Teacher, Mom: Finding a Balance

teacher mom bags

A typical scene as I unloaded the car on a Friday afternoon this fall.

I’ve been thinking of blogging about being a teacher-mom for a while now, but this is totally out of my comfort zone.

I’m usually happy to share anything teaching related, but when it comes to talking about my personal life, I clam up. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that it is teaching related. As a blogger-friend of mine, Jay Nickerson, likes to say, “teaching is a human endeavor.” If we ignore ourselves as a part of the equation, our craft is sure to suffer.

Up until the past few years, I was that teacher: Mine was one of the first cars in the parking lot before the sun was up, and then one of the last as it was starting to set. It’s safe to say that teaching was my life. I even married the math teacher in the classroom next door.

When our son, Jack, was born, it was an adjustment. But once we got into a routine, it became the norm. I scheduled my time strategically, careful not to waste a single minute of my time away from him. I didn’t always work the same long hours as I used to, but I grew to feel like I was in control of my balancing act.

And then came Charlotte. She just turned one last month, and she has already had upward of 10 ear infections and has been admitted to our local children’s hospital three times: once for a simple surgery to put tubes in her ears, once for a week that included a stay in the PICU, and once that was not-so-conveniently timed during the first full week of school.

To say that “the norm” has changed would be an understatement. When I was able to drop the kids off at daycare, I felt like I was failing as a mom. And when I had to stay home with a feverish baby, I felt like I was failing as a teacher.

Thankfully, I work with a wonderful, supportive group of friends who were able to help me realize that I wasn’t failing at either one; I just had to readjust to a new normal. And throughout the course of this journey, I’ve come to a few big realizations.

Teacher-Moms* Manage a Unique Balancing Act

On my worst days, I’d sit in my car before heading home, and I’d cry. Why, I wondered, was I paying a daycare to take care of my own children so that I could spend my hours with someone else’s kids? It took a while to admit this, but after talking to lots of other teachers in the same situation, I’m starting to think maybe we’ve all felt that twinge of resentment at some point.

But, by the same token, even though they are “someone else’s kids,” I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t in some way think of their students as “my kids.” It’s like we have two sets. My son calls our students “your work kids” or sometimes “your big kids.” And, before you think that we’re screwing him up too badly with this, it’s okay. He knows that they’re students, and that they’re not family, but he also knows that I love them. Sometimes I wonder if his understanding of this might be one of the reasons he’s thriving at his preschool. He knows that teachers are people who are unconditionally on his side.

I’m a Better Teacher and Mom for It

jack reading wilbur

My son, Jack, reading a book that my high school students collaboratively wrote and published. When the kids in my worlds intersect like this, it reminds me how important our work is, as teachers and as moms.

The other day, I overheard my kids playing. Charlotte was probably pulling one of Jack’s toys off the shelf, and I could hear him saying to her, “Do you know what dat is, Charlotte? Do you remember dat? It’s something you’ve seen at da zoo. It’s a bird, but it doesn’t fly. Dat’s right! It’s a penguin!”

Between each question, even though she doesn’t talk yet, I heard him pause and then patiently continue, prodding for understanding. And I had to chuckle because I could clearly hear myself as a teacher in his little three-year-old voice.

I know that the work my husband and I do in education also helps us teach our own kids. Likewise, I know that being a mom benefits my students. I see them through new lenses now. I’m more patient and open. I think about every student as someone’s baby.

And in sharing my vulnerability, my students see that I’m not some perfect teacher-robot; I’m a human.

I can sure live with that.

*I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that “teacher-mom” sounds a bit sexist. Of course I realize that there are teacher-dads out there too, and that they likely have many of the same issues as moms do. But, I’m a mom, so I can only write about my experience in this regard.

MKortlandt1Megan Kortlandt (@megankortlandt) is a secondary ELA consultant and reading specialist for the Waterford School District. In the mornings, she teaches Language Arts at Durant High School, and in the afternoons, she works with all of Waterford’s middle and high school teachers and students in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment department. Additionally, Megan works with Oakland Schools as an instructional coach for AARI. She has presented at various conferences including the Michigan Council for Teachers of English and Michigan Reading Association annual conferences

Notes from the Classroom