Here’s How Being a Father is Changing Me as a Teacher

Some of all y’all might know that the thing I love the most in life is my beautiful four-year old daughter Reece Penelope.

She’s equal parts princess and punisher, ready to jump off the back of the couch in her Tinkerbell dress to land in the center of your chest while shouting “I’m Bringing the Justice” without warning.  Tickle or be tickled is her creed and bugs — caterpillars, ants, spiders, butterflies — are her passion.  Better yet, she’s a comedian with an incredible sense of timing who always finds a way to make the people around her laugh.

#mygirl

Reece currently goes to preschool at a five-star day care that’s costing me an arm and a leg — and while we can barely afford to pay the $1,200 bill each month, she’s learning a ton.  Every night before bed, she tells me about the things she’s studying and we watch follow-up videos on YouTube together.  Just in the last week, we’ve studied the animals of the Plains, the Amazon Rain Forest and the life cycle of Monarch Butterflies — and yes, she knows what a chrysalis is.

What I realized the other day, though, is that I’M learning a ton as Reece goes through school, too.  Here are three lessons that I hope to better translate into my teaching practice:

Parents WANT to know what their kids are learning about in school.

My daughter’s teachers use a tool called LifeCubby to communicate with parents about the topics that their children are studying and the progress that their children are making in school — and it’s nothing short of remarkable.  Not only do they fill out regular developmental checklists and reports on Reece that I can see instantly, they also upload pictures of her working in stations to tackle individual tasks.

As a dad, I’m addicted to checking LifeCubby.  Knowing what she is studying helps me to start conversations with her that reinforce and extend what she is learning.  Just as importantly, however, seeing tangible evidence of the progress — or lack thereof — that she is making as a learner helps me to better understand just what she knows and can do.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?

I have to remain committed to sharing as much as I can with the parents of my students.  Whether it’s through our team website where I try to give parents a general sense for what we’re studying each week or through the unit overview sheets that my students use to track their own mastery of essential outcomes, keeping parents up-to-date is a role that I have to fill well.

Parents NEED to hear positive words about their kids.

Last year was a difficult year for Reece at school.  Because she’s not your typical quiet, passive little girl ready to play dress-up and sing songs in circle time, she doesn’t ALWAYS fit the mold that teachers are hoping that she’ll fit.  Turns out that not EVERYONE celebrates caterpillar collecting comedians who would rather jump off of a table than sit at one.

#whoknew

The results were disastrous.  Every day, I’d go to pick her up and her teachers would have negative reports for me.  “Reece didn’t have a good day today, Daddy,” they’d say.  “She’s not being a very good listener at all.”  And every day, I’d have to have “a talk” with Reece about what “being a good girl” was all about.  It got to the point where I dreaded picking her up each day — and where she dreaded going to school.

In September, though, she was assigned to a new classroom with two AMAZING teachers who really do love everything that makes my daughter unique.  They’ve given her a new definition of what “being a good girl” means — and that definition includes all of the things that make my kid stand apart from her peers.

Now, picking Reece up from school is a celebration!  Almost every day, she hears her teachers tell her that she’s had a great day — and she smiles the minute she hears it.  The results have been remarkable:  She’s confident and happy when she gets to school because she knows that her teachers are happy to see her in all her Reece Penelope Glory.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?

Parents — particularly of the quirky kids in my classroom — need to hear positive words about their children, too.  Those words literally sustain them, no matter how hard being a parent of a quirky kid can sometimes feel.  I need to find more ways to let the parents of my students — all 140 of them — know what it is that I admire about their children.

Parents CAN’T always provide solutions for the challenges that kids are having in schools:

What has frustrated me the most in the two-and-a-half years that Reece has been in school was the feeling of helplessness that came over me every time that her teachers told me that she wasn’t “being a good girl” in class last year.  Not only did I struggle to understand exactly what her teachers believed “being a good girl” actually meant, I have absolutely NO experience working with 3 and 4 year olds.

That meant I had absolutely NO ideas how to change her behaviors in the way that her teachers wanted her behaviors to change.  I didn’t know if I was supposed to yell at Reece every day when we got home, supposed to take television privileges away from her, or supposed to create some kind of point chart to reward her for being good.

So our family got caught in a never-ending cycle of misery:  I’d pick Reece up.  Her teachers would tell me she’d been bad, expecting me to do something about the behavior at home.  I’d go home and try to pull some kind of rabbit out of my parenting hat.  We’d go back to school the next day only to have her “be bad” all over again.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?

I need to stop expecting that the parents of the struggling students in my classroom are going to have the answers to fixing their kids.  No parent wants to see their child in trouble — either academically or socially — every day, y’all.  If they COULD have solved whatever problems their child has, they WOULD have done so a long time ago.

So instead of dumping responsibility for intervening on behalf of the struggling students in my class into the laps of their parents, I need to do a better job tapping into the professional resources and expertise in my building.  When a child’s behavior is disruptive to his/her own learning or the learning of others, I need to turn to the guidance counselor or social worker in my building.  When a child can’t grasp a concept that I’m trying to teach, I need to turn to the peers on my hallway for help.

Being a parent doesn’t automatically mean that moms and dads are better prepared than I am to address the academic, social and emotional challenges that their children are facing. While parents will always play an important role in supporting the work we are doing in our building, to expect them to play a leadership role in addressing unproductive behaviors is a recipe for failure.

Long story short:  Being a father is changing me as a teacher — and that’s a REALLY good thing.  Anyone else had the same experience?

_________________________

Related Radical Reads:

Welcoming the Newest Radical!

Can the Quirky Kid Thrive?

My Middle Schoolers Love Our Unit Overview Sheets

 

17 thoughts on “Here’s How Being a Father is Changing Me as a Teacher

  1. twhitford

    Great post Bill and a timely one for us all as we head back to start a new year. What a great reminder for us as we get ready to start a new year of building relationships. What really struck me was the truth in your final notes on Parents not always having all the answers for their child’s issues. I think we (educators= Teachers and Admin) often want to turn to the parents for an answer or for them to hurry and address the problem the child is having in school. As a parent I know I want my child to be perfect for the teacher. I want them to engaged and absorbing information every second, but I also know the reality of my own children and why would I suspect anyone else’s child would be any different. I know I don’t have the answers for my child and I haven’t fixed all of their issues with the time I have with them at home. Somewhere along the path I lost the owners manual and am just trying to figure things out the old fashion way……try, fail, try again. Thanks for painting a clear picture on this with the parent perspective in mind. Great learning with you!! 🙂

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Thanks for the kind words, Tom — and for the Tweets of this bit!

      I am constantly trying to remind myself that nothing is as simple as it appears when it comes to the kids in my classroom. When we make assumptions about what is going on at home or what families are capable of, we fail our kids.

      Bill

  2. Raj Shah

    I have one quirky child and going to his parent teacher conferences is always stressful for me and my wife. Some kids just weren’t built for “traditional” schooling. We finally found a great teacher in 3rd grade that could see through his blurting out and embrace the insights he had in class.

    Your point about sharing what’s happening in class and making sure parents get positive feedback on their quirky kids is spot on.

    The hard part is designing a classroom culture that embraces those kids as much as the ones who’ve learned to play the “game of school” by following instructions and always doing exactly what is asked of them. I could argue that it’s the quirky ones that are more likely to change the world and we don’t want to “beat” the quirkiness out of them in school.

    Curious to see how you change to embrace these kids…

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Raj wrote:

      The hard part is designing a classroom culture that embraces those kids as much as the ones who’ve learned to play the “game of school” by following instructions and always doing exactly what is asked of them.

      – – – – – – –

      You got that right, Raj. The challenge for me rests in the fact that I have a massive curriculum to get through. That means detours — which are ALWAYS likely with the quirky kids that you and I both seem to have — aren’t something that I can readily embrace. I find myself constantly thinking about how long a detour is going to take to work through no matter HOW creative the thinking behind it is.

      That’s an incredible shame — and a result of a test-driven world.

      #sheesh
      Bill

  3. Lana Fleiszig

    Bill I can totally relate to your post. I have a gorgeous easy going “mainstream” daughter followed by 2 beautiful quirky boys – each in their own special way. I believe that our children choose us to be their parents for a reason and in my case it was to teach me to be a better teacher! Like you I appreciate the small positive things that their teachers notice and name. I appreciate the time their teachers take to help them identify their passions – what makes them happy and excited! I appreciate the way that they use my boys’ strengths and interests to channel learning in other areas that are not so strong. All of these ‘lessons’ have changed my teaching practice. It’s just as important to know my students as it is to know my curriculum! Communication with parents is the key for ALL students – not just the quirky ones. Thanks for the post!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Lana wrote:

      I appreciate the time their teachers take to help them identify their passions – what makes them happy and excited!

      – – – –

      Oh Lana — I totally wish we did this for EVERY child EVERY day. Why SHOULDN’T school be a place where kids identified and explored their passions.

      #ifonly
      Bill

  4. Vivian

    Hi Bill

    I loved your post. I, too, feel that being a parent has made me a better teacher. It’s not something I say aloud either because I don’t think it’s a very popular opinion to voice aloud. We both know that something amazing and indescribable happens when we become parents. It’s like we’ve gone through some chemical change. Nothing is ever the same again. This is not something we can ever explain to people who don’t have children of their own. So, I refrain from saying this aloud. I’m not saying that teachers don’t have a corner in expertise in regards to children, but insecure teachers and child-“free” teachers hear that.

    Your daughter is young so there are lots of “lessons” ahead of you. One of the biggest things I learned is that teachers absolutely should not give homework to kids unless they can pretty much do it independently on their own. We have enough things to get through (and sometimes battle through) during the evenings: finishing supper, picking up our messes, bathing, brushing teeth, reading etc. PLEEZE don’t give my child homework that he can’t do unless I sit by him and walk him through all the steps. It’s added misery that neither of us need. We end up quarrelling with each other (to put it mildly). The worst part is when the homework is obvious busy work. Honestly, I didn’t get homework until I was 12 and was able to do it on my own. I don’t believe in homework before junior high. I don’t believe in ANY homework that the child can’t do pretty much alone, without a parent’s help.

    Anyway, homework is my pet peeve. Being a parent taught me how to give valuable homework (if any, at all). I’m a better teacher now as I understand the stresses and fears that parents go through. All the things you mentioned resonate with me too. 🙂

    I have 4 children. They range from the ages of 9-17. They’ve been great teachers to me, on how to be a better teacher. Each of them is different and has taught me different lessons. The biggest “gift” I got is my 3rd child (a boy) with social quirkiness and academic quirkiness. I’m actually the expert on his social and academic abilities. I follow him so closely (out of worry) that I am the expert on his abilities. I ended up starting him in school late and I homeschooled him for a bit. For his teachers, I end up gently giving them hints on how to help him. He has spelling issues that I know are linked to aural processing. I don’t have formal qualifications in Special Needs to say any further. A few teachers have told me that his spelling issues are not indicative of have special learning needs. That’s because he doesn’t fit into any traditional definition of having special learning needs. (The test results don’t say he has any “named” learning issue. They show there are anomalies but nothing fitting in any traditional diagnosis of Dyslexia etc). I know something is “up”, despite what the testing says, since I know him best. So, I’ve learned to “let go”. I give some gentle hints to his teachers so they know how to support him and then I try to love him and build up his self-esteem in the interim. He’ll be fine when he’s 20 years old. (Thank God for spellcheckers! ) So, will your Reece, with your support. She won’t be jumping off couches when she’s 20 😉 Look long-term!

    This son has become my biggest “gift” because I’ve learned to relax and to let him be “him, instead of my own preconceived idea of how he should be. Instead, I’ve learned to appreciate and to draw out his giftings (music, empathy towards animals, his ability to talk to people, his sensitivity). I’ve let go of worries that he won’t be the “First Class Honours” kid that I hoped for. (I was one, when I was a student, so it was very important to me that all my kids were. God blew that idea out of the water lol!) Instead of hoping and forcing my boy to fit into society’s and MY definition of success, I’ve learned a better definition of success. I’m teaching him and reminding him each day what this new definition is, as society’s definition is constantly being shouted at him (sometimes through school). It’s the long-term definition: character, honesty, empathy, humility, responsibility, diligence. Those are attainable by everyone, with the right parental support. He won’t be an academic high-flyer and all the effort from him won’t make him one and all of my strength won’t do it either.

    The lessons that both of us have learned include: 1. stop comparing yourself 2. bring out your gifts 3. let go of your weaknesses (stop worrying about them and let go). 4. Learn what is really important and those are the long-terms things 5. Ignore the people who don’t “get it”.

    Anyway, I hear you that you’re worried. Reece sounds like she’ll be that “gift” to you to learn what is important for a child and what is “extra”. She’ll take you on journeys as a teacher that you wouldn’t have taken on your own. (I actually think God purposely didn’t give me what I hoped for to teach me humility and empathy for those kids that don’t fit the “perfect student” mold. lol. Definitely made me a better teacher!)

    In my opinion, social quirkiness can be addressed and improved upon over time (sounds like Reece is mainly socially quirky?) It might be a maturity time-line thing (she has her own time-line) and if so, time will resolve it eventually. That’s not easy to see when you’re looking at your firstborn and she’s only 4. If it’s not a time-line maturity thing, there is definitely still a huge amount that can be supported and improved upon with the right parental support. (I can attest to this. It will still take time, though) The academic quirkiness is much harder to change. So, look on the bright side. 🙂

    Anyway, I could go on as I’ve 17 years of parenting “wisdom” but I will stop here. I hope this helps some.

    I think it definitely helps to surround yourself with “like parents” or “like teaching colleagues”. If not, the tunnel vision can distort things to look much more discouraging and difficult than it is.

    Thanks for writing this blogpost. 🙂

    ~Vivian

  5. mathwhiz11

    Hi Bill

    This one hit home with me for many reasons as well. I have always said that I strive to be the teachers that I want my own children to have and that means accepting and loving every child that I get with their quirks. Your daughter reminds me of my son. This cycle was OUR cycle for 6 years. When he got to 5th grade, he finally had a teacher who understood him, accepted him and worked with him. He started to like school again. Many times, we try to fit all kids into a box. They don’t fit that way. This is why relationships are so important. My experiences with my son have definitely framed my teaching as well and I love that as do the students and parents that I encounter.

  6. Cindy

    Bill,
    As a parent who has been on the receiving end of the “your child is messing up” phone call, I can totally relate to your comments. I had absolutely no idea what to do. Down deep my kid was a great kid. He didn’t understand the need for high school and his teachers really didn’t help. We struggled as parents everyday. Somehow by the grace of God he graduated. He is now in college and is a terrific student. I wish I knew how I could have made all of lives better when he was in High School. (Yes he was one of your students.) He still uses tools you taught him in middle school. All of my kids still tell Mr. Ferriter stories. Thank you for that. They have been the topic of many dinner table discussions.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Cindy,

      Glad to hear that there are still Mr. Ferriter stories floating around your house! Your kids are all memorable to me, that’s for sure. I feel lucky to have had them in class.

      And the “your child is messing up” phone call is something I want to erase from my teaching bag of tricks this year. It’s not that parents don’t need to know when things at school are wonky, but we shouldn’t expect parents to be the primary responders to students struggling with school. That just isn’t fair.

      Hope all y’all are well!
      Bill

  7. Jenny Luca

    I can totally relate to this Bill. When I became a parent, I became a better teacher. I finally understood what it meant to parent a child – how much love welled inside you for that precious bundle. Every day I walk into classrooms and have the honour of teaching other people’s precious bundles. That knowledge makes me better at what I do – I am far more empathic to a child’s situation than I ever was before I became a parent. Thanks for this post – it’s a great reminder to all of us of the power of our words and the responsibility we have to those we teach.

  8. Dan Winters

    Bill
    That is teaching gold. I will share with my entire team that happens to be filled with teachers who find and celebrate the strengths of each child. Love the idea of making the school day transparent to parents. No excuse not to do that with the tools of our modern age.

    #quirkykidsrule

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Dan,

      Glad you dug this — and you are right, quirky kids do rule!

      The bigger question, though, is do we value quirky kids in our schools? Are we doing our best to make sure that their quirkiness is valued and celebrated?

      As much as I believe in the importance of celebrating quirky kids, I’m not sure that I do a good job of making their school experiences positive ones. A part of that is me but a part of that is the fact that I have a massive standardized curriculum to get through in a short period of time. That makes deviations from the ordinary challenging to handle.

      Anyway, that’s for stopping by!
      Bill

  9. Sharon Stephens

    I use Edmodo to post assignements, projects, hold discussions and assign quizzes. It has a parent option much like LifeCubby.

  10. Sharon Stephens

    Thank you so much for this perspective! We have to change our conversations with parents and students and utilize positive support strategies to prompt appropriate behaviors.

  11. Sean Crevier

    Bill, this hits home for me big time! My son is 6 & daughter is 3. He is NOT a “sit, listen, & learn” kid and sounds a TON like Reece. He likes making his own video tutorials for YouTube because he says he appreciates the ones others have made for him.

    Thank you for this post. It not only confirms the transformation I’m going through as a teacher with kids, but also as a parent with kids that are an age I have NO expertise on working with.

    Well done!!

    -Sean Crevier (@busedcrev)

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Sean wrote:

      Bill, this hits home for me big time! My son is 6 & daughter is 3. He is NOT a “sit, listen, & learn” kid and sounds a TON like Reece.

      – – – – – –

      Hey Pal,

      First, great to “see” you in this space and I hope you’re doing well! Still think back to Dallas and the conversations we had on a regular basis. Appreciated being with another hyper-motivated thinker, that’s for sure.

      And second, I’m JAZZED that I’m not the only one with a nontraditional kid. Doesn’t that worry you, though? I mean, I’m already wondering whether or not the public school system — which I’ve spent 20 years teaching in — is going to grind the greatness out of my kid. She’s never going to be the sit and listen kind of kid, and to be honest, I don’t want her to be. But that’s what school is going to expect of her — which means we either need to play along or tear our hair out along the way.

      I’m worried.
      Bill

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