Do You Need to be a Parent to be a Good Teacher?

That's a simplistic question - clearly - but part of the discussion of this column at Slate by Sara Mosle.

You'll recall that I wrote a thread about an article in the NY Times about the movement of younger teachers in and out of of the classroom, particularly TFA teachers.

So Ms. Mosle, a former TFAer (20 years ago), gives an interesting perspective (bold mine):

The Times article, however, neglects another downside to charters' emphasis on youthful hiring: Many schools launch with few or no adults on staff who know first-hand what it's like to be a parent.

If you aren't a parent, maybe this won't strike you as odd. It wouldn't have struck me that way more than 20 years ago when I joined Teach for America in the program's first year and taught for three years in New York City's public schools. I was single, childless, and clueless about even the most basic aspects of child-rearing. My students' parents seemed like creatures from another planet, remote and distant from the job I thought I was doing. To the extent I understood family dynamics, it was solely from the perspective of the teenager I'd been just a few years before.

Nearly two decades later, I returned to the classroom, this time as a mother, and have become acutely aware of how being a parent has made me a better teacher.

Now when parents approach me with worries or high hopes for the future, I have greater respect for their commingled love and fears. I also have a far stronger sense than I did at 25 that children's lives are not static but instead endlessly fluid. They flow in waves of achievements and setbacks, with their own peculiar weather systems and mysterious currents that can change from week to week and month to year and, in the storms of adolescence, from hour to minute.

I don't believe a teacher has to be a parent to be a great teacher.  But, as one commenter on the story points out, the real issue is not that.  It's the teacher training.  Traditionally trained teachers usually get child development as part of their training.  

She also goes on to profile another ex-TFAer who started a charter school.

Like many of his fellow KIPP trailblazers, Hill, by his own estimate, worked north of 100 hours a week in a profession he regarded as less of a vocation than a crusade. 

At the time, he thought of his school like a Silicon Valley startup, which like all new ventures demanded insane hours. "We were a bunch of 25-year-olds," he recalled in a conversation this spring. "We'd be there every day, including on Saturdays and Sundays. We'd have students at the school until 10 o'clock each night—kids who needed a place to do homework or whatever."

And what happened?

The inevitable followed soon after: Many of Hill's original teachers got a little older, began to marry, and started families, just as they were blossoming into full flower as educators. Hundred-hour workweeks were no longer feasible. The charter was suddenly confronting issues like maternity leave that, incredibly, it had never faced before.

Go figure.  People get older, get married and have their own children. 

Unlike some charter proponents, Hill now recognizes the value of his veteran teachers. 

"Our people who are proven, who are good, are so irreplaceable," he told me. "It was just not an option for us to lose them." Hill says that his attitude isn't always shared or understood by some corporate backers who come "from fast-growth, nonpeople-dependent industries." But in teaching, Hill argues, your people are everything. Which is why he began to offer more flexible hours to top teachers who had become parents.

Ms. Mosle ends this way:

It's a lesson that more reformers would do well to learn.


Anonymous said…
The potentially wisest advice I've heard is to make sure all school committees have a mix of new, mid-range semi-experienced and long-term teachers. In that case the logic is that new teachers have lots of energy and willingness to try new ideas, some of which will have merit, and yet having the balance of experience is needed both for perspective balance and to make sure everything doesn't become a whirlwind of dizzying non-directional activity. Both energy and experience make a good educational team.

The same can be said for teachers having or not having kids. On the one hand those without kids can and often do put in longer hours as they have fewer other very-legitimate evening obligations and this extra time can be a benefit to students. Yet, as much as I love my nieces and nephews, and by a slight distance can even see their "issues" better than their parents at times, I know there's no way I truly know the parent-perspective and in some small way I'm sure that impacts my teaching.

In regards to TFA, it's not so much the lack of being a parent but just lack of experience and training that concerns me. In a district with a true teacher shortage, such as when the economy is hot and people choose better paying careers, TFA makes sense. We're not there.

I also often get the sense that TFA is a bit related to the general tendency towards age discrimination against older teachers. Yeah, some say "I don't know how much longer I can do this", but I've found the mid-career just-hanging-on teachers more detrimental to our profession than the sixty-somethings knowing they'e retiring soon but whom keep giving great efforts. Maybe most of them had kids and thus know the distinction between burn-out and tiring-out.

Maureen said…
I wish the title of this post was "Does Being a Parent Make You a Better Teacher?" I'm sure there are many great teachers who aren't parents and vice versa. That said, I just asked my 15 year old which of her teachers stood out to her, then we talked about whether or not they were parents. As it turned out, the ones she thought of as the "best" were either parents or did not have the chance to be parents for societal reasons (and those ones were older and very close to their nieces and nephews.) One thing she pointed out is that the teachers who were parents seemed better at maintaining their authority while still being caring and covering the material.

From my perspective, the teachers who were parents themselves were significantly better at communicating with parents and seemed to value our input more.

I like (and from my own experience, agree with) observer's comment about the value of having a range of teachers on school committees.
Anonymous said…
No. You do not need to be a parent to be a good teacher.

You need empathy to be a good teacher. The author of the article stated that when she started teaching she could only see it through her teenage eyes, and it took 20 years of life experience to gain insight into parents. Although she was trying to show personal growth I think she also succeeded in exposing her inability to empathize with parents.

Also, though parents are teachers, teachers are not parents. This is an important distinction to make. Given the state of affairs in education, teachers are expected to act as parents, but are held to a much higher standard.

-Another Stat
Green Goddess said…
Well as a person whose vagina has only been for incoming let me actually speak on this as of course the expert I am.

I have now entered my 20th year of when I began teaching. Not consistently as I have left the field to do other more lucrative and less bullshit associated work but I have always thought it was a "perfect fit" for me.

Why? Because I LOVE LEARNING. Dig it LEARNING. Teaching is only a part of it.

Again, NOT a Mother but in Seattle unless your vagina is proven worthwhile you are dirt under the shoe of both women and men here.

What it is about is YOUTH and the fact that we have produced a generation of people who lack empathy. Its about ME until its about ME and MINE. That editorial reflects very much how the ME MY MINE generation has produced a second one of equal narcissism and entitlement.

I entered the profession at 33. I had traveled, met people, had jobs and had a life. I wanted to share that with others that white trash like me could be fulfilled and be educated be you a Doctor or just a Garbage Collector. My parents were White Trash and they read endlessly and we discussed life, news and issues. Today's families barely eat together let alone exchange conversation. Been to a coffee shop lately? Do you see or more importantly HEAR anyone talking.

You don't need to produce Children from your Uterus as well there are many childless people by choice and by gender who have no shortage of love and more importantly COMPASSION for those "different". But in Seattle different means being like everyone else. Middle class, white and passive aggressive.

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