2018-12-01 / Family Matters

Dual Roles

Being teacher and parent to my children
David Rockower

Middle school was a rough time for me. I remember my fiery independence driving me away from my family. At the same time, I felt guilty about the separation, and part of me longed for the comfort of home. When I was 14, I “ran away” and stayed with a friend a couple miles away. After the first night, I used a pay phone to call home and let my parents know I was OK. They told me how much my little sister missed me and how she kept asking where I’d gone. The fiery independence that had carried me away melted, and I returned home that evening.

Now my own children are middle schoolers, and though neither has taken off, I know they are seeking a buffer zone. At home, this is not so difficult, but at school it’s another story.

See, not only am I Dad, I am also their English teacher. Nathan and Maddie attend Delta Middle school, where I teach mixed-grade-level classes. Though there is another English teacher, my kids usually end up in one of my classes each semester. When they were in fifth and sixth grades, they thought this was cool: “Yay! I get to hang out with Dad during the school day.” Now, Maddie is in seventh grade, and Nathan is in eighth. She’s still OK with it, only maybe slightly less exuberant. Nathan, on the other hand, is doing some serious eye-rolling.

School-Maddie is not much different than home-Maddie; she’s laid-back and comfortable, so school is just another place where Dad exists. Occasionally, I’ll ask if I can share a story about something that happened at home, or a poem I’ve written about her. Lucky for me, she is usually agreeable. Though she can be quiet in class, she is beginning to share more and hide less. I think other teachers are seeing this change in her as well, so it may be more about her maturity process than having Dad as a teacher. Either way, I’m thankful to be able to witness the transformation first-hand.

Nathan “does” school. He goes because he has to and longs for the breaks, when he can be with friends and play outside. The work gets done, though it’s not uncommon for him to ask the question every English teacher dreads: “How long does this essay have to be?” He sits in the back of the room and rarely participates. Once, when someone said, “Nathan, your dad just called on you,” another student said, “Wait, he’s your dad?”

As I write this, I realize I am describing my school-self at 14. I was apathetic, and I can’t fault Nathan for feeling the same way. Despite his lack of interest in what I’m teaching, he continues to take my classes. He’s mentioned that although he’s more comfortable in classes with Dad, it feels “weird” when he has to give presentations. When I prodded him for more information, he found it difficult to expound: “It’s just weird.”

There are times when we enter the building wearing our frustrations from home: Maddie, frazzled because of a late wake-up and no time for breakfast, Nathan annoyed by Maddie’s smelly slime in the car, me already tired from refereeing in-transit bickering. I take a deep breath before entering my classroom, knowing that despite the drama I carry in from home, I need to smile for my students. All teachers need to do this, but I have two faces in the crowd who may still be mad at me for refusing to stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to school.

I’m not complaining; I love having them at my school, in my classes.

Middle school is a time of pulling away, while simultaneously needing tremendous love and support from a community of parents, teachers and friends. In two years, my babies will both be in high school, and school-Dad will be a thing of the past. Every day, I’m thankful that I get to be in the same building with them, knowing what frustrations and joys they bring from home. While I understand Maddie’s frustration and Nathan’s worries, I’m reminded that every child comes to school with a story attached to their morning. I keep this in mind throughout the day, and I’m hopeful that it makes me a more empathetic teacher.

I sometimes wonder how they’ll look back on their time spent in my classroom. Will they remember my teaching? How I affected their reading and writing lives? Or, will they only see it as more time spent with Dad? Either way, I see it as a win for me. •SCM

With a sports-obsessed 14-year-old son, a spirited 12-year-old daughter and a goldendoodle who looks like a muppet, teacher David Rockower has a lot to write about.

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