Do Parents Make Better Teachers?

This is bound to make some people angry, but here goes anyway: does becoming parents ourselves make us better teachers?

Of course, the first follow-up question is, “what does ‘better’ mean?”  I don’t even know if I have an answer to this, but I started thinking about this because in the last three years I’ve been a school psychologist/case manager, one question I’ve been asked many times by (usually angry) parents is, “Does Mr./Mrs. So-and-so have children?”  The implication, of course, is that a teacher’s behavior or decision-making process would be different (further implied: more favorable to this parent’s child) if he or she was a parent.

This is not to say that my child-free colleagues are not or cannot be excellent teachers, so maybe the initial question is misleading.  Perhaps a better question is: how has having children of your own influenced your professional practice?  This doesn’t just apply to classroom teachers, but educators of all capacities.  For my child-free readers, how do you respond to inquiries, from parents or colleagues, such as the one I described above?

Having become a parent during my fifth year of teaching (and again during my eighth), I can speak only to my own experience, but I want to keep schtum on that until I hear from some of you, at which point I’ll weigh in in the comments.  Teacher and new mom Tracy Rosen has blogged her thoughts here, so feel free to respond to either or both of us.

13 comments

  1. Dan Van Antwerp

    Great question, and a difficult one to answer definitively.

    In some ways, I would definitely say that parenthood has improved my teaching. I’ve always been something of an optimist, but having my own children has made it easier for me to see the good, rather than the bad, in all children. It’s also taught me that, no matter how much time I, as a parent, spend teaching my own kids how to “behave”, they will still have bad days, because, after all, they are human. This certainly helps me to keep my students’ behavior and emotions in perspective, and helps me to realize that almost nothing they do should be taken personally.

    Since my older son has started school, I’ve become more acutely aware of what it’s like to be “that parent” on the other end of a phone call or email. I’ve become more proactive in dealing with parents to solve problems that arise with student behavior or work habits, because I know that I appreciate when my son’s teacher does the same.

    On the flipside, I have much less time, outside of school, to devote to lesson planning and grading. I’m not sure this entirely a bad thing. It’s taught me to manage my time more effectively, and also to achieve a better balance between work and other aspects of life.

    Overall, I’d say that I am a better teacher since becoming a parent, but I certainly wouldn’t argue that parenthood is a necessary component of teaching excellence. I know many “child-free” teachers who are extremely dedicated, creative, kind, and compassionate.
    Dan Van Antwerp´s last blog post ..Friday – A Tipping Point

  2. Denisha

    Great question. I’ve always felt that as a teacher without children that there is a lot I don’t know or can’t speak to. Can I still teach? Sure. But until I have children of my own i don’t think I will truly understand the complexities of raising a child during their schooling years.

  3. Morgan

    I can honestly say that I think I am a better teacher because I am not a parent.

    I teach kids with moderate to intensive special needs. I have 8 students who are all at completely different levels so essentially, I plan every day for reading, writing, speaking, spelling, listening, math,science, social studies, fine and gross motor skills, social skills, and social-emotional awareness for 8 different “grade levels” for kids in k-3 grade. I do so many things, including massive amounts of paperwork, for work that I simply cannot imagine what I would do if I had to leave work before 7pm each day and come home to another child.

    I love these students and choose to devote my life to them – I eat, sleep, and breathe this work. And although it may not make me a balanced or better person, it certainly makes me a better teacher.

    My students are my kids and I choose to keep it that way… for now.

    And if ever choose something different, I believe I would need to take on a different aspect of special ed or gen ed even, because I just wouldn’t have the time or energy.
    Morgan´s last blog post ..Autism Awareness What does that even mean

  4. Susan Meisels

    Is the same question asked of doctors or nurses or children’s museum professionals or summer camp operators or any other career which involves children?

    It is frustrating to think that the question is asked (and responded to). Can we not expect that all teachers, regardless of their parental status, hold their students to high expectations, create challenging learning situations, treat each student with respect and make environments in which mistakes, questions and modelling are the modus operandi?

  5. Tracy

    It seems the answer depends on the teacher…and the parent.

    Will I be a better teacher now that I am a parent? I taught for 15 years before becoming a parent and I like to think that I was a good teacher for some of that time.

    There are good teachers who have kids and good teachers who don’t. Just like there are bad teachers in both categories as well.

    Perhaps there is another variable at play rather than parenthood. I think it has something to do with willingness to work in relationship with our students. And perhaps for some, becoming a parent opens up that willingness.

    I started off by saying I was a good teacher before becoming a parent. I became a better teacher each time I learned something new though. Maybe it will follow that becoming a parent, being such an incredible learning experience, will indeed make me a better teacher for that reason. We will see :)

    Good question, Damian.

  6. Audrey

    I’m not easily manipulated by children. I like them, but I see them with a cool eye. I find many parents that I’ve known are easily manipulated. They have an adult relativity that I am sure must be born out of the unreasonableness of love… I find them often inconsistent in their expectations and speech… saying one thing and then relenting, drawing one line in the sand after another.. always backing up.

    It may just be the people I’m thinking of right now. Certainly, I’ve known many good parents who were also good teachers. But, I’ve also known a few really great parents who were quite average teachers (having chosen their own children above the ones they taught at each opportunity) In my own case, I am glad not to be a parent and not have to divide my attention or see my resolve to be who I say I am be worn away by those little whims of iron.

  7. birdermurdermama

    My two cents worth: every role you play teaches you more to bring to the table of whatever you do. So a teacher who is also a parent has more experience with kids to draw on. Does it make a better teacher? Not necessarily. It just means you have more data to draw on. What you do with it determines how well you can teach.

  8. Scott Snyder

    I don’t have kids, and the likelihood is that I’ll never have kids. Thus, I’m probably going to have a different perspective on this than most, but I feel like I wouldn’t be the teacher I am if I had kids because I think I’d be less likely to put in the time and effort needed. That’s me personally. I know the time, energy and effort I put in to my day-to-day teaching, and I don’t know how I would do that if kids were part of my equation. I fear I would become like some teachers I know whose reason for not progressing as an educator is “I don’t have time because of my kids.”

    And please don’t get me wrong. I know fabulous teachers who have kids, and I don’t know how they do that.

    Damien, you raise an interesting conundrum.

  9. damian

    Thanks to everyone for contributing your thoughts! I think my perspective lies closest to Tracy’s. I don’t think becoming a parent made me a better teacher, but I think it did open my eyes to more things in heaven and earth than were previously dreamt of in my philosophy, to paraphrase Hamlet.

    Having children takes up an inordinate amount of time after school (well duh!). I don’t think it made me any worse a teacher, just a better time manager. ;-) I’ll never use my kids as an excuse, as Scott suggests some might, but on the other hand, my obligations to my family mean that I won’t be able to do as many cool after-hours things at school, at least not while they’re young. Maybe when they’re older and can’t stand to be around me it’ll be a different story. :-)

  10. Isabelle R-J

    Hi everyone :)

    I found this page because I googled this subject!

    I’ve been a teacher for many years, and 3 months ago I had a baby.

    I do understand the thinking of those single/child-free colleagues, having taught that way for quite a few years. When I was single, of course I had more time to dedicate to the school.

    However, I think that until you are and think like a parent, you may not quite understand the feelings of a parent-teacher toward students.

    I’m on my mat leave and haven’t even been to the school yet since since my child was born. However, I already think differently. I feel that I suddenly have more empathy towards the kids at the school!!!

    …So let me be clear on this: if you define “better teacher” as someone who relates better to the kids and treats them like their own parents would, YES, absolutely, I think that being a parent plays a role.

    Becoming a parent may not give me more time to prepare lesson plans at night, but it may give me more motivation despite the lack of time. It has made me feel/think like a parent. I don’t think that having our own kids in school has anything to do with what I want to say (even though it’s a great asset). I just feel like I look at students now and rather than my student, I see “someone’s child”. With all due respect to our colleagues who have no kids, I strongly believe that having all the empathy in the world cannot replace the feeling of having a child of my own.

    If you have no kids, I’ll let you in on something: The key is to treat the kids as if they were REALLY your own… meaning, you don’t want them get hurt the smallest bit… Your heart beats for them… You really worry about their future. This is definitely beyond being a “great teacher” because your class average is the highest or that you teach your subject matter very well. It’s beyond having the best-behaved class in your school. It’s beyond being “nice” to the kids. It’s all about treating them all like your OWN.

    All the best to all of you out there :)

  11. damian

    Congratulations on the birth of your child, Isabelle! Thanks for weighing in on the topic, and good luck with your eventual return to the classroom.

  12. Yaodong

    I,too,googled and found this webpage about being a ‘good’ teacher’ and ‘a good/bad parent’. Interesting!
    I have met many good teachers who failed to teach their own kids,either because they were too preoccupied by school work or they have not a good way to teach their own children.
    Is it universally true?

  13. Star

    Hi

    I have been asking myself this question, perhaps you can help me.

    Do teachers necessarily make good parents? From what I have witnessed teachers argue every point by the book as opposed to practise. The teachers I have encountered have dificulty taking advice from a stay at home mom that raised successful children because they feel they know “better”.They bring the classroom dynamics home, to me this is not good practice. Saying things like “what works for your family wont work for my family because we are different.”

    Perhaps Ive just encountered a stubborn teacher.

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