Friday, February 11, 2011

Setting Priorities: Choosing Between "My" Two Sets of Kids

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I canceled class today. Both my kids are sick (one has an ear infection, the other has...trouble keeping food down), my husband is out of town at a conference, and I am a sleep-deprived mess. The kids' preschool was closed yesterday as well, and while I found childcare, I almost passed out while I was teaching. The thought of trying to lecture with little to no sleep while my kids were at home, miserable, was too much for me, but it took me forever to finally send out the email to my students officially informing them that class would be canceled. 

Part of my hesitancy is because of where we are in the semester: in the early stages of writing the first major essay. I am trying to treat the whole exercise as a process with lots of different steps, focusing especially on how you can set yourself for success early in said process. I am particularly worried about my Freshman Writing students; most of them are in my class because they were in developmental writing last semester or they failed the class in the fall. I want to help these students be successful; I care about their success and take my role in helping them succeed very seriously. 

My title alludes to how I see my students as "my" kids, although many of them are the same age as I am or older. There was a post on Hook and Eye (it was subsequently removed; I think the author hit post instead of save and I just happened to be looking in my blog feed at the right moment) that talked about the power structure inherent in calling them "my" students, as well as the possible gendered implications as a female instructor. For me, calling them "my" students or kids is not an effort on my part to reduce their position and increase my power and authority, but instead a reflection of how personally I take my role as their teacher. I want them to see me as their teacher, belonging to them, not just now but as long as they need me. Our roles, in my mind, will always be teacher/student; it will evolve, but they can count on me as their teacher and I will always do my best for them because they are my students. It makes canceling class that much more difficult. 

But, as I tell my students all the time, family has to come first. I wouldn't have done them any good coming to class sleep-deprived with my mind elsewhere, worrying about my two small, sick children. And once I pressed send on the announcement that class was, indeed, canceled, I felt like a weight had been lifted; I was no longer worried about two very sick children and fifty very scared writers, just the two sick kids. Taking a day to focus on one challenge will allow me to refocus next week on those very scared writers. And get some sleep. That'll benefit all of us in the end. 


  1. I hope that you feel better for next week.

  2. When I was teaching I always called them "my kids." The notion that is somehow disparaging and belittles them is silly to me. Even worse it obscures the reality that they are kids.

    The fact of the matter is that they are young and inexperienced. They need guidance, mentoring to become the adults that they will become.

    For me it's evidence of some kind of magical thinking that says "call them adults, and they are adults. What is even worse is that it ignores precisely the reality which a teacher has to see if they are going to be helpful.

    "Kid" is not about age. It's about being a competent Adult who recognizes their Power and accepts the Responsibility that goes with it so they can craft a Life Worth Living.

  3. I talk about the students as "my kids." And I don't think it is an attempt to disempower them, but an attempt to identify how much I feel responsible for their education, even if, like my own teens, I can't make them do anything.

  4. When the father of the child is every man as old as the child's father, and the mother of the child as old as the child's mother, we will have a society that truly cares for our children... all of them...

    This is a paraphrasing of a statement by H. Vilakazi, a Zulu sociologist is S. Africa from his address to the NACCW in 1991. I wrote about it here .

    No matter the age of the "child" our imperative is to ensure support is provided so dreams are not lost I'm 42 and I still have dreams. When my mom calls to check in on them, I might as well be 4 again. In turn when colleagues I respect that I have chosen as professional mentors give me a compliment or bit of supportive guidance, I again might as well be a grade school child, full of hope, undiscovered capacity and new-found confidence to continue chasing it.

    There is a "child" in all of us that needs supporting, and losing our awareness of this basic social-emotional human reality is plain sad. This is what EduKare is all about.

    Thanks Lee for your insightful post.

  5. Sean and Lee,

    I want to share an experience I had two days ago to this point.

    In Bklyn I live in a neighborhood with deep roots for some. My barber's shop has been there for at least 60 years. Last Saturday a regular stopped by. Turns out ever since he was a kid he didn't wear an outside jacket.

    After a bi of good natured ribbing from the elderly men in attendance ( including me at 64 ) he said" I remember when I was kid that Mrs. Kelly the block mother would always be calling my mom to tell her I wasn't wearing a jacket."

    I share the story only to say that this notion of parents taking care of all children is not new or a daydream. Just something that we've lost sight of.

  6. Thanks everyone. This discussion has expanded in a direction that I had not expected, and it is far from a bad thing. We do need to re-evaluate where we are coming from as teachers/coaches/instructors/educators.

    I think part of the issue, too, especially in higher education, is the potential to be viewed as a "mother figure" instead of a "professor figure" and thus not taken seriously, either by the students or by your colleagues. I don't mind; in fact I actively embrace that role and meld it together with my expertise in my field. But again, being seen a a nurturer, especially if you are a woman, isn't always viewed as a good thing in the still very male world of higher education.

    And maybe that's part of the problem.

    Again, I'm going to put on my critical gender analysis hat and say it's also pointed out as problematic if a male professor asserts himself a father figure (read: PATRIARCHY). Now, this, of course, goes completely against what I just said and highlights some of the... cognitive dissonance that goes on in higher education.

    Before I get too carried away in this, I'd really like to thank everyone for supporting what I've always "instinctually" done as a teacher and coach, even before I had kids. New blog post brewing...

  7. Lee,

    My 2¢ a critical gender analysis may turn out to be just the best lens to look at HigherEd. Consider that the family is where "culture" happens. Then consider the changes in the gender roles that started in the 70's with the Women's Movement and is now reaching some kind of inflection point with the Gay Rights movement.

    If it's framed as changing gender roles it can clarify some of the deep divisions in American society. The famous "White Working Class Men" that the Right is found of using to win elections, grew up with one definition of being a Man.

    Now they are faced with a very different reality.From what I can tell the emerging generation both in the USA and around the world is adjusting itself to gender roles where either the man or the woman is either the bread winner or the care giver.

    Or in the best cases, both are both.

  8. Looking forward to your brewing post... I hope you read the Vilakazi link. I spent a good number of years immersed in First Nation's culture during my early years in teaching. It struck me that Aboriginal people in Canada have a much different (not better, not worse) perspective toward children, and specifically how they grow and learn. This fascinated me. I obviously knew that different groups of people raised their kids according to culturally significant beliefs and values, but this was the first time I was immersed in the living process outside my own cultural perspective.

    After I left the Reserve and began teaching in an alternative school program in Red Deer, an elder named Michael Merrier from Edmonton introduced me to Medicine Wheel philosophy. We had invited him to speak with our students about Aboriginal perspectives toward behavior and learning, and we got so much more. That half-day dialog, and some tinkering here and there with others since, is how the evolution of my Hope Wheel philosophy has evolved.

    Where I'm going with this is to the point that there exists timeless and undeniable wisdom regarding how best to prepare our sons and daughters for the challenges that will confront them and how they need to be supported and guided. We seem to be always looking for the "latest and greatest" without realizing that instead looking inward and backward will lead us to the answers we seek to do our best for kids; the kids we work with in our schools and communities, and the hiding child within each of our adult souls who is afraid to emerge, be vulnerable and see the world through eyes long since blinded by the pressures and stresses of our adult perceptions.

    This thread has me thinking too... I'm formulating some blog thoughts in my head too. Let's stay connected.

  9. Interesting discussion! I have several colleagues who seem to manage the 'mothering' role much more than I do. For some reason, my students view our relationship as entirely course-material-based. Not that they never ask me for support, but it's more along the lines of 'why did my toe turn green?' than emotional support.

    This is probably a good thing, as I'm not a maternal sort. But sometimes I wonder.

    I would say that the most nurturing of my colleagues is also the most respected by everyone on campus. We're a women's college, though, so our assumptions may be different.


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