Navigating Your Identity as a Parent and an Educator
Check out these tips for parents who are educators on navigating their child’s education and advocating when necessary.
If you are a teacher who has a child entering kindergarten next fall, or a teacher with school-age children, this blog post is for you. I hope that I can be helpful by sharing my story and offering some tips on navigating the landscape of this personal-professional persona.
Becoming a Parent-Educator
The first back-to-school night that I attended as a parent was a disorienting experience. My son entered kindergarten in our local public school in a district I had worked in for 15 years. As I awkwardly perched on a little chair at a little desk amidst all the bewildered parents, and as I listened to my son's teacher explain the reading curriculum she used, I could only think, This is so weird to be on this side of the table!
I now see that evening as the birth of a new aspect of my identity: I became a parent-educator. Other mothers and fathers in that room became parents of students. But given that I was also an educator -- that I'd been a teacher for twelve years and a coach for three -- the role was unique. I became a parent-educator, the parent of a student who also has years of experience as an educator.
At first, I found this dual role confusing. There were times when I was afraid of being that parent -- the interfering, annoying parent who is always emailing, calling, and showing up. So for a time, I receded into the background. I wanted to trust the teachers and let them do their thing. I contained my involvement to traditional parent tasks, like preparing materials for classroom projects, chaperoning on field trips, and leaving end-of-year thank you cards.
Then there were a few incidents that prompted the maternal part of me to rear up. I was then at my son's school: in his classroom, in the principal's office -- saying what had to be said, advocating for my child.
Settling Into a New Identity
I spent a few years lurching back and forth between being quiet in the background and assertively insisting that my son's needs were met. Add to this context another element which is that many of us educators have inside knowledge about how schools work, about how our districts work -- and about which kids are served well and aren't.
If you happen to have a kid who belongs to a group of kids who traditionally haven't been served well, (such as a boy of color) then you may experience this dual identity in an even more intense way.
In my situation, I felt like I knew too much about what went on in my district; my trust in the systems and structures (and honestly, in some of the people) were compromised.
Over the years, I've settled more comfortably into my parent-educator role. I know that my primary role is to be my son's mother and to do whatever it takes to help him navigate school. And I draw on my experiences as an educator to help me be compassionate with his teachers, to expand my understanding, and to be solution-oriented when challenges arise.
Tips for Parent-Educators
These are the top things I wish someone had said to me as I offered my first born to his first school.
- Be a parent, first and foremost. That's what your kid needs most from you.
- Proactively build a relationship with your child's teacher at the beginning of the year. Don't wait until there's a problem to sit down with them.
- If a teacher doesn't ask about your child's strengths and interests, share those.
- Also share anything you think the teacher should know about your kid that would help them be effective, such as that your kid is an introvert and won't often participate in whole-class discussions. (Again, hopefully they ask this question, but if not, share it.)
- If your child complains about being bored, class being too hard, not being treated well by peers or adults, listen to your child. Don't hope it'll get better. Go to school and talk to people. Observe classes.
- Don't be afraid of talking to the principal. Don't be afraid of making requests. You can do this kindly and thoughtfully, but your job, again, is to advocate for your kid.
I would love to hear what tips you have from your experience as a parent-educator, especially relating to secondary schooling. Is there anything else I need to know and do as my child approaches high school? Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts in the comments section below.