I have been a teacher in adult education (to mostly teenagers) for over ten years and a parent to my little boy for over two. Both roles are a continuing struggle; a battle. You get very little thanks or recognition in either of them – and you never quite feel you’re excelling – most of the time you feel completely inadequate and think about all the people who must be better at it than you.
However, I have noticed that applying some teaching strategies to my parenting can really help.
1. Put on a song and dance. I have never seen my toddler more engaged than when he is watching Justin Fletcher / Mr Tumble. And it’s no surprise! He is animated, a huge smile on his face, clear hand signs, excited, he is perhaps the happiest man I’ve ever seen. I watch him and think how I appear to my toddler in comparison. I am none of these things. I am bleary eyed, clutching a coffee, repeating “don’t feed Shreddies to the cat” in a monotone whine.
If I was in the classroom I would have to put on a show for three hours to keep them interested… sometimes including singing and dancing. So I gave impersonating Mr Tumble a go – and the results were quite astounding. Of course, this is too exhausting to do all day long – but
if you want to get a message across or want to get them interested in an activity, like putting on their shoes – Mr Tumble is the way to go.
2. Try to keep it student centred. Yes – you might want to sit in a coffee shop and natter with your friend. You know – the one where they serve the good coffee. But chances are you’ll end up going to that soft play satanic pit where the noise level is equivalent to a fighter jet engine and having that disgusting vending machine coffee because – it makes them a lot happier. And
yes, the idea of ‘arts and crafts’ in your pristine (who am I kidding) rented house makes you come out in hives – but he loves it, so suck it up, get out the glitter, and deal with the consequences at 7pm.
3. Don’t try and (just) be their friend. This isn’t the same as ‘don’t be nice to them’ – but it does mean that you have to have no fear when it comes to disciplining them. They have Grandma and Grandpa to never tell him no, never say a cross word, repeatedly give him treats no matter how he behaves. So when the time comes – the task must fall on me to be his ‘parent’ – not his friend. And that means not letting him get away with murder and instilling a set of boundaries / rules / discipline….or it’s a slippery slope.
And one day OFSTED (the health visitor) will turn up and enquire why your son is swinging from the chandelier, wearing a cat tooth necklace, swigging Golden Syrup out of the tin.
4. Differentiation. The principle that every student is different is drummed into us from the moment we start our teacher training. Yet – as soon as we have a child all we get is advice, books about how to parent, milestones to meet. And this is why we fail. Because my child is entirely different to your child, and the next, and the next. So when I was told to make him sleep do X,Y,Z it didn’t work – because my child is basically a different species to yours.
When I stopped listening to advice and listened to him and only him – I cracked the code! It took me a long time but I now know that for my child wearing him out and restricting naps actually have the opposite effect and make him sleep less.
And the health visitor who told me that my child wouldn’t be able to chew because he I was still feeding him pureed food at twelve months…well he can chew steak now so whatever!
5. Lesson Evaluation. At the end of every lesson plan is a section called ‘evaluation’ where you are supposed to write what went well…what went not so well (was a disaster) and you are meant to learn from every lesson. At the end of the day I do the same thing. What worked? That activity just made him angry and me stressed…that activity completely engaged him…that meal went down a treat, never give him a tomato again (writes in notes: ‘projective V situ).
As parents (and teachers) we want to continually improve and we never stop learning – so evaluating our day is essential.
6. Re-arrange your classroom. I can not tell you how often we have moved around his toys, his room, our rooms, where his cot is … in an attempt to have a better night’s sleep, or to have a better day. I regularly do this in lessons too. Some formations are disastrous. Like when his cot was too close to the radiator and he realised he could clang it if he kicked hard enough… all… through… the… night.
7. Independent activities. (I’m particularly good at this one as my toddler never wants to play with me). It’s important to find things for them to do that they can do solo – if only to give you a rest.
Post July I am looking to incorporate more ‘pair work’.
8. There is always an underlying issue. I have worked with some challenging students in my time and really struggled with their behaviour. And then I met my toddler… he could give them all a run for their money. With both my students and my son there is always a deeper issue behind ‘bad’ behaviour – and keeping that in mind really helps. So when my student swore at me and threw a chair across the room it’s my job to find out what is going on at home, if it’s to do with the subject content or an insecurity around the task. The same goes for my toddler – when he bites my hand or head-buts me it’s because of his frustration, his inability to vocalise his needs and
keeping in mind that he’s not simply the spawn of Satan sporting a 6.6.6 on his scalp really helps.
9. Get a supportive team around you. The only thing that has got me through certain teaching contracts is having a team that are going through the exact same thing as you. One you can cry and laugh to and admit you wanted to throttle the little shits – without judgement. This is why it is imperative that you meet other parents, get a little support group, in real life or on line.
Find parents on the same wavelength where you can release all the crap from the day and realise – you’re not alone.
10. Accept that some days will be utter shite. What I love about teaching is that no day is ever boring. You either leave in tears of frustration or leave bouncing off the ceiling because you had a breakthrough that makes it all worthwhile. In parenting you also come to accept that some days / weeks can be particularly Hellish. Then one week he starts sleeping better, he eats that cottage pie and he learns how to say ‘Frog’ and you are filled with joy. It’s swings and roundabouts
– just don’t hand your notice in. Those good days are on their way.
Any day now. Probably.
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