If I had a dollar for every time a student called me “Mom” by mistake …
It happens quite often, actually, and it usually results in a nervous giggle and a quick change of subject. I find it to be absolutely flattering. At the risk of generalizing what I know to not be true about all mother-child relationships, I like to think that the “mom” label is reserved as an endearing term given to someone who offers guidance, support, constructive criticisms, and care. If my students are mistaking me for someone who fits that description, I’m not going to take that lightly.
This week we launched our final passion project of the year with our very first International Expo. Groups of three or four students have been researching topics of interest to them about a country of their choice and preparing interactive displays to present to parents, staff, and community members for the past nine weeks. Each group took over an entire classroom to bring their country to life. On Tuesday evening we opened our doors to about 150 people who collected a passport and traveled from country to country participating in activities, tasting new foods, and learning about various cultures that exist around the globe. It was a wonderful event.
As the first few guests began to arrive, I walked from room to room alerting students of the oncoming traffic. One student looked right at me and asked with nervousness, “Can you just, like, stay in here to comfort us?” My heart just about melted in my chest right there.
In my previous teaching role, I was the one who gave the grade, who marked up the tests with red pen, and who delivered the hammer at the end of a unit, project, test, etc. Between you and me, that gets old. For them and for me. Over time those generic assessments being assessed by the same person (yeah, me again) in the same way becomes less and less meaningful. I knew by bringing in a live audience for a more authentic assessment and evaluation of their work would up the ante in many ways. I expected it to raise the stakes a bit. I knew it would put a good amount of positive stress and pressure on them and that they would take it more seriously. I was right in my assumptions, but I never thought about how that would impact my role throughout the process.
I’m no longer the one to impress. I’m the one to look to for help and guidance. I offer feedback and suggestions. I talk through complications. I mediate disagreements. I debrief and reflect when it’s all finished. I’m a sounding board for ideas, concerns, and frustrations. Of course I was doing all of these things before, but when you take me out of the assessment equation, I feel like I’m a much bigger part of the solution. I love this role.
I spent the entirety of the International Expo mingling with families and other guests but mostly just running around with my camera snapping photos like any proud mama. I poked my head into each room to check in and smiled with pride as I watched each of them share their new knowledge and skills with group after group of strangers. How many adults can say they would be comfortable speaking to large groups of strangers in this fashion?
I recently read What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith. I would recommend it to any educator interested in why the current traditional model still being used across the majority of the country is outdated along with the possibilities that exist for making education better in today’s world. In his book, Dintersmith has a chapter entitled “Letting Go” in which he recommends a book for all parents called Parenting with Dignity by Mac Bledsoe. I have not read this particular book, but the reference Dintersmith makes to it resonated strongly with me.
Bledsoe argues “that parents need to effect an orderly transfer of decision-making responsibility, from making 100% of your newborn’s decisions to making 0% of your eighteen-year-old’s decisions. Not just unimportant decisions. All decisions. Prepare your child to enter adulthood with the skills, experience, and confidence to make sound decisions.”
This holds true for educators, as well. It takes a village, right? We should be looking for opportunities to gradually release the reins over to them. What are we doing for them that they could be doing for themselves? Should we be looking to step into a different supporting role? Letting go of control is arguably the most difficult shift in mindset to undergo in developing a project-based learning approach in the classroom, but it is also the most necessary.
I don’t have children of my own, but I do have a whole bunch of kids. Kids who impress me, inspire me, and challenge me. Kids for whom I care enormously. Kids who I hope to guide and nurture along their path to adulthood. Kids who I don’t mind calling me “Mom” every once in a while.