Hidden in the bathroom, you try to steal five minutes to take a moment to breathe and scroll through mindless social media when that teacher tired meme pops up mocking you. Teacher tired? Sure, but teacher-mom tired is more like it. The loss of two hours sleep from 2:32-4:38 am is more likely the culprit of my tired. A tiny knock with a powerful scream of “MaaaaMaaaa,” interrupts your thoughts on how tired you truly happen to be in this moment of rest. Now enter teacher mom guilt. You’ve just spent the day being fully present with everyone else’s children. When you open that door you will need to muster up the energy to be fully present with your children.
Teacher Mom Reality
Most nights I find myself wide awake at 11:00 pm, even if I had been nodding off a few hours ago while reading bedtime stories, I’m often up late at night. The quiet is what keeps me awake. No one is talking to me, my phone is not buzzing in emails or messages, there are no tiny fingers grasping my shirt; it’s the only time of day I have all to myself. After having two babies back to back my body has become used to the sleep deprivation and because the pregnancy or new mom fog has lifted I actually find myself thinking more clearly this late at night. This seems an oxymoron considering a good decision would be to go to sleep, but I love the quiet and I love to read. I suspect many of you consciously choose to forego sleep to allow yourself to do something that feels far more satisfying than sleep at the moment. At least at the moment, it feels much more satisfying. You forget about how tired you were all day and choose to do something for yourself. At this moment you choose yourself because the roles you’ve played all day have been put to bed.
Let the Teacher Mom Guilt Melt Away
Have you ever made a list of all the roles you play in a day? I start the day (after midnight) as a mom, then I kiss my husband goodbye as a wife, I turn the lights on in my classroom as a teacher, I allow a co-worker to lean on my shoulder as a friend at lunch, I answer texts or emails from my parents and siblings and in-laws throughout the day, before heading home I pick up groceries to make a meal for a church member in need and then the cycle starts all over again the moment my kids and husband hug me as I walk through the front door. That’s a lot of roles to play within a 24 hour period. That’s a lot of people who count on us to play these roles each day. This is where we can allow for guilt to set in and cloud our judgment.
May I suggest we all choose to let the guilt go? It’s hard to feel like you’re being a good mom when you have to grade papers instead of playing cars on the floor with your toddler. It’s also hard to feel like you’re being a good teacher when you can’t stay after school to provide a struggling student with extra help because you have to pick up your kids from the babysitter. As a full-time teaching mom, this is always going to be the case. You are always going to want more time with your babies and more time to help your students. It comes down to choices. Choose and feel good about your choice. Either way, you are choosing your kids, making it a good choice.
Shine in All Your Roles
My network of Instagram teachers has started a #stopteacherguilt campaign. We all need to take care of ourselves or we will not be able to be our best for our husband, our kids, our students, and our families. We’ve all heard the advice to take time for self-care, but do we allow guilt to rob us of a truly relaxing moment? Let it go! You spend enough time thinking about you can enrich other people’s lives, don’t feel bad when you take time to enrich your own life. Whether it’s a weekly yoga class, a quiet moment of scrolling through social media or enjoying a new flavor of ice cream if it’s what you need to relax your mind and body then soak it up and don’t feel bad about it. You need to be your number one priority. Share your favorite ways to relax and indulge, then share a photo on Instagram with #stopteachermomguilt.
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Warning: Rough school year ahead. This is what I told myself all summer long while I was working to avoid this reality. Not because I thought the students would be hard to handle, they have actually been amazing. In fact, I think this has been the smoothest start to a school year I have ever had. What’s rough is all that new stuff I anticipated in my first-year teacher blog post. I’m a first-year teacher again: working with new standards, new texts, new colleagues, and there are always new mandates from the higher-ups. This was a challenge I was willing to take head-on, but I hadn’t considered the effect it would have at home.
My house is a disaster. There is a cobweb behind my bathroom door that mocks me every morning. Having been pregnant two years in a row, I vowed to get my body back this year and started to exercise every morning. This is the one thing I’ve managed to be consistent about. Blogging, not so much. This is why I’m writing tonight, to say that in this season of life striving for balance is just not possible. And that’s ok.
Living with two toddlers and a teacher husband we are often in survival mode. What’s the nearest deadline, prioritize from there. Then add the time we want to spend together as a family, the time we need to clean up after the fun we have together, and let’s not forget that our daughter doesn’t enjoy sleep as the rest of us do. Life is not balanced, it’s mostly exhausting. Yes, I’ve read some other blogs about how to create more balance in our life, but most of those (at least what I could find) are written from moms who stay at home with their kids. Don’t read that as SAHMs don’t work, I’m completely aware of the work they do, remember that is my summer. But when you teach 88 kids a day they become as important to you as the two you actually gave birth to and are then on your mind all the time.
There is always so much to plan for, and then all the things that you didn’t plan for or forgot to write down to plan for. It’s survival mode. It’s the idea that if it didn’t get done today the sun comes up tomorrow and I’ll take another stab at it. This season of teaching a new grade level, living with toddlers, and three years into marriage will not lend itself to finding balance.
Find balance. One thing off my To Do list!
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It never fails, when I tell people I teach middle school they respond with some version of Why? Their twisted up face recalls their own experience and for most, it’s not a good one. Middle school is a difficult season for many people. It’s one of the reasons I chose to teach this grade level; mine was pretty rough having to move during the school year. But middle school is really the last chance for kids to be kids before that pressure of adulting takes hold. It’s called the middle school for a reason, it’s a transition period. Transition means you’re having to do something for the first time and that’s tough. Besides middle school today is not like middle school in “our day,” so let me share a few ways to help make these years easier.
Responsibility Grows in Middle School
These years of transition call for a shift in responsibility. I’ve recently read several parenting blogs that have addressed this topic and how it’s a problem area for parents. Meaning we aren’t giving our kids enough responsibilities so that they grow up knowing how to handle important tasks or take care of difficult situations. I would have to agree with this because over the years I’ve heard many parents apologize for their child with, “It’s my fault they didn’t” fill in the blank. It’s not your fault parents! Teachers are very good at communicating their expectations, so your child knows what they need to accomplish they just chose not to do it. Help your child add responsibilities to their daily routines. Think about what tasks you do for them currently that you could one-by-one start making them responsible for. Especially tasks that are school related.
Organization & Time Management in Middle School
Here are two places where you can really help your child gain more responsibility. Keeping papers organized is a major issue with most middle schoolers, they don’t know how to do it. Many of their elementary teachers did these things for them in order to keep order in their classrooms. Now that students are traveling between classes this could be different for every class or there may not be a system for students to use at all.
Start by showing them how you organize. Not all the details but think of a place where you have a system and show them how that works for you. Everyone is different, so brainstorm with them ways that could work for them. For me color coding separate folders works. Some kids like to have one place for everything and prefer the zippered binders with an accordion folder system. However, they choose to do it is fine, as long as there is a system. During the Open House at your school talk about how to organize their locker. There are so many accessories for this, but simple is also good. Load books left to right, pull from the left place back on the right and the books will rotate through the day. Stacked is not a good idea!
Managing their time is also a major pitfall for many middle school students. They are naturally becoming more social and now have the opportunity of extracurriculars that they didn’t have with elementary school. Our building provides students with a planner to write down all their assignments and activities. Keeping up with this is something we as teachers try to oversee, but it really helps when parents do as well. It will also keep you informed of what they are doing in school. Again, show them how you do this. Even if you keep a calendar on your phone it helps when they see that this is a lifelong skill and there is value to learning how to manage our time. There is nothing worse than seeing a student’s organizer with the word ABSENT written across all the squares. They now have nowhere to write what they actually missed on that day. This is also an indicator that they don’t understand the use of a planner or choose to use it for its true purpose. Once they do use a planner for its true purpose they may need help executing the follow through. It may be written down, but are they completing the tasks and making time for the activities they listed? Helping them find a routine for school-related tasks can be helpful. Remember it’s all about showing them what it can look like and then let them take responsibility for these tasks. If it starts to fall apart, revisit why it’s not working, and then look at ways to make changes to help the system work again.
Be involved vs. over-involved
Technology has given teachers so many new, easy ways to communicate with parents that were never there in the past. Some teachers embrace this and some let the district or building make communication. Either way look for how you can stay up to date with what’s happening in your child’s classrooms. Please read the newsletters! This is a great time for everyone in the family to sit down with their planners and write down important events. Schools are also posting grades online in a way that allow parents and students access. Make sure you know how to access these sites. There are often options for adding additional contact information and for alerts when your child has missing assignments or low grades. THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION TO TAKE CONTROL. Here is a perfect example of how you can help your child gain more responsibility. This is not the time to do it for them. Ask them questions. If they don’t know the answer help them prepare a conversation to have with their teacher. Let them go to the teacher before you do. This is what they need! They need that opportunity to take care of a situation on their own, but if they haven’t done this before it’s good to practice at home first. Roleplay, you be the teacher and let them ask their questions. Even the most approachable teacher can still be intimidating simply because they are the teacher. Keep in mind our end goal as parents are to grow and encourage capable adults.
Add Value to Their Middle School Experience
School today looks a whole lot different from what we experienced, but this is not a bad thing. Often times I see parents struggle with this, it looks so different they throw their hands up and choose to disconnect with that part of what their child is doing. Middle school is often the time that parents stop attending open houses or conferences or really talking to their child about school at all; until there is an issue. Many teachers have embraced the way technology allows parents to peek inside their classroom on a daily or weekly basis. When you ask your child about something you read or saw from these opportunities it adds value to what we as teachers are doing in the classroom. Kids translate that as you care about what’s happening there and recognize the importance of school. When you ask “how was school today?” the common answer will be, “good.” When you start the conversation with, “tell me more about that immigration project you worked on today,” a one-word answer is a lot harder to give.
Middle school is full of new things, but those things don’t have to be negative. Let’s give kids a joyful memory of middle school. I know that’s my goal! Are you a parent of a middle schooler? Share in the comments what has worked for you and your child. Are you a middle school teacher? Tell us how you help parents and students navigate this changing season of childhood.
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