I have two of the most rewarding, although often exhausting, jobs in the world. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between the hours of 8 and 4, you can find me teaching college students how to write -- a challenging task, but one I love nonetheless. All other hours of the day and night, I am mother to two fiery redheads (ages 4 and 2), a job that is equally trying and gratifying.
I knew from a young age (think kindergarten or possibly before) that I wanted to be BOTH a mother and a teacher, and I'm happy that I've fulfilled both of those dreams. What I didn't know until recently was how much one area of my life would inform and shape the other. This might be surprising to some, as there is about a 15-year age gap between my students and my children. Don't worry; it surprised me, too. But the longer I teach and mother, the more I see the two intertwining.
Now, the millennials often get a bad rap. As a millennial myself (that's right -- I'm going to embrace the title, especially if makes me appear younger) in my eighth year of teaching, I must admit that some of the criticism is warranted. I must also say, though, that the millennials are absolutely getting some things right. Observing both their successes and shortcomings has colored my parenting style. Here are some of the lessons my millennials have taught me in the classroom about raising children outside the classroom:
Provide access to technology, but limit use: The current generation is AMAZING with technology. They can do and understand things that I will never be able to wrap my mind around, just like my grandpa doesn't understand how to retrieve the voicemail on his cell phone. I have no doubt that my students' grasp of technology will be a benefit to them and the community for years to come. There is a small caveat, though: they don't know how to disconnect. Ever. I teach 50-minute classes, and most of them check their phones at least once in that short time span. It is for these reasons that I provide my children with technological devices (learning-centered, of course), but I limit their use, and I NEVER let them fall asleep to a screen. Research has documented the harmful effects that dependence on/addiction to technology and social media can have. In addition to wanting to spare my children that, I also want them to be able to engage in dialogues and conversations with real people without the aid of a screen.
No whining: I can and will put up with a lot of things, both as a parent and a teacher, but whining is my absolute biggest pet peeve. Sometimes I like to refer to the time we're living in as an "Era of Entitlement," because I see students and other young adults who feel the world owes them something for merely existing or showing up. When they're told that there will be work involved, they whine. Just no. Not in my classroom; not in my home. You get out of the class, your life, and the world what you put in. If you want outstanding results, then you will need to dedicate yourself to achieving those results.
Take advantage of opportunities, but reserve some time to recharge: Millennials are definitely trying to get the most out of the college experience. They're joining fraternities/sororities, applying for internships and externships, playing collegiate and recreational sports, and involving themselves in community service. I know because I'm writing recommendation letters every other week. And I'm happy to do it. I think it's wonderful that they're dedicated to having a rich university experience. But colleges are suffering from an "empty bed epidemic" at least partly due to students taking on too many commitments, academic and otherwise. Students aren't allowing themselves any downtime. These observations have found their way into my parenting style by way of how many activities I sign my children up for. I've seen parents push their kids to achieve perfection in a sport or play an instrument at the preschool age. That's not for me. My son, who is almost 5, has played one season of T-ball and one season of flag football. My daughter, who will soon turn 3, hasn't been enrolled in anything other than weekly storytime at the public library. Additionally, I believe in early bedtimes and napping (for their health and my sanity).
Learning can be fun: Professors often complain that students are apathetic and uninterested in the material, and I've experienced my fair share of that, too. I have a class this semester, though, that proves millennials can engage in critical thought and serious discussions and actually enjoy it. In this class, we talk about the gender roles as they are portrayed in American pop culture. Since we get to discuss mediums they enjoy -- TV shows (for example, gender roles in The Big Bang Theory), literature, music, etc. -- and topics they see as relevant and affecting their lives, they apply themselves more willingly. It's been a fantastic class so far. I see this approach playing out in my parenting style, too. I want learning and fun to go hand in hand. For instance, when I taught my children how to spell their names, we didn't just do rote memorization. Instead, I made up songs for each child's name -- my son's song is to the tune of the old Mickey Mouse Club song, and my daughter's song is sung to Frere Jacques. They both love their name songs and learned how to spell their names at an early age.
It is somewhat unnerving being in a profession that allows you to see glimpses of what your future will hold, but that is exactly how I view teaching. I'm sure as my children grow older, I will be able to draw even more parallels between the classroom and the home front. And I'm perfectly fine with that. Because when it comes to both teaching and parenting, it's all trial and error, so I'll take any instruction I can get.