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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

This Year I'm Telling My Students I'm a Single Mom

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:

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  1. You bring up so many good points, and I bet your students will be interested to hear more about your time outside of the states, I know I always am!

  2. It has taken time for you to feel comfortable with your "new reality" and to be confident that the students and faculty love and appreciate you regardless. I think being more transparent will only endear you to them more.

    1. That's true, I didn't think about it but I'm sure a big part of this has been me developing a level of trust in others as well!

  3. Hi,
    Love your blog! I am a teacher too (4th grade) , so am really enjoying your classroom posts. Discovered you via A Bowl Full of Lemons. Had to stop and comment here, because I a single mom by choice (decided to have my kids on my own, using a sperm donor and adoption). Have to point out that you are not really a "single mom", you are a divorced mom. Out there in the world (where statistics about kids raised by single mothers come from) a single mom refers to a person who has full responsibility for their children, 24 hours a day every sing day - no shared custody, no weekends to yourself, no time off ever, no financial help from the other parent, no help making the big decisions, good or bad. I think about this a lot, because since I chose and worked very hard to have my kids and am very financially stable, my kids are not like the typical "single other" kids in the united states - typical single mother kids are living in poverty and have many issues to deal with, and always aces me sad that my children are in this "bucket" as far as statistics go. In any case, it may seem like semantics to you but I think letting your school kids know you are actually divorced would be appropriate, as you noted any kids have divorced parents, so using the word divorced in your intro might make them feel better!

    1. Hi Monica,
      I'm glad to have another single parent/teacher around, and I'm glad you're enjoying the blog- thank you for the compliment! For a lot of reasons that I will choose not to get into, I cannot use the label "divorced" as my primary label. There's no way for me to explain, to someone who hasn't experienced the kind of divorce I've been through, what that would mean. I am a mom and I am single, and get close to no input financially, decision-making-ly, or otherwise in parenting from my children's father. And if you will continue to read more of my posts on being a single parent, you'll see why it is hard to hear someone refer to the girls' time with their dad as "time off" or "weekends to yourself". I hope you'll stick around so that we can get to know each other better and learn from each other- I have a couple of other friends who are single parents by choice (in the way you describe yourself) and we have found that we have many things in common, and many stark differences as well.
      As for what I told my students: if you'll read the post, I didn't actually use the word "single mom" in my self-description. The title of the post may indicate as much but it was the most concise way to communicate the topic of the post. Anyway, I hope this helps to clarify why I use the terms that I do, and I hope you'll stick around! If you follow me on Facebook or other social media I'd be happy for you to jump in on conversations, and you can always email me as well (my social links and email address are linked in my blog header). Parenting by yourself is no easy task- let's stick together and support each other as much as we can! :)