What is it like to teach your own kids.

Admittedly, my teenagers were horrified when they realized we were moving to a school so small that it would mean that there was no choice other than for me being their HS Biology and their IB Biology teacher.  We immediately made a pact to never discuss personal matters at school, keeping ‘work/school’ and our personal life separate.  Also, I agreed to never pester them about our class homework at home.

Seeing as we do not carry the same last name, we further decided to see how long we could go without the other students discovering our relationship.  Student orientation involved veteran students showing the new students around the school and introducing them to the teachers.  My teenagers accompanied their high school buddies and dutifully shook my hand upon being introduced to “Dr. Markham, our biology teacher”.  “Nice to meet you,” my son cheekily added.  Clearly at this point no one suspected a thing.

My son (center) with his CanSat team in Norway.  It was fascinating to watch him work under pressure during this competition.

We began classes together and everything was going smoothly for about two weeks.  However, one day in class we were working through some IB practice problems together and my son calls out, “Hey Mom, I’m stuck on this one part”.  SILENCE.  All the students look at me and then at my son.  Finally one comments, “Do you realize you just called her Mom?”  A huge grin crosses my son’s face and he acknowledges, “Well, that’s because she is my mom”.  All jaws in the classroom drop open at least 5 cm.  Additional stunned silence. “She is your Mom?” This piece of information was completely incredulous.  They look at me for verification and I nod.  “Dude, you shook her hand in front of me.”  The entire class erupts in laughter. 

My daughter with some classmates during an "Edible Molecule Lab"

With my son it was downhill from there.  He only calls me “Mom” at school now and frequently violates our code of not discussing personal matters at school, “Mom, did you put money on my card?” or “Mom, I need my bike fixed, did you call the bike guy yet?”  My daughter, on the other hand, maintains the professional relationship at school, even calling me “Dr. Markham” in class. Every now and then their sibling relationship can be disruptive as far as bickering over how to do a specific task or as elated cheering in being able to be partners, knowing they will “nail” it together because they completely understand each other and how to work best as a team.    Both of them, however, overall preserve the student/teacher relationship as far as our daily interactions are concerned.

My 6th grader in the lab.

A major difference exists between my youngest son and my teenagers.  I began teaching him this year as a 6th grader.  It’s really difficult for him to step into that “professional” relationship at school.  For example, one time he was working in a pair on a presentation.  I called his group to put forward their argument and he immediately responded, “Mom, why us?”  I’m thinking “Seriously?”  Despite my continuous discussions on this topic, he struggled all year with putting on his “student hat” when he was in my classroom as a pupil. 

The most unexpected result our relationship, especially with regard to the teenagers, is the fact that my children’s’ peers would text or message them asking, “Can you get your Mom to postpone the test?”  or my own children would come to me and request, “Is there anyway we can get this assignment postponed?” and my response would be, “Well, if you can contact every student in the class and get their approval”  Of course, given our small class size and the convenience of instant messaging, this was always successful.

The greatest aspect of having my own children in the classroom is seeing them as a student and experiencing how their mind works in an academic setting.  What a gift that has been.  In past years, with my older kids, when I went to parent/teacher conferences and listened to the teacher’s perspective on our children I remember feeling envious of the teacher for seeing our kids in an educational light.  Now, I’ve had that chance with our youngest three children and it’s been wonderful.  To see them pondering over problems, designing experiments, questioning the world about them, puzzling over lab challenges and tackling ethical issues in science, has given me an entirely different perspective on who they are.  It has given me a greater appreciation of the uniqueness of their minds.  Their strengths and talents, especially as they might manifest themselves as future college students or employees, are more apparent. Truly, it has been a wonderful journey.  I will forever treasure these three years we’ve had together in the classroom.

My teenagers graduate this coming Saturday.  I sure will miss them in the classroom!