Would you teach your own kids?

Friends and colleagues are often surprised when I tell them I taught my own kids — not once, but three times each.

Not only that, but I taught many of their close friends, and they took classes from some of my close friends.

If you think it all sounds a little too cozy (or awkward), hear me out. Having my own children attend my school for the past eight years has been stressful at times, but it’s also made me a better teacher, and I’m sorry it’s over.

When my older son started as a freshman in 2008, I had been teaching at Mounds View for 11 years already. I thought I knew how things worked — and I did, from a teacher perspective. But not from a student or parent perspective.

For example: fairness. Kids have always complained that teachers are unfair, and I had dismissed most of those complaints. Of course it seems unfair to you when you don’t do well on a test or assignment — so work harder.

But suddenly I saw the unfairness. In one case, a colleague was having students grade other students’ work, and grades were very dependent on how strict the grader was. My son was on the losing end.

As a parent, I didn’t get involved. I told him to advocate for himself, and when he didn’t get the A he wanted, I encouraged him to let it go. Good life lesson and all of that.

But as a teacher, I found it harder to accept the status quo.  I had to look at every decision from multiple perspectives, and I found I didn’t always agree with my colleagues — or support their complete autonomy over the classroom.

Another example: the freshman retreat. I had always believed that kids only complained about orientation and bonding activities because they thought they were “too cool” for them. Then I realized that some kids genuinely dislike those activities and feel deeply uncomfortable. It was a good reminder that teenagers don’t always think or react the way we expect them to.

I learned a few other lessons from having my kids in my own classes. They were both good students, so it was never terribly uncomfortable, but I did have to deal with their complaints of boredom and my frustration over procrastination.

How do you deal with it when your own child, sitting right in front of you, falls asleep in your class?

How do you deal with it when your own child, sitting at the computer in the other room, is playing video games rather than completing homework due in your class tomorrow?

One of the greatest challenges was helping my kids understand that I could care about other students whose behavior — skipping school, failing tests, using drugs, etc. — I would never tolerate from them. It sparked a years-long conversation about empathy and about why parents make the decisions they do.

One of the best parts of this experience was that I got an inside view of my sons’ high school years, and I got to know many of their friends in a different (and wonderful) light. The basketball games, dances, band concerts and even school controversies were richer experiences because we were all part of the same small universe.  

And hearing my colleagues’ offhand stories about the funny, stupid and sometimes creative things my kids did in their classes outweighed the irritating times, like when one son saw me in the hall and asked, “Can’t you just stay in your room?”

I could probably write a book on this subject, but I won’t, at least not today. I’ll close with a few brief suggestions for any teacher who finds themselves in the same situation – or who is wondering whether to let their children enroll in their classes.

  1. No parent conferencing at lunch, in the hall, in the copy room or at home. Colleagues don’t want to talk about your kids every time they see you, and your kids and their friends don’t want to talk about school all the time either.
  2. It goes without saying, but no special treatment. When my son did fall asleep in my class, I did the same thing I would have to any student — I woke him up and embarrassed him a bit. When my kids tried out for Econ Challenge, they tried out like everyone else.
  3. No talking school politics at home. Inevitably, there are stupid decisions you want to go home and complain about, but you can’t talk about any of it in front of the kids, not when they are part of that environment.

Would you teach your own children? I did, and it taught me patience, humility, fairness and a lot about human nature. I would gladly do it again.