The Plight of the Teacher Mom

I’ve shared on here quite a few times about my history in teaching. Short version, I started teaching special education in Georgia in 2014. I was young(er), childless, and had considerably fewer worries, and could put all I had into teaching – emotionally, financially, and time-wise. I moved to Alabama and started teaching autism preschool in 2016, and by my second year in that classroom, I was pregnant. I spent my entire third year of teaching pregnant: I found out I was pregnant on the first day of school, took maternity leave at the end of February and didn’t come back. After trying to go back to work in August and running into road blocks with my teaching certificate (long story, but it stemmed from moving to a new state and not having what I needed to teach in Alabama), I decided to stay home with the twins and finish my M.Ed. in Special Education. I was a SAHM taking online graduate courses until late 2018, when I put the twins in daycare to start my teaching internship. Finally, this school year, after two years, I’m a certified teacher again, with a master’s degree (yay!) teaching special education at a Tuscaloosa elementary school.

During pre-planning, we were told to go around the room and share the one thing that we felt was the most important detail about ourselves for others to know. The vast majority of teachers said that they were a mother. We took turns rattling off the ages of our children. (Fun fact: I am not the only teacher at my school with twins, but I am the only one with twins under 5, so I got the most props from the rest of the staff.) The exercise made clear one truth: no matter what we teach, we all have the shared experience of being a teacher mom – pouring your heart and soul into other people’s children all day long, just to come home to your own and have to dig deep and find a little more energy, a little more drive, a little more enthusiasm – a little more you.

This is my first year being a full-time teacher with children at home, and it’s so different. I used to take stacks of work home, cutting out laminates and making Pinterest-worthy activities and writing IEPs late into the night, coming to the school on the weekends to put up ornate bulletin boards, getting there at the crack of dawn to get first dibs on the copier. Now, with the boys, everything is different. When I get home, I have to actively turn my teacher brain off. And that’s very hard to do – but I have to try. Because I have to use whatever little bit of me is left at the end of the school day and use it to be a mother.

There’s layers to the struggle. The first is the guilt of leaving them in the care of someone else, while I care for another person’s child instead. I know, it’s a completely unhealthy way to consider it and that line of thought does more harm than good, but the fact remains – they’re not yet school age, yet I drop them off at “school” at 6-something every morning and don’t pick them up until 3:30 at the earliest. Meanwhile, I’m doting over someone else’s kid – fixing snacks, holding hands, fastening belts, sticking on Band-Aids, on and on and on. It’s a guilt many working mothers experience – someone else is caring for my child while my work – multiplied two-fold because my line of work is, well, caring for children. Faculty meetings and parent nights drag those days on longer, and every minute I’m away from the boys, I wonder if they’re thinking about me, wondering where I am, missing me.

Second, I teach special education. And it’s rough. Real rough. I love what I do, and I love small group teaching, building relationships, and being the one who loves the challenging kid, but there’s definitely a downside to it. On any given day, I get kicked, hit, spit at, cursed out. I chase kids up and down the halls who take off running when they’re upset. I coax children out from under tables; I talk them off the ledge when they’re having a violent meltdown. I’m a liaison to parents who are trying their hardest and sending their best and are feeling tired and hopeless. I support. I listen. I hand tissues. The whole thing can be exhausting – physically and emotionally. A lot of days, when I get in my car at the end of the day, I’m spent. I’m tired of redirecting kids. I’m tired of time outs. I’m tired of repeating myself dozens of times. In all honestly, I just want to be away from children for a while, but I can’t –  because there are two little ones waiting for me to pick them up from daycare.

But like most things, it’s not all bad. Being a teacher has made me a better mom, and vice versa. I’m more aware of my tone and have found a much better balance of loving and firm than the one I had before the twins were born. Before, the concept of “every student is someone’s child” was pretty abstract to me until I had my own children, and then I felt it. The way I feel about my boys, the way I want them to be treated, the way I’d feel if I didn’t think someone I trusted to care for them was doing a good job – somebody else feels that for the kid in my classroom right now. Yes, even the one who just threw a chair at me.

When I come home, tired as I am, I still want to be sure I’m doing all I can to ready Alex and Nathan for school. Everything becomes educational – counting the stairs when entering and leaving daycare, telling me the color of the trees they see out of the car window, telling me if it feels hot or cold outside. These are things I was already doing to an extent, but now I’m so much more intentional about it. I also let a lot less poor behavior go. I want to set the foundations so they aren’t “that kid” when they get to public school, so it’s worth the extra effort. Still, seeing kids acting out at school everyday worries me. I guarantee, none of their parents set out to raise a kid who was disobedient or disruptive. We’re all trying our best. So what’s to say that kid won’t be mine someday? It fills me with even more anxiety than I already have.

I love my job. I love my twins. But sometimes, the combination of the two just feels like too much. Still, I try as hard as I can to compartmentalize my life and leave school at school. It’s really, really hard to do, but for the sake of my family and my sanity, I have to do it.