Should teachers be parents first?

(By Mark Burrier for The Washington Post/) (By Mark Burrier for The Washington Post)

Should people who want to be teachers become parents first?

The idea is raised in this Slate article by Sara Mosle, who writes that she joined Teach For America some 20 years ago and when she was “single, childless, and clueless about even the most basic aspects of child-rearing.” Now a mother, she has two decades later returned to school as a teacher and has found that she is “acutely aware of how being a parent has made me a better teacher.”

While I still have a reformer’s high expectations for my students, I am more flexible about discipline, in part because I’d never want my daughter to be so docile she wouldn’t rock the boat. Now when parents approach me with worries or high hopes for the future, I have greater respect for their commingled love and fears. I also have a far stronger sense than I did at 25 that children’s lives are not static but instead endlessly fluid. They flow in waves of achievements and setbacks, with their own peculiar weather systems and mysterious currents that can change from week to week and month to year and, in the storms of adolescence, from hour to minute.

It would be ludicrous to suggest that all teachers should be parents first. (How many family people do you know that are such poor parents you wish they were childless?) But that isn’t her point. Rather, Mosle says that no school should have a teaching corps without some members who have some parenting experience. What schools are these? Some charter schools pride themselves on hiring very young teachers who are willing to work 24/7 before they burn themselves out in a few years and move on to their next career. She writes:

I cannot imagine sending my daughter to a school where not a single grown-up in the building has any direct comprehension of the inner workings of adult family life.

Something else difficult to imagine is a school completely filled with young Teach For America recruits, who only get five weeks of summer training before they are put into classrooms in America’s neediest schools. Rather than asking if teachers should be parents first, a better question might be whether people should be allowed to teach without proper training.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · September 3, 2013

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