I’m thinking a ton about you tonight — wondering, really, whether or not tonight will be the night when you become a PARENT for the first time!
That’s an interesting word, isn’t it? Parent?
A new part of your identity — something that will define you more than any word has ever defined you before.
Sure, you’re still a teacher. You’re also still a friend and a colleague and a husband and a son. You’re still a guy with conservative values from small town Indiana. You are also a blogger and a Tweeter and a thought leader in your school and in our county. And of course, you’re still the #hashtag180 guy and a STEM guy and an #edcampwake guy.
(You birthed that too, didn’t you?!)
But you are also going to be a PARENT — and that changes everything. You’ll see. I’m not sure you believe us yet, even though Chris and Melanie and I have been gently nudging you towards that reality for the past few months.
I thought a lot about what to “get” you to celebrate Baby Hamstra’s entry into your life — and then realized that nothing that I bought from the Baby Barn could rival the advice that I have to give you about being both a parent and a teacher.
You see, there’s a ton of things you need to know, now that you are joining the card carrying ranks of teachers who are also parents. There are practical things to consider — like how to rearrange your morning AND afternoon schedule to fit within your day care’s drop off and pickup times or how to pack the perfect bag of stuff to keep your kid busy as you sit through teacher workdays for the next 18 years of his life.
You’re also going to have to get REALLY good at writing sub plans — and at watching those 85 sick days of yours get whittled down to 14 because your kid has “hand, foot and mouth disease” or head lice and isn’t welcome back into day care or preschool or first grade until they “aren’t exhibiting symptoms” anymore.
There are also heartwarming things that you are going to need to learn — like finding places in your classroom to hang countless finger paintings made by YOUR kid. Who cares if they don’t look like anything recognizable. You’ll recognize them and hold on to them and smile every time you see them.
So will your students, by the way — who are going to LOVE hearing stories about both you and your child.
You’ll become even more to them now — moving from “that cool young teacher” to a real live DAD. Let them see you with your kid at school functions. Tell them about dirty diapers and fun weekend outings. Pull up pictures on your phone. Every personal story that you share will make you more real to your students than you have ever been before — and real teachers are worth their weight in gold.
You also need to know that being a Dad is going to change who you are as a teacher, Kyle.
You are going to start questioning everything about our “system” of education. As you are scrambling around the house after a long day looking for a freaking shoe box to make a last minute diorama for a social studies project, you’ll start to question why you ever thought that homework was a good idea to begin with.
As you are listening to a teacher share their concerns and complaints about your kid’s inability to sit still, you’ll start to question why we ever thought it was a good idea to ask kids to sit still for 6 hours a day to begin with.
As you look over report cards that tell you next to nothing about what your child knows and is able to do, you’ll start to question the role that grades play in your own classroom.
And as you think about the interactions your child’s teachers have with him — pushing him, challenging him, inspiring him OR belittling him, embarrassing him, holding him back with crazy rules or ridiculous policies — you’ll start to question every interaction you’ve ever had with a student in your own classroom. Better yet, you’ll start to strive to be the teacher you know your own kid deserves — and that will make you even better and more beloved than you are already are.
You are going to become FAR more tolerant and FAR more understanding of every kid and every family in your classroom — and that’s a good thing. But you are also going to become FAR less tolerant of practices that we’ve accepted in education — and that’s going to make you uncomfortable on a good day and disgruntled on the worst.
But you also need to know that you are going to have to give a lot up, too, Kyle — starting with your insane levels of involvement in and commitment to your school, our district and the social spaces that we all know that you love.
Until now, being chased out of the building by the janitors each night was a sign of your commitment. Until now, attending every #edcamp within a hundred miles of Raleigh was a sign of your passion for improving education. Until now, Tweeting and blogging and Voxing a thousand times a day was your way of both staying involved and of giving back.
But starting in just a few short hours, all of those things steal moments from your OWN child and from your OWN growing family. A minute on your phone participating in a chat is a minute that you aren’t reading a book or building a fort or climbing a tree. A few hours on a Saturday driving down to the beach to meet and learn from your peers in another part of our state is a few hours of cuddling or laughing that you’ll miss out on, too.
And believe me — you’ll look back ten years from now and miss those moments. Life really does in the blink of an eye once you really DO have a baby on board.
You also have to realize that “your best efforts” on behalf of your students don’t have to be Herculean.
I get it — you pride yourself on giving your all. Your lessons are well crafted. Your materials are always prepared. Your assignments are graded quickly and handed back with tons of feedback.
But here’s the thing: THAT’s not what makes you remarkable and memorable to your students. What they remember is that you care about them and that you are excited to see them and that you are ready to ask them fantastic questions and celebrate their terrific answers.
They remember who you are — not what you’ve planned or how quick you got their papers graded.
So get comfortable with being a little LESS prepared than usual. Get ready to walk out of school at 5 PM no matter what — and to leave every single paper ungraded and email unanswered until you walk back in at 8 AM the next morning. You’ll still be one of the best teachers in your building. But more importantly, you’ll be a better husband and father all at the same time.
Giving at least as much of yourself to your own kid as you give to the kids in your classroom HAS to be a nonnegotiable for you, no matter how strange that feels to you.
And here’s the one that hurts the most: You MAY even have to walk away from the classroom completely.
The truth is that — at least here in North Carolina — it’s tough to provide for your family on a teacher’s salary. Sure, you’ll always have a roof over your head and food in your belly. And yes, you’ll always be able to buy school supplies and pay for field trips.
But if you want anything more than that — if you want tutors and sleep away camp and family trips to Disney World and a new minivan with room for the entire soccer team on the way to out of town tournaments, you are going to need a second (and probably a third) job.
And take it from me: Those second and third jobs are going to crush you.
You’ll sneak home in time to kiss your kid goodnight and wonder what you missed while you were gone. You’ll head out early on the weekends, hoping to get home in time for a family afternoon, but knowing that you are going to miss the slow, lazy routines that make Saturday mornings so special.
The older your child gets, the harder this will be for you — because he will tell you how much he misses you.
He’ll ask you if you can watch a movie with him on a Friday night and you’ll have to tell him that you have part time work to do. He’ll wait on the porch for you to get home, no matter how late you are. And he’ll write you notes telling you to have a good day — which will break your heart because you know that if you weren’t working two (or three) jobs, you’d be home to hear him say those same words in person.
Things might not be a LOT different if you move into school leadership or a curriculum coaching position in the district office. Those folks work long hours, too. But at least you’ll know that you are being paid enough money to give your child everything that you want him to have.
I know what you are thinking right now: There’s no WAY you’d ever leave the classroom, right? You are, above and beyond all, a TEACHER.
It’s who you are. It’s what you have been for your entire career. You are proud of what you’ve accomplished. You love the impact you are making on everyone around you — but especially on the countless kids who will remember Mr. Hamstra as their favorite teacher.
But you are going to be a DAD, now.
And that changes everything.
Super happy for you — and super excited to see what you become.
Rock right on,
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