Q: I’m an elementary school teacher with a 6-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. I have a long commute that doesn’t work well with my life. I started looking for a position closer to home, and lo and behold, my neighborhood school was looking. I’ve always had reservations about working at the school my kids attend, but I applied, thinking I could always say no if they offered me the job. Well, they’ve extended an offer, and I’m leaning toward taking it. Before I do, though, I want to know whether there’s anything I can do to make this easier for me and my kids. Any advice? Also, feel free to let me know if you think this is a terrible idea.
A: First, congratulations on the job offer! I can see why it’s tempting to accept it, and I don’t think it’s a horrible idea. That said, there is a downside, and I do think you should put safeguards in place. You want to set yourself (and your kids) up for success. Here are some steps I’d take, and several variables I’d consider:
- Establish clear boundaries at the start of the year. Do you want your kids’ teachers to approach you as if you were any other parent? In other words, do you want them to call or email you at the end of the day if they need to communicate with you? Or are you OK if they catch you in the hallway?
- Check in with your kids before the first day of work and ask them if they have any questions or concerns. Talk to them about scenarios in advance. At 6, for example, your son might want to crawl into your lap whenever he sees you. That might be OK in the cafeteria, but less OK if his teachers are trying to get him to line up. Your 11-year-old daughter, on the other hand, might be concerned that you’ll invade her space and embarrass her. Ask her what you can do to make it more comfortable for her. Recognize that both your son’s and your daughter’s needs will change over time.
- If you have a two-parent home, make sure the school communicates with both of you. Teachers might grab you on the go, then check that item off their to-do list. Let them know if you want them to share the same information with your partner.
- Your kids’ teachers might feel pressure to share a cute anecdote every time they see you. Stories can be fun, but let teachers know you don’t expect them. Get to know them as colleagues, too. Acknowledge the obvious fact that you work together, and assure them that when it comes to your kids, you want them to be straight with you. If your child struggles in some way, you don’t want awkwardness to get in the way of problem-solving.
- Remind teachers that if something is none of your business (for instance, private information about another student), they shouldn’t share it with you. Explain that it puts you in an uncomfortable position.
- Accept that if you’re looking for a peer group, the other parents at your kids’ school probably won’t fill that need. There’s a built-in boundary because of your role, so maintain ties to friends from other areas of your life. Consider, too, how you’ll feel about seeing your students and their parents at the supermarket or post office. They might ask you questions about their child at inopportune times. That said, many people consider this a plus. In some small towns, this is simply how it is for all teachers.
- Speaking of parents, be clear that you can’t engage in gossip about your colleagues because that would strain your work relationships. Point out that you can’t address their complaints anyway.
- Are you a classroom teacher or a specialist who would see your kids all the time? You’re going to see your kids much more if you’re a reading specialist, librarian, or PE teacher than if you’re a third-grade teacher. Would this affect your decision?
- Don’t talk negatively about teachers in front of your children. Let your kids form their own opinions. You don’t want your biases to affect their willingness to learn or bond with them.
- Whether you’re at a child’s birthday party or another kid-centered event, be clear that you have your “parent hat” on. Issue the occasional reminder as needed. The other parents may instinctively defer to you when, for example, they need to herd kids for cake. It’s natural for them to think, “Oh, that’s Ms. Smith — she’s their teacher, so they’ll listen to her.”
There are pros and cons to every job. Whatever you decide, I wish you luck!
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