As a former teacher, I’ve always been aware of the awesome academic responsibilities teachers have to their students and students’ families. I even know what a positive and important impact a teacher can have outside the scope of academics. However, my own son recently started preschool, and the enormity of sending him off to the care of his teachers shook me a little.
My husband and I trust them to teach him things you’re “supposed” to learn in school, but now that it’s my own child spending hours a day with other people, I’m realizing how many other things we trust them to teach him as well. The way his teachers talk to him, to other students, and to each other will show my sweet boy how to interact with others and will send him messages about his own self-worth. The way they plan his days and the content of their lessons will shape his relationship with school and teach him if it is a place for young boys like him. On a more basic (and hopefully never needed) level, their quick thinking and decision-making in an emergency could save his life and protect him from the unthinkable.
Because of all this, the bond between teachers and students is a unique one. Teachers are poised to open doors to increased opportunities for students; they’re skill-builders and life-lesson teachers. They’re often a trusted adult that students open up to about things they don’t necessarily want to discuss with their parents. I, by no means, think teachers are more important than students’ families, but I do think they serve as additional and much-needed mentors and role models. When I was teaching, I was able to be this for the students I was close to, but being a parent has deepened my appreciation for the critical responsibility that teachers hold.
As a teacher, my motivation was 150% my students and the relationships I had with them. Sure I had passion for the subjects I taught, and I liked a well-planned lesson just as much as the next gal, but what kept me working for hours after school (and on the weekend, and at night, and over the summer) was the awesome young people I had the privilege of working with. Years ago, a small group of my 8th grade students who were headed off to high school and I decided that once they were no longer my students, we would meet up for frozen yogurt so that we could all still keep in touch. They were nervous about going to high school, and I always got #allthefeels at the end of the year as the kids I had grown so close to were leaving me for bigger and better things. One frozen yogurt outing turning into many and became a tradition, first with me picking them up, then with one of them driving the others, and most recently, with them coming to my home for dinner to meet my husband and son (and they all drove themselves—cue me feeling really old).
Another one of my former students has become our babysitter. I called her months in advance, long before we were actually ready to leave our son, because I knew she was the person we wanted watching our most important little human. She was one of the first people to ever get my son to sleep other than my husband and I, and the amount of peace and calm we feel when she is watching our kid is something I’m so grateful for. She still occasionally asks me for advice on work and school, and given how much as our entire family adores her, I am sure this will be a lifelong connection.
There are other students who I keep up with on Facebook and Snapchat (I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom!), and who I talk to or meet up with from time to time. Others still who I likely won’t ever see or hear from again, but who I will always feel a protectiveness and mama-bear affection for. Not all the memories are funny or happy—much like my own kid, my former students often drove me bananas, but at the end of the day, I cared deeply for them.
As a mom, I hope my kid brings his teachers the kind of joy that so many other people’s kids brought me, and that his teachers’ lives are richer for having taught him. I hope he always has teachers like I had, like I hope I was for a handful of my students: teachers whose relationships with their students extend beyond the academic year and the walls of the classroom–who are the kind of people that I would be really proud of my son growing up to emulate. But here’s the crazy thing: parents really have very little control over which teachers their kids get and what happens when their kids walk into those teachers’ classrooms. It’s a crapshoot and a huge leap of faith with so much at stake. Because as much as teachers teach academically, we teach so much more, and if we play our cards right, we gain a few lifelong friendships with our students (in addition to all the memories and headaches) along the way.
Nina Tinsley is the Director of Operations & Outreach at OneTeacher and a former secondary English teacher.