Sunday, July 17, 2016

How Being a Father Changed My Teaching

I've been lucky enough, over the course of my career, to have had the chance to mentor several teachers who were new to the profession.  Without a doubt, this has not been a role that I have ever taken lightly.  With every teacher I've mentored, I've always started with the same question, "Why are you a teacher?"  I love this question, because I believe it is at the heart of good reflection.  Why are we here, in this profession?  What is our motivation to teach, and teach well?  What is our inspiration?  I ask myself this question all the time, and even post a small strip of paper on the top of my computer that says, "Remember why you are here."  I was asked once if the strip of paper was a sign that I wasn't happy with my career or school; that strip, this question has nothing to do with being unhappy.  It has everything to do with reminding myself each and every day that I have a mission, and it deserves everything I have every single day.

Today we are celebrating my youngest son's 3rd birthday.  These days, as you might expect, are filled with the usual- balloons, streamers, new toys that Dad gets to put together (and play with...I'm especially stoked for the new Legos), and the best cake ever!  But every year, on the birthday of my sons, I always try to stop, look upon my boys, and reflect on how they've changed my life.  It never ceases to amaze me, and I try never to forget how thankful I am for them, and to them.  They make me a better man.  But when I really stop to think, I realize how much they've changed my teaching.  I was in the classroom for 4 years before my oldest was born, and I know that my love for the craft and for my students was deeply rooted even then.  But without a doubt, when my son was born, my motivation, my inspiration evolved, and dramatically changed my answer to the question, "Why am I a teacher?"

That answer has always been that I believed that I had a heart for the craft, that I believed that every child deserved a passionate teacher, that I wanted to work with these kids and I truly believed I had something to offer them.  But when my son was born, and certainly when he started school, one motivation trumped them all.  I wanted to be the teacher that I wanted my own children to have.

I want my sons to feel three things every day when they go to school- challenged, important, and loved.

I want my sons to have a teacher who is not afraid to push them outside their comfort zones, to realize that each of my sons are unique, like every child, and will need to be challenged on their own front.  I don't want my sons to have a status quo teacher, I don't want them to have a teacher who is comfortable treading water in the classroom.  I want them to have a teacher who is not afraid to use unconventional thinking, try new things, use technology in inventive ways, to stand up for what they believe is in the best interest of my child.

I want my sons to have a teacher who makes them feel important, both as part of a class or a team, but also as an individual.  I want my sons to have a teacher who sees them for who they are, embraces their strengths, quirks, and weaknesses, and loves them for these things.  I want my boys to be empowered to find their voice, and more importantly, use it to be a channel for positive change in this world.

Above all, I want my sons to have a teacher who loves them.  I want my sons to have a teacher who understands that the best teachers are those that know that they need to love, not tolerate or endure, but legitimately love every single child that they teach.  And I want my sons to know that their teacher has that love for them.

Can each of us be that kind of teacher?  Is it too much to ask?  With all my heart, I hope every teacher answers the same way.  I hope that I'm that kind of teacher.  I hope that my students feel challenged by me, know that I will fight for them, know that I love them.  My oldest is getting ready to start second grade, and my wife and I are so thankful that his teachers thus far have challenged, respected, and loved him.  I can only hope that his teachers in the future do as well.

As for me, if asked, "Why are you a teacher?", the answer is simple.  I want to be the teacher I want my sons to have.  Happy birthday son.  Love Dad.

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