Prior to teaching, I worked for a non-profit foundation that ran programs for individuals with developmental disabilities. When I started, I knew very little about the community. Children with autism, developmental delays, and cognitive deficits were only something I read about when completing my psychology degree. I embraced the opportunity, as new as it was. I quickly went from a volunteer to a support staff, to the program coordinator for an entire department. As the coordinator, I ran recreational programs for children and teens. I hired and staffed teams, and then trained those teams. I immediately grew passionate about this vulnerable population. It became the topic of my undergrad psychology thesis. I even put off teaching for a year to continue to pursue the role.
The part I loved the most, was the problem-solving. Individuals with developmental disabilities can be prone to aggressive and socially-inappropriate behaviours. When staff couldn’t manage the behaviours, I was called in as backup. Most often, I was able to de-escalate situations. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I was nervous walking into those situations. I would ask myself how I could help with the behaviour, what if I wasn’t sure what to do? What if someone was going to be injured? What if I was going to be injured? But wouldn’t you know it – the worst way to walk into a situation like that is unconfident. So ultimately, I had to fake it to make it. Staff called me because they needed support. So I HAD to be that physical and emotional support – for better or for worse.
When I started teaching, it was a direct bridge from the social work field. I was hired to work with a very high-needs student, who exhibited a great deal of aggression. My past training and background helped me to manage this environment. The same “fake it till you make it” thinking helped to support me. Together with an incredible support staff team, we tried our best to manage this student and help him succeed. It was definitely a trying and nerve-wracking position, but I powered through.
So why was it, when I began teaching a gifted classroom on the other end of the special education spectrum, my nerves returned? When I was a new teacher, I felt relatively confident working parents. All except for one group – parents who were also teachers. When I was still early in my career, I did not have the confidence to always support my professional decisions. When I was speaking with parents who were teachers, I was always nervous that they would question my teaching. This is especially true since I was still learning my profession. I was learning the curriculum, and how to deliver, extend and assess it all at the same time. A tall order for a seasoned teacher, and even more so for a brand new one. It was only once I had a few years under my belt that I began to feel confident supporting my decisions to other teachers.
And then….. I got pregnant. I told Hubby that I would be the parent that I dreaded as a new teacher. I would be the one that called the teacher and asked a plethora of questions. The thorn in the teacher’s side. I didn’t want to be, but I was certain that that’s how I was going to be wired as a mom. And he laughed, agreed, and told me that he would be the one to deal with the teachers (plot twist, at times I am actually the calmer one, haha).
The truth is, when speaking to my children’s teachers, I try very hard to reign in the “crazy teacher-mom” part of me. I don’t email from my professional account, and I give them space to do their own thing. I try to separate church and state as best I can. This is how I would want to be treated as a teacher. It isn’t perfect, I mean, they DO know within 5 minutes of speaking to me that I am a teacher. It’s probably because I use words only teachers would use. Who else inserts words like assessment, curriculum and differentiation into a conversation??
Wearing both hats is a challenge, and it’s one I don’t take lightly. I try very, very hard not to wear my teacher hat at home. Although I can tell you that doesn’t always happen. Especially when both kiddos were learning to read and write. And if I’m being honest, I don’t think being a teacher makes me a better mom, but I DO think that being a mom has made me a better teacher. I am able to speak to parents with shared experiences and relate to them on a different level. It helps me better communicate with them because I think about how I would want to receive the information.
With all that being said, J is going into grade 4 in September. This will be the first time I have first-hand knowledge and understanding of the curriculum my child is learning. It will be the first time that one of my children will be in the same grade I teach. So it is yet to be seen how much I will actually take my own advice and mellow out when talking to her teachers…..
This is life. Love, Mom.