This year I'm telling my students that I'm a single mom. I decided last spring that this was something I needed to do in the fall, and now that school is starting, I am more and more certain that this is the right thing to do. Today I want to share some of the heart behind my choice, because the general principles really apply to all teachers, and I'm sure there are others out there who have been in similar situations.
So a brief background on my story, for those who don't know: I taught elementary music for 6 years before having twin babies, moving to the U.S., getting divorced, and starting my current job. When I started this job 3 years ago I had been separated for a year and divorced for a week or two, and my daughters were 18 months old.
I have always felt strongly about the importance of developing relationships with my students (even though there are hundreds of them!). Not that I try to be "buddy buddy" with them, but I really do honestly enjoy connecting with them on a personal level, and I think the trust and respect you really need to have a positive classroom environment cannot be created outside of those relationships. So I used to freely tell my students about growing up traveling the world, telling them about my hobbies, and sharing some of the struggles I went through when it related to their situations. I think the students understood that I really was invested in them as human beings, and both trusted and respected me more as a teacher because of it.
But when I started this job, I didn't feel like I could go through my usual "get to know your teacher" stuff at the beginning of the year. I hadn't even gotten used to not being "Mrs" yet, and I didn't feel like I could share my story without things getting sticky. Not that I haven't told my students anything over the last 3 years- I haven't ever lied about my marital status or hid the fact that I have children, and I have even mentioned on a couple of occasions that I am a single mom, but for the most part I've avoided talking about myself. And because I was trying to avoid sharing about the more recent parts of my life, I didn't share as much about the other parts of my life either. I still have students who don't know that Japanese is my first language, or that I taught in South Korea for 6 years, even after being in my class for 3 years, and that is just crazy to me! How can I expect students to be willing to trust me enough to share their own stories, take risks in the classroom, or even just feel comfortable enough to be themselves if I am a complete unknown to them?
After spending the last 2 years focusing on improving school climate and culture in our building, I've come to realize that for me, this is the biggest missing piece. So this year, part of my first day lesson plan is going to include telling students about my life. No, I'm not going to rehash my divorce with them or vent to them about the struggles of being a single mom, but I am going to tell them that
1) I grew up in Japan mostly, plus some other countries,
2) I taught in Korea before I came here,
3) my immediate family now consists of me and my two 4-year-old daughters,
4) I love bright colors, music, delicious food, crafting, and reading, and I don't like cleaning, scary movies, or tomatoes.
Seems like a pretty basic thing to do, now that I write it out. Don't all teachers share a little about themselves at the beginning of the school year??? I never even noticed that I had stopped doing it until recently, and it was a combination of not really knowing what my new life had become or how to explain it to anyone (let alone children), and feeling....ashamed. Why? I know for a fact that lots of my students come from broken homes- in fact I think they are the majority. And either way, my story is not something I need to be ashamed of or hide from my students.
This year I'm sharing more of myself with my students.
Want to read more of my thoughts on developing a positive culture in my classroom and beyond? Here's a good post to start with: