Why Moms Make Awesome Teachers

I was at a school district meeting tonight, surrounded by mostly women, many of them my age, give or take a few years. In response to a request to ‘list five aspects of our identity we would like to share with the group’, it took me less than a second to reply. “Mother”, “woman”, “writer and teacher” quickly topped my list, and I discovered that for most of the women I talked to, ‘mother’ was easily the most common descriptor. I honestly didn’t think much about it. I’m mamawolfe, mom to two, teacher to thousands, writer of stories about life in and out of the classroom.

moms make awesome teachers

It hit me first after talking to the teacher-mom of a kindergartener who identified herself as a ‘friend’ first – and after talking to me, she wanted to change her mind.

And then another woman spoke up, surprise and a bit of concern in her voice. I recognized her as a middle school teacher, and I was startled by her surprise at the numbers of self-identified mothers. She appeared stymied by the idea that we educators would not only be shouldering the responsibilities of mothering our own children but of our students as well. The overwhelm in her voice and the shake of her head struck me.

Isn’t that what mothers do best? Isn’t that why moms make awesome teachers?

Being a mother is my top priority, my deal-breaker. It’s nothing to hide behind or even consider some part of myself that would tie for first place in my identity line-up. It’s not that I always imagined myself as a mom or a teacher for that matter; I never really imagined myself as much of anything when I was younger. But after spending the last 27 years with other people’s children – then going home to my own – I slowly discovered that being a mother has not only brought out the best parts of me, it’s brought those best parts to my classroom, too.

I was a teacher long before I was a mom. I remember barely being ten years older than my students, mystified when their parents would ask me for advice about how to manage their teenage children.

Honestly, I had no idea. I remember thinking, Aren’t parents just supposed to know that stuff? Ha! Little did I know…

By the time I became a mom I was six years into teaching but kept on going. I remember 9/11 and wondering what would happen if I was off to work and never came home again. I thought often about how hard I worked to teach other peoples’ children and wondered if I  put as much energy into my own.

I struggled with the teacher-mom balance for years – until I embraced it. I am a mom first, then a teacher.

A first-year teacher recently asked me for advice on managing life and teaching, and the first word I thought of was BOUNDARIES. To be a successful working mom, to not feel as if I’m successful in the workplace without sacrificing my kids, I realized I needed strong boundaries – barbed wire type boundaries, with “NO TRESPASSING” signs dotting every five feet or so. Teaching children, serving families, is all-consuming for me. Keeping clear that my own kids come first, then my school kids has eased my guilt about not being able to always be everything for my students. But over the years, I’ve discovered that the lessons I’ve learned from being a mom have shaped who I am as an educator – and I’ve realized precisely why moms make awesome teachers.

Why Moms Make Awesome Teachers

Moms make awesome teachers because that they live the most important part of the job: moms know what it means to put kids first. Moms know how to wrap their arms around their child and make them feel safe. Moms know that nothing good happens when kids are tired or hungry or feeling sick. Awesome teachers know when kids feel loved, they do better at home and in school.

moms make awesome teachers

Moms know that being first isn’t always best and that sometimes we all need to take a breath and try again. Moms know that sometimes life gets in the way, that the dishwasher doesn’t always get unloaded and the printer runs out of ink right around bedtime the night before an essay is due.  Flexibility is a huge part of life; awesome teachers look at the big picture, not the setbacks.

Moms make awesome teachers because we know that kids come first, always, that all kids are still learning, and there are lots of ways to tie shoelaces and they all keep shoes on feet. Awesome teachers know there is not only one “right” way to do things, and individuality keeps us thinking.

Moms know that kids can be raised in the same house by the same parent with the same rules and come out to be entirely different humans and that oftentimes gender has very little to do with identity. Awesome teachers love their students unconditionally and teach them where they are.

Moms make awesome teachers because we know that sometimes the best thing to do is close the textbook and get a good night’s sleep. Awesome teachers know when to push and when to look in students’ eyes and tell them it’s OK, let me help you.

Thank you to all the awesome moms, amazing teachers and brave students out there – you make a difference in my life every single day.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Turning 50: My Transformation Into Wholeness

Two little girls nestled into their father in the pew in front of me, catching my eye as they jostled for position. The littlest one, no more than two years old, bounced on her daddy’s sturdy leg while her older sister, closer to five, curled her chubby fingers around his arm. The littlest one, blonde, wearing leggings and a pullover top, looked like she insisted she dress herself. Her undone back button and slightly mismatched outfit screamed, “I can do it myself”. Her sister’s sundress was a bit more pulled together, her honey-colored hair was gently braided to the side, and I watched as she fiddled with her headband during the sermon.

I wondered how long they would last, while at the same time, smiled silently in solidarity with a dad who could get two wiggly little girls not only to come to church but to sit quietly.

They honestly didn’t make a peep.

Within a few minutes of their arrival, the eldest removed her purple hairband and began running her fingers through her mid-length hair. Fascinated, I watched as she attempted to re-braid, then twist and contort her tresses into one up-sweep after another. When she tired, or when her hairband gave out, she would so tenderly stroke her sibling’s head as she laid on her father’s lap. I found myself wanting to reach out and braid their hair myself, to recall the memories of running my own fingers through my baby girl’s hair as she wiggled and struggled to get free.

Instead, I sat quietly and watched. I wondered what their story was. Where was their mother? Who helped them get where they were? How was their father, sitting so calmly, going to handle their squirminess when it got physical, as most siblings do?

It was their tenderness with each other that stunned me, really. As we sat, part of a bigger collective of people, I closed my eyes and listened; I thought about all that we humans do to each other when we get ‘tired’ of the way we are, or the way we look, or how our neighbor is acting. I thought about the lack of tenderness in our society and the blatant disregard many people have to simply stop, pause, look, and listen to others.

I thought about the common goals we all have, and how I see them in my middle school classroom every day.

The search for wholeness. For identity. For belonging. For authenticity.

When my kids were little, I remember often wondering what would be the measure of a successful day; sometimes, the simplest acts of survival were filled with such satisfaction. Getting up, getting dressed and figuring out how to balance mothering and teaching and marriage were my survival tasks. And on the days when it was good, I tried to set an intention to enjoy it.

And on the days when it wasn’t, I felt alone. I felt as if I must be missing something – that here I was, this educated, white woman living in a safe home in a peaceful state with two healthy babies, a job, and enough money to buy the food we needed, and yet still, my story wasn’t complete. I was now turning 50; this transformation into motherhood, I felt, should have been simpler.

Some people told me I was thinking too hard.

Some told me to relax, not to worry.

But I kept telling myself that someday, I would get there. That all I had was all I needed. That this transformation to the next chapter in my story would take time.

I was impatient. Like the five-year-old in front of me, I twisted and twirled and wrapped myself into all sorts of shapes, hoping that with any luck I’d find the one that stuck. I didn’t realize that what I was right in the middle of was what I needed. I was in the process of shaping wholeness; I just wasn’t seeing it.

Salt Lake City hike, half-way up.
Salt Lake City hike, half-way up.

Turning 50 has felt like a tipping point this year; mid-life, I can see the horizon in front of me with such an acute clarity. I feel firmly planted in my life. I’m learning to pay attention, to not only listen to my story but to share it, to pay it forward.

Maybe that’s why I reached out to help the little girl in front of me, clumsily attempting to part her hair and twirl it into a messy bun. My whispered offer of assistance denied, I sat back and breathed in. The hidden wholeness I wouldn’t have seen, couldn’t have seen, when my baby was five years old settled around me like a warm shawl. I felt it as the memories radiated through my being, resting so comfortably, so comfortingly, around my heart.

A daily reminder to be a possibilitarian.
A daily reminder to be a possibilitarian.

And in that moment, I set an intention to look for signs of transformation around me, to twist myself outside of my comfort zone, to make myself acknowledge the wholeness that I’ve been searching for, and that is right here in this ordinary day.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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The Transfer of Mothering

There’s no denying it’s been a tough winter. Since December we’ve been battling injuries, experiencing traumatic loss, and watching people we care about learn how to live with a new normal.

It’s been five months of deep, belly-filling breaths, long moments of silence and staring into the horizon, and valiant attempts to trust the journey we are on.

And it’s been a month since I found myself waking up on the floor of a restaurant, not quite sure how I got there; a month since the transfer of mothering took place, right before my eyes.

I remember seeing my daughter’s face as I came to; next to her, closest to my head, was her boyfriend, calling my name and asking me if I knew where I was and what was the name of the president. The looks on their faces signaled that something had gone wrong. All I could think about was my daughter, watching me lying there on the floor, and I was helpless to sit up and hold her, to reassure her that mommy was OK, even though I wasn’t quite sure that I was.

In fact, I wasn’t. But I am, now.

About five minutes before I hit the floor
About five minutes before I hit the floor

I’d never been on a gurney, never ridden in an ambulance, never been a patient in an ER. Sure, I’ve brought my son to ERs all over northern and central America (true statement), but I was always the mom on the side, asking the questions, making the decisions.

This time, it was up to Lily.

She was the one listening to the directions and handing over the insurance card. She, with her quiet control, was reminding me that it was all OK, that I would be fine, and not to worry. That things would all work out.

Her voice echoed mine, the words I’ve whispered to my children in times of crisis, in moments when fear tried to pull the strings.

Turns out, she was right.

This transfer of mothering was nothing short of magical.

I watched my daughter as she will be as a mother. I saw her ability to think on her feet, to quietly comfort, to do the right thing at the right time, even if she wasn’t quite sure.

Even if she didn’t have a handbook to tell her what to do next.

As I lay there in the ER, IV pumping fluids through me, I felt comforted knowing she was sitting beside me. I’ve always known this would happen someday – I just expected that it would be when my hair was a bit grayer, my steps a little shakier, and when my hands would look less like hers and more like my mother’s.

I found myself having to relax into the moment. I needed to be brave, to surrender my fear, loosen my grip on her and trust that all would be well.

And it was.

A snap of April's calendar by Kelly Rae Roberts, reminding me to embrace the change.
A snap of April’s calendar by Kelly Rae Roberts, reminding me to embrace the change and hold on to what matters.Kinda perfect, isn’t it?

On this Mother’s Day, I’ll spend the day like most other Sundays; I’ll walk my dog through the arboretum, breathing in the cool morning air. I’ll listen for the egrets flapping their expansive wings as they relinquish their perch, startled by my presence. I’ll write in my journal, and maybe go outside and feel the warm spring dirt crumble through my fingers as I scatter morning glory seeds along the back fence. This Mother’s Day, like every day, I’ll write words of gratitude for the life I have, for the children that bless me with such joy. I’ll try to smile with thankfulness that my baby girl is testing her endurance nearly four thousand miles away along La Peregrinación del Camino de Santiago de Compostela’.

This Mother’s Day, like every day, I’ll write words of gratitude for the life I have, for the children that bless me with such joy. I’ll try to smile with thankfulness that my baby girl is testing her endurance nearly four thousand miles away along La Peregrinación del Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I’ll warm with indebtedness for my son’s healing body, for my husband’s steadfast reassurance that we are on this journey together.

And on this Mother’s Day, I’ll set an intention to remember that every day is Mother’s Day, and that things are going to work out.

In fact, they already have.

Mantenerse a salvo, de la niña. Mami te ama.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Deep Gratitude

Lily's graduation

There was deep gratitude in our garden Sunday night. All the people who love her were there to celebrate. Never quite sure who was coming, each time the front door opened, a new face of someone who played an enormous role in one aspect of her life entered into our space of celebration. There were spirits who helped her through her education, her athletics, or just those who helped her grow into a fabulous young woman. The common thread? Smiles. There were smiles everywhere, and with each I felt a shudder of deep gratitude run down my spine. I realized how the creation of a life of meaning takes so many of us, so many spirits contributing to molding, nurturing, and forming the young woman we are celebrating.

cupcakes

There was deep gratitude as I remembered the hours of planning and preparation by my family to celebrate her graduation. The  menu was thought out well in advance, created to please her with all her favorite flavors. The house was cleaned, the decorations purchased, and the garden tidied. The young boys strung twinkle lights, raked leaves, and scrubbed garden chairs. My sister arranged patio furniture and hung hand made balloon masterpieces. My niece and her boyfriend clipped endless snapshots to jute string to decorate a blank wall. Her best friend gracefully decorated vanilla cupcakes with the precision of a trained baker. My mom, in command of it all, moved from garden to kitchen without forgetting the smallest of details.

adventure maps

I was there, too, scanning my memories, fighting back tears of joy and sadness. Maps of important places were juxtaposed amidst adventure quotes to decorate the tables. I thought about all the journeys we’ve taken together since her birth, and the adventures she will have without us. Deep gratitude rose up as her girlfriends asked for Sharpies to calculate the miles that would separate them in college, their scribbles of loyalty became manifestation of the changes soon to come.

friendships

As darkness fell and the kids gathered around the fire pit, there was deep gratitude, again, for friendships. Children I’ve watched for a dozen years are now ready to take their life lessons to task. Friendships of women who have helped me navigate the challenges of motherhood. Families who have enveloped her with love and shown her that it isn’t only blood that ties us together. Friendships of those last to leave, relaxed into their chairs, faces lit by candlelight, and recalling the deep gratitude for girls who survived the crises of adolescence together as we sipped champagne and cherished the last moments, knowing it could be years before we all gather again.

gratitude for Lily

My dear friend Dawn Wink writes of her life’s journey as searching for a ‘rainbow between storms‘, and as I think about my own travels through motherhood, I find solace in her metaphor. Graduation, growing up, and going away to college are the rainbows all parents hope for, but they don’t come without a bit of struggle. But it is the deep, deep gratitude that I feel now more than anything – gratitude for her life, for friends and family, for achievements, and for possibilities yet to come.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Every Day Is Mother’s Day For Me

I don’t need a day to remind me of why I love being a mother. I don’t need a corporate sponsored, scheduled celebration time. I don’t need an arbitrary day of obligation to prove to me you’re glad I birthed you. What I do need is a quiet morning, the wind blowing through the trees outside my window, the chocolate brown sheets pulled softly against my skin, my favorite mug filled with warm French roast, and my mind silent enough to drift back to all the moments that changed my life because of you – the moments that turned me sideways, pitched me forward, and made me realize that being a mother has irrevocably shifted my spirit into another dimension.Mother's Day

From the first moments I felt you wiggle inside me, from your luminous eyes gazing up at me from my chest, from your tiny hands grasping for mine, and your ethereal, miniature body nestled in slumber next to mine, I knew instantly that every day would be Mother’s Day.

In those first few years I learned, in the words of Anne Lamott, “….that children fill the existential hollowness many people feel; that when we have children, we know they will need us, and maybe love us, but we don’t have a clue how hard it is going to be.” I experienced the joy and despair of motherhood as I watched you learn to climb the stairs, ride a bike, rip down a ski hill and fly over a vault. I realized that Mother’s Day was celebrated as much in the moments of ‘no’ as the moments of ‘yes’, and that, as the sage Maya Angelou says, “Please – be their supporters, be their protectors and let them know that. That doesn’t mean that you indulge and condone mismanagement and bad action – but you can say, “I’m on your side. Now, this is not acceptable. And the reason it’s not acceptable is that you might get hurt in the management of the interaction. But I’m on your side – I want you to do well. I love you. That doesn’t mean I indulge you – I have sentimentality and it means I really love you and I want you to live a good life.” Oh, yes, my darlings, I really love you, and every day I am on your side.

And today, as I wait for your teenage bodies to wake, I fantasize about the Mother’s Day moments yet to come; the day I watch you accept your diploma, the day I hear the news you found your first job, the day you shout the words “We’re getting married” or “We’re having a baby” – those are the days I dream of, the days that bring motherhood full circle and explodes my happiness into tiny, glittering shards as you step into  the ecstasy that has become my every day, my Mother’s Day.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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