I think both blog point out the importance of learning and applying our life experience in positive ways, to our many roles as teachers AND as whole people.

    I have similar reflections to Craig as a grandfather (20 m.o.) and I remember very clearly the precious experience of my first daughter – so small and venerable sleeping on my chest. I also treasure the other lessons (some painful, some joyful, some just routine) of life with my children.

    That said, my experience in my previous profession (and in other life activities) has given me a range of other experiences which will make me a unique teacher when I have classes of my own – with all the responsibilities and opportunities that will provide
    .
    I cried with JOY as I read about Craig’s new experience, but I also cried as I read about Corinne’s experience, trying to understand some of your pain. I am sad that people measure others by reference to their family circumstances.

    Thank you again both for your openness and contribution – I am glad to be reading what you have to share.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s