This last aha moment is shared to me by the prolific can-doer Tania Ash, whose newly minted blog I have a feeling will be a must read and who is also a must follow on Twitter at @tcash. Tania was a person who reached out early to me in my Twitter experience because that is just how she works. Always looking to welcome new teachers into the experience, always there to support, and as one of the founders of the wonderful #elemchat held on Thursday nights she has been a fantastic resource in my PLN. As a 5th grade teacher in Morocco, she is never afraid to connect with others both herself and with her students. This aha moment speaks deeply to me as I have gone through this same transformation. Thank you Tania for sharing it with the rest of us and also for rounding out our aha moment guest series with such a heartfelt piece.
When I was asked to write about my a-ha moment, I must admit that I had mixed feelings. Coming from an educator I respect and admire so much, a prolific writer whose blog represents not only a wealth of ideas, but also thought-provoking, deep reflection; after the initial excitement, my first fear was that of falling short. My second, was to find the perfect a-ha moment among myriad possibilities.
There have been so many a-ha moments along the way. How to choose a single one? My life, my choices, haven’t exactly followed the most typical itinerary.
There could be the moment when, after dropping out of school in grade 13 and following a boy to another continent, I decided I wanted to work in an elementary school and became an assistant in a 2nd grade classroom.
Or the moment, 3 years later, when I decided that I wanted to go back to school and become a teacher. It could be any number of moments with some of the inspiring educators I had the honour to work with, from the 2nd grade teacher who opened the door to the world of teaching (and continues, to this day, to be both my mentor and best friend), to the 3rd and 5th grade teachers who opened up their classrooms, filing cabinets and plan books when they kindly agreed to act as my cooperating teachers during my student teaching… those were unforgettable moments that shaped the teacher I was to become.
It could be the moment when, after serving as the technology coordinator in my school, I realized that I longed for my own class where I could be a pedagogue and plan learning experiences from start to finish, and not just content myself with being the “tech” of someone else’ project.
That said, one of the moments that most profoundly impacted my teaching came from the most unexpected sources. Well, it was unexpected to me at least. It wasn’t in any textbook in the teacher-training program, it wasn’t in any student-teacher internship programs, nor part of any of the countless workshops and conferences I’ve attended over the years. It was a transformation that started small, and then began to grow. It isn’t a particular moment per se, but a collection of moments that started the day my son was born. The day I became a parent and got my first glimpse at the other side of the fence was the day I began to be a better teacher.
At first, it was just the realization of how powerful parenthood is…
As an educator, I’d always loved and valued children, but as a mother, I found out what that really meant. For the first year after my son was born, I found I couldn’t watch any news or read any newspapers. Every time there was a story about a suffering child, it touched me as if those children, in faraway lands, were *mine*. Today, when I meet my 5th grade students and their families in the first days of the school year, I can immediately visualize those nights when those parents tiptoed into their child’s bedroom at night, just to make sure s/he was still breathing, or imagine the trepidation they felt the first time they left their treasure in someone else’ care. Today, when I greet a new student at the door, it is the whole family that I welcome, doing my best to reassure them that I will handle their delicate treasure with the utmost care.
After a while, the a-ha feeling grew…
I began to look more closely, and more appreciatively, at the small things in life. Having worked with mostly upper elementary aged students, I used to think that teaching early childhood just wasn’t for me. I know – that’s quite the confession coming from a teacher. Shame! I found I had trouble relating with very young students, that our cadences were, well, off-sync. Kindergarten? I didn’t think I had the patience for the very basic, well, basics. But as I watched my son grow from an infant to a toddler, and the determination with which he learned to crawl, then walk, the elation I saw in his face with each new discovery, I learned just how *big* those small steps are. They say that quality preschool programs are one of the best indicators of future success. Today, as both an educator and a parent, I strongly support that claim – and would gladly teach Kindergarten any day if offered the opportunity.
And then it grew some more…
Another confession that I really must share is this – as a teacher, I used to give plenty of homework. I used to make students record their reading in a reading log, do problem after problem, practice basic facts, research…I even occasionally gave homework on the weekend…academia in overdrive! Today, as a parent, I realize just how precious those weekend minutes for family time really are. I see, now, that fighting with my child to get his reading homework done isn’t going to create a lifelong reader. It is only going to create frustration, anxiety and tension and may indeed backfire. As a teacher, I now strive to be more reflective, more selective in the homework I assign…much less than before… and I never, never assign homework on the weekend.
Every day, another a-ha connection
Whereas I have always felt a little anxious during parent conferences as a teacher, I now have a better sense for what a parent feels at that same moment. As a parent, I look at my son’s teacher across the conference table and see someone who is judging him – whether favourably or not – evaluating his development in the cognitive, physical, and social domains. Does she see the guilt I carry around about all the things I *should* be doing as a parent to help my child grow? Those things that somehow, despite best intentions, get set aside on those days when life gets in the way? This person is helping to shape my child’s future. Does she know everything she needs to know about him? Does she know how anxious he gets when he believes that he may have lost her approval? Today, as before, I start out parent conferences by listening. I listen to parents tell me about their child, and how they perceive their child’s feelings about school. Is Johnny happy to come to school? What kinds of topics does he seem to enjoy most? What works at home? Today, as before, I start out by listening, but it seems like today, when I listen, I can really hear what parents are telling me. As a teacher, I don’t beat around the bush – I am honest with parents about their child’s progress, and always include goals and strategies parents can try at home to help their child grow. I do my best to set the tone right from the start of the school year, to clarify that lines of communication are open. I explain to them that we are partners in the quest to help guide their child towards success, and that, whereas I may not have all the answers, I, we, can work towards effective solutions together.
I have the incredible fortune of having my child attend the school where I work, a school which is, in my opinion, one of the best schools out there. Located on a beautiful green campus, it has intangible qualities that make it a very special place where children are happy and want to learn. It is also a place where, every day, I learn a little something about being a parent, and I learn lots about being a teacher. Being a parent has helped – is helping me – become a better teacher. I switch hats numerous times during the day, look at the other side of the coin, or across the fence. Whatever the metaphor, whenever I move between my role as a parent and my role as a teacher, I make another connection, I have another little a-ha moment.