I gained a revelation this summer that completely changed my approach to teaching.
The backstory is that sometime this summer, I was doing some typical Facebook stalking of a childhood friend of mine who recently got married. She had a BEAUTIFUL wedding that probably cost her parents around $75,000. With the wedding came every detail possible: an exquisite bachelorette party to Las Vegas, a full-spa day with her ten bridesmaid’s, a stunning princess ball gown, really expensive looking decorations, and a nice honeymoon to the Grand Cayman Islands. Naturally, I got jealous of this girl and her seemingly ‘fairytale wedding’ and started making comments in my head about how spoiled she is, how she always gets everything she wants, how her parents drop so much money on her.
And then, I remembered the path my friend’s parents’ took to have her. For about seven years, her parents tried to have a baby. Her mom miscarried many times, had an ovary erupt, and was told she would never be able to have a baby. Miraculously, the mom got pregnant. The doctor’s immediately put her on bed rest, afraid that this would be a toxic and deathly event. Despite all of this daunting medical diagnosis’, my friend was born very healthy and the parents went on to have two more very healthy children.
When I reminded myself of this very inspiring story, I thought to myself, “Why WOULDN’T these parents treat this girl like a princess? She is such a gift to them—something they never thought they would ever have—so why wouldn’t they spoil her, dote on her hand and foot, give her a lavish wedding?” And for that realization, I could not blame them. I would probably do the same in their situation.
They say that becoming a parent revolutionizes your teaching; that suddenly, you understand those nasty e-mails, those frantic phone calls, those demeaning messages in a different way. I used to think that being a young teacher offered way more benefits to the students than an old hire—I can connect to my students better, I understand the pop culture references they are surrounded with, I engage in the same activities and freshly remember where their next steps are post-graduation. However, now I am not so sure that philosophy necessarily rings true.
Although I am nowhere near having a child of my own, this realization over my friend’s wedding caused me to view my students in different ways: they are no longer potential peers, just a college degree away from my status; they are, in fact, someone else’s gifts.
Another friend of mine recently had a baby. At 24, her and her boyfriend decided they wanted to try to start a family. While our natural tendency is to judge her for having a baby “young” and out of wedlock, what we don’t necessarily know is the backstory there as well. My friend, a young and healthy 22 year old, fainted one day and found out she had a heart condition. The doctors also told her that she would never be able to have children—the birthing process would be too straining on her heart. So, her and her boyfriend decided to try to have a baby before something more tragic happened and her heart got too weak with older age. And, nine months later, a healthy baby boy was born. To them, he is also a gift—something they never thought they would have.
So now when I am teaching inside my classroom, when I am responding to those frantic parent e-mails, when I am inputting grades, I am no longer thinking about what jerks these kids are, how they have no manners, no social skills, no work ethic. Instead of getting irritated at the stereotypical helicopter parent who tries to make excuses for their student’s missing assignments, I am trying to remember that perhaps this parent has a similar story to that of my friends’.
I know that I will never understand the role of a parent until I become one myself. Parents suffer immense sacrifices for their children, whether it be their jobs, their social life, their reputations. So as I am going about my day, I am trying to put myself in their shoes. I am trying to remind myself that, while these parents may seem overbearing and their children may seem spoiled, as a parent, perhaps they cannot help it, because their children are gifts to them.
My goal for teaching this year is to revert back to teaching about life. We get so caught up in the monotonous tasks—copying papers, filling out forms, checking off boxes—that we forget what we are really here to do: to teach someone’s gift.
It is truly a privilege that these parents donate their children to our classrooms for eight hours a day, five days a week.