My mother grew up in a small town in Minnesota. When she graduated from high school she made a decision to become a teacher. She was a shy young woman and she once told me that she wanted to become a teacher because of the teachers in her life who made her feel smart and confident in their classrooms. She wanted to be that person for her students.
After college she stepped out of her comfort zone and moved to Denver, Colorado to teach in an urban school. Her classroom in Denver was diverse, economically challenged, and in need of someone who made them feel smart and confident. The young woman from small town Minnesota bought her kids books with her own money, she would buy some of them shoes when they needed them, and she would buy them meals when their lunch accounts ran out. She stepped out of her comfort zone and changed the lives of the kids in her classroom. My mom eventually left the classroom to raise me and my brother, but she always identified as a teacher.
My wife grew up in small town Iowa. When she graduated from high school she didn’t plan on being a teacher, but her incredible talent as a musician and her respect for the teachers in her life led her to get a degree in education. My wife has spent her entire career teaching music in an urban school district. She buys her students music books, supplies them with instruments, and will often drive kids home at night after rehearsals because no one is able to pick them up. She has done all of this while being an amazing mother.
When my son was born, I was a high school band director and I was at school each day before 7 a.m. and spent many evenings and weekends at school for rehearsals, meetings, and concerts. There is no doubt that she was the parent who bore the brunt of the parenting responsibilities, while also being an outstanding teacher for hundreds of kids for whom making music was the best part of their day.
Her job is hard; parenting is hard. I know for a fact that teaching music in a district where she is responsible for the band program in 10 schools is overwhelming, yet she goes to work each day to bring out the best in kids who need her. For most of the last 20 years of my career I was the high school band director in a suburban school district. The nature of my position afforded me the opportunity to receive quite a bit of recognition. I was a high-profile teacher who had no shortage of people who would kindly pat me on the back for my work. The nature of my wife’s work is that she doesn’t get a lot of recognition. She teaches in her many schools in hallways and lunch rooms. She doesn’t get to display her work in front of large crowds in auditoriums or stadiums. She teaches 5th graders how to put down the right fingers on a clarinet so that they can play a tune their parents will recognize when they go home at night. She makes kids feel special when they learn new songs out of their lesson book, and she sets them up for opportunities to play in beautiful auditoriums and in big stadiums. Through all of this she also raised a young man who wants to teach, just like his mom. There has never been any doubt that my wife is the superior teacher in our family.
The history of great teachers is filled with mothers who have dedicated their lives to education. I am surrounded on a daily basis by colleagues who are amazing role models for the students in their classrooms and their own children. For young girls like my own mother, teachers are some of the most powerful role models they will ever encounter. I work on a team with five amazing women who are some of the greatest mothers I have ever known. Each of them have advanced degrees and have dedicated their lives to public education, while also being incredible mothers. I have always found the children of teachers to be a special type of young person; I am sure in no small part because they have watched their moms balance the rigor of being teachers with running a family.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms who teach. My mother, my wife, and my colleagues are exceptional and our schools are filled with women who are equally exceptional; there are so many of them that we may take them for granted. My life has been changed by great moms who are great teachers and I bet yours has too.