As I taught…one worry niggled me throughout: would I have the same kind of relationship with my own two children?
I’ve enjoyed a teaching career which spanned more than twenty years and, for most of that time, I’ve taught older children rather than younger ones. I think I was a natural fit for the ‘high school’ age range being daft enough to be fun for the 11-year-olds while enjoying mature and intelligent conversations about the great imponderables of life with the teenagers (and, ok I’ll admit it, being daft with them too).
I loved teaching teenagers because though, in some ways, still so very young and child-like, in others they were ‘fresh adults’ and as such you got to know who they really were. Whereas in the juniors teachers might be life-changing heroes in the lives of their young wards but the children are just some of many hundreds they will know in their teaching career, for high school teachers the 3-7 years you spent in loco parentis means that relationships are a two-way affair. My kids affected me just as much as I affected them.
Certainly, in my life, I’ve been proud to call hundreds of students ‘friends’ both while I taught them and for years – even decades – afterwards. When I stopped teaching in the UK back in 2008 I was stunned as ex-students in their hundreds flocked to friend me on Facebook; most of them are still there now. Back then the social website was still in its infancy and there weren’t the worries and hang-ups about teachers and students being friends on the site as there is now. Though I didn’t have students as friends back then I did accept ex-students – and still do. I’ve been proud to see them turn into young men and women, have careers, marry, have children of their own and know I was a part of making them who they were – sometimes in small ways, other times much more significantly. I wouldn’t have changed anything if I could do it all again.
As I taught during the early 2000s one worry niggled me throughout: would I have the same kind of relationship with my own two children?
I would have felt a terrible fraud if I’d had teenage kids of my own with whom I had a traditional ‘us-and-them’ parental relationship while working with kids the same age at school and enjoying more ‘equal’ relationships there.
At times with Thing I & II it was touch and go. The times as they grew up where I would scream at Thing I for not tidying her room when she promised me she would; or the fights Thing II and I had over almost anything as our similar characters (and ADHDness) clashed repeatedly.
I’ve sat down and forced them to play their scales, brush their teeth, learn their times tables and eat their vegetables. I’ve punished them for forgetting to hand their homework in at school or for telling us a lie. I’ve told either of them too many times to remember to ‘shut up and listen’ or sent them to their rooms until they’re ready to own up to who put permanent pen marks all over the table cloth. And while I’ve succeeded in teaching them to play several musical instruments, at times while I taught them I found myself thinking ‘if I had taught the kids in my professional life this way not only would I have lost my income from their parents but I would probably have been reported to the Education Authorities!‘ Somehow I never had the patience with my own darlings that I managed to muster with some of the irksome tykes I’ve taught in the past. Terrible memories of my father trying to teach me to drive came flooding back.
It’s a fine balance between being fully involved in your children’s lives (which I wholeheartedly believe in) and being a tyrannical parent (which I certainly don’t). On the whole, I thought I failed though not as badly as I feared I would.
Now my daughter is a teenager and my son, this term, has entered the high school age. I never dreamed that by the time they were both old enough to end up having me as one of their teachers at school that I would have long since retired from teaching altogether and would now be a professional freelance writer instead. But there you go – life is full of surprises.
I’ve been graced with two kids who I love very much and who still seem to want me around and active in their lives and have forgiven me for the times I had to be ‘dad’.
The greater surprise, however, is that – against all odds – it would seem that Things I, II and I have made it into the kind of friendship I always hoped for. It’s early days – Thing II isn’t yet a teenager and anything could happen over the next 14 months or so before he becomes one. But we get on well (we still fight from time to time but never irredeemably) and enjoy being in each other’s company.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear that none of their friends tell their parents anything and were all shocked that both Things talk to their mother and I quite openly. I say that with some trepidation knowing that all teenagers can, almost on a whim, suddenly decide to keep things secret. Nevertheless, somehow we’ve got something right and have a family which enjoy doing things together and telling each other about things we do apart. I don’t ever want my two kids feeling they can’t tell us the things which are really important to them inside. Now we’re (almost) past the ‘get-your-bedroom-tidy- NOW’ stage I think we’re safe.
Growing a friendship with these two has been very important to me and recently has helped me understand a little more about myself. I never really understood how it was that I tore myself away from the teaching world so easily. I miss my classroom and the thousands of students I’ve taught over the years but I have never felt like I was missing out on no longer being in the teaching profession. I think I know why now and the reason is this:
Teaching was my trial run for turning my children into my friends.
That’s not to belittle the importance of all those young souls I did my best to make school life at least tolerable and, at most, a wonderful experience. But like many teachers, I referred to them as ‘my kids’ and that parental calling (which was, for me, 100% vocation and 0% profession) was the real motive for being in the classroom. I cared very little for the academic results (though they’ve always been quantifiably good) and cared very much that kids came out of school good, caring adults who I would be proud of to know in so-called ‘real life’.
I won’t say I’ve achieved what I hoped for – I don’t think I achieved anything at all. I think despite my failings, I’ve been graced with two kids who I love very much and who still seem to want me around and active in their lives and have forgiven me for the times I had to be ‘dad’. I’m very aware that I only have Thing I for another four years before she’ll likely ‘fly the roost’ and Thing II won’t be far behind her and so every moment we have where they like being with their parents is precious to me. I want them around and I want them to want me around too.
2015 is almost certainly going to be the biggest test my family has ever gone through – much bigger than 2014 which was tough enough. I’m going to want my two young friends with me as much as I can because I honestly don’t know what the future holds but, from where I’m stand, it looks grim. This will be the real test of friendship. Whereas I’ve had ex-students as friends for many, many years and know the worth of our relationships because they’ve stayed with me all this time, for my own two Things the metal will be tested in very different ways. I’ll make no prediction about what the outcome will be; I just know I need them very much.