Parents make the best teachers

Parents make the best teachers, writes Sara Mosle in Slate Magazine.

Some charter schools hire young teachers who are willing to work long, grueling hours for low pay, reports the New York Times. Most leave after two or three years to be replaced by a new crop of young idealists.

Inexperience in the classroom isn’t the only problem with this model, writes Mosle. Young teachers lack experience as parents.

A Teach for America teacher in the program’s first year, Mosle taught for three years in New York City schools. “I was single, childless, and clueless about even the most basic aspects of child-rearing,” she recalls. “My students’ parents seemed like creatures from another planet.”

Nearly 20 years later, now a mother, she returned to the classroom to teach writing at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark.

. . . 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 . . . flow in waves of achievements and setbacks.

In 2002, Ryan Hill started TEAM Academy, the first KIPP charter school in Newark. He worked more than 100 hours a week “in a profession he regarded as less of a vocation than a crusade.”

At the time, he thought of his school like a Silicon Valley startup, which like all new ventures demanded insane hours. “We were a bunch of 25-year-olds,” he recalled in a conversation this spring. “We’d be there every day, including on Saturdays and Sundays. We’d have students at the school until 10 o’clock each night—kids who needed a place to do homework or whatever.” It was part of the school’s ethos and formula for success: longer days and a longer school year. Hill loved the job. “It was hard work, but it was also good work,” he said.

It was also unsustainable as teachers got older, married and started families just as “they were blossoming into full flower as educators.” Unwilling to lose his veteran teachers, Hill began to offer flexible hours to top teachers who’d become parents.

In Our School, I write about attending a staff meeting at a start-up charter school and realizing I was old enough to be the mother of every person in the room — and not the teen mother either. I was 49. I was the only parent in the room too, though the principal’s wife was pregnant.

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  1. Nonsense.
    For decades, many if not most female teachers were childless. Either they never had children or they stopped teaching when they did. Also, there was an entire segment of schools with teachers who took vows never to have children.

    • I’m assuming your “Nonsense” is in response to this: “Young teachers lack experience as parents.”


      Two differences between today and, say, 50-80 years ago, are:
      (a) families were larger then, so the female teachers would on average have had much more experience helping to raise their siblings, and
      (b) fewer kids were in daycare/aftercare, so the older ones had more opportunity to help raise the younger ones.


      So I’d phrase it not as “lack experience as parents”, but “lack experience raising children.” Compared to 50+ years ago, I think this is true.


      Whether it *matters* is much more speculative.

    • When my mother was in school, during the Depression, a female teacher who married was fired, so her job could be given to someone who “needed” it. Some teachers married in secret, but had to leave if they got pregnant.

      I had some wonderful spinster teachers when I was in school in the ’50s and ’60s.

  2. I think it’s probably true that your average younger person age 20-25 who has no kids and has never spent huge amounts of time with kids is missing a lot of information that would be a big help in teaching. I worked as a teacher’s aide in my early 20s and now, as a mom with lots of experience of children, I look back and marvel at how clueless and arrogant I was. I understand kids (and parents) so much better now.

    I could have gained that experience through years of teaching children, not through having my own, but either way, it was something I certainly did not have as a young college grad and which took long experience to acquire.

  3. I’ll join the “nonsense” team.

    The author of the Slate piece feels she’s a better teacher in her fourth year than her first three. We have no way of knowing if her parenting experience makes her a better teacher. She is probably more comfortable speaking to parents, and has more authority, just because she’s twenty years older, and not a new teacher.

    If I had to choose between a KIPP academy and an established district school with a dismal academic culture, I’d choose the KIPP academy, thank you.

  4. Robust social institutions must be maintainable by something less than super-human heroism. Anything like the TEAM Academy in Newark is inherently unstable.

  5. I hope the author doesn’t teach science or history. Her comments seems ignorant, as well as prejudiced.

    Until a generation ago, women were required to leave the classroom when they married – and certainly when they had children.

    Moreover, you can use ‘real science’ to look at the claim. Since the rules against female teachers with children were changed in different school districts at different times, it should be possible to make both longitudinal (did a school’s performance improve in the years after the rule change?) and inter-school comparison (did schools that changed their rules later lag their counterparts?).

    Similarly, Catholic schools (whose staff include celibate religous) should be observably less successful than their Protestant counterparts.