12 Ways Being a Teacher Prepares You for Motherhood

Approximate reading time:6 minutes

They say that nothing can really prepare you for being a parent, not babysitting, not having lots of siblings, not even wrangling a classroom full of teenagers every day. But there are some ways that being a high school science teacher is quite similar to being a mom. Here’s how teaching prepared me for my first year of motherhood.

  1. You get used to functioning on low levels of sleep. This is actually not really true for me, but I know plenty of teacher moms who have to stay up late to grade and plan, and of course teachers have to get up early. I’ve always been an early riser, and in any case, the alarm clock I gave birth to doesn’t start talking to himself until about 6:30, which is actually 45 minutes after I used to wake up for school.
  2. You develop a high tolerance for saying and doing the same things over and over. Unless your students are great at listening to and following the directions the first time (LOL), you repeat instructions–and calls for attention/warnings to stop touching each other–a lot. There’s also just the routine of daily classroom life, which children somehow manage to forget the instant they walk out the door and therefore you have to show them the ropes all over again the next day. This is excellent practice for parenthood, especially once your child develops the ability to drop toys/spoons/food for the sheer pleasure of seeing you pick them up. Again and again.
  3. You don’t bat an eye at the weird things you have to say. In addition to saying the same things over and over again, you also just say and hear a lot of weird stuff in the classroom. When you’re used to telling students, “Please don’t aspirate the bromothymol blue or you will die,” it’s really not that big of a leap to say, “Sweetheart, we don’t hit people when we eat,” or, “Don’t stick your foot in the poo!”
  4. You will do anything to keep your audience entertained and not throwing things. Sometimes your scintillating monologues will not produce the desired effect in your students or your offspring. (Shocking, I know!) So you discard whatever dignity you had left, and start running around the room pretending to be the giant fungus that lives under the forests of Oregon. Or you throw a plush sperm cell at a sleeping student. Or you play The Imperial March when you hand back tests/try to get the baby to nap. Or you dance energetically to “Camptown Ladies.” (I’ll let you figure out which of these I’ve done to students and which I’ve done to my child.
  5. Dirty diapers are nothing after cleaning up dissections. Breastfed poop really doesn’t smell that bad, and not just compared to formalin soaked dogfish or sheep brains. (There’s a reason I didn’t do dissections last school year when I was pregnant.) My theory is that biology teachers are especially immune to squeamishness about bodily fluids and functions, because if we weren’t, how could we survive talking to teenagers about gametes for six weeks out of the year?
  6. You develop a sixth sense for misbehavior and dangerous situations. You must develop eyes on the back of your head within the first week of operating a science classroom. There’s simply too much fragile, expensive, and therefore tempting equipment laying around a science lab to not be able to smell mischievous intentions before they even happen. With small children, silence lasting more than 60 seconds is usually a dead giveaway that something is being destroyed or eaten that should not be.
  7. You become very good at both planning ahead and winging it. Nothing happens in teaching or parenting without hours of preparation and planning and photocopies and diaper bags. A checklist becomes engraved in your brain of what your students or offspring need to survive for the day, and there’s no such thing as spontaneity anymore. Unless, of course, your lab experiment starts to crash and burn (sometimes literally) in the middle of a lesson and you need to find a way to salvage some sort of learning from it. Or a student comes into your classroom crying and you have to put on your therapist hat while teaching the appendicular skeletal system at the same time. Or you are unprepared because you failed to realize that your child has outgrown the happy potato stage and now requires shoes, snacks, and water when you leave the house and so you scrounge a half-empty water bottle from the floor of your car, pray that it’s clean, and let your child toddle around the playground barefoot. Or you find yourself with a poo-splosion on the lactation office changing table and all the nurses are walking by looking at you skeptically and your diaper bag is in the car 5 minutes away because “he already pooped today” but it might as well be on the moon and you have to wipe your child off with paper towels and stuff him into a newborn diaper even though he’s 8 months old. All of these are definitely hypothetical situations.
  8. You learn to multitask…or perish. I think most of the women I know are wired to run a dozen mental browser tabs at once anyway, and this is a super useful skill for teaching and parenting. In the classroom, you need to keep an eye on at least 75% of the children in your keeping. As a parent, you learn to do many household tasks one-handed or you learn to babywear and do many household tasks with a squirming infant on your chest or back. I’ve actually been trying to give Fire Monkey more undivided attention, with the tradeoff that sometimes he has to entertain himself while I do chores or take a shower. Fortunately, Mommy’s little introvert seems to have been born with this essential skill, for which I am *profoundly* grateful.
  9. You become immune to being needed. That’s not entirely true. Nothing can quite prepare you for the utter dependence of a newborn. But hearing your name called 34 times before the tardy bell rings might thicken your hide against the incessant toddler cries of, “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy!” At least that’s what I’m hoping. I had a colleague who forbade her students from asking her any questions in the first five minutes of class while she was taking attendance and getting the day started. Unfortunately, I don’t suppose this will work on my child.
  10. You learn to look for and celebrate tiny victories. Not every student aces every test. (Shocker.) Not every student always turns in their homework. (Outrage! Scandal!) Not every student remembers their notebook every day. (O rly?!) Districts and departments can trumpet all they want about high expectations, but if you’re looking for perfection in the classroom, you’re in for a large helping of disappointment. All you can do is heap praise and encouragement when Billy passes a quiz for the first time or makes it a whole week without a tardy or brings in a pack of pencils to share. During the first year of parenthood, the weeks and months are fast but the days are long. So you get really excited when he holds his head up, or rolls over, or uses sign language, or says Mama, or *halleluuuuuujah* falls asleep on his own for the first time.
  11. You always get tomorrow. Children are always way more forgiving/forgetful than I expect, and it’s kind of a shame that adults seem to lose this mentality. I’ve lost my cool a few times in the classroom, and done, said, written, or drawn embarrassing things way more than a few times. (YOU try drawing mitosis that doesn’t look like a butt, OK?!) I don’t gloss over it and I apologize when necessary, and my students are always remarkably quick to move on. I’m sure part of that might be because they don’t really care that much, but I find it reassuring. Babies are even more merciful…whatever they were crying about is forgotten as soon as they can snuggle into your arms, even if it’s the next morning. (I would never have survived sleep training if this were not true.)
  12. You love this little monster more than you ever thought possible. Call it maternal instinct or Stockholm syndrome, you can’t help it. Every teacher I know entered education because they cared about students. They call their students their kids even when they’re acting like buttholes, and they make loads of sacrifices to help as many students as possible knowing that they can’t reach them all. When you become a mom, you change a ton of dirty diapers and do a lot of laundry and lose an ungodly and probably unhealthy amount of sleep and spend a lot of time feeding and caring for a rather ungrateful human being. And you do it because evolution programmed you to but also because that baby smell and those baby giggles are so damn addictive. (Oh wait, that’s evolution again.) As a teacher and a parent, you do what you do because you care so damn much. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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