In the grad school class I’m currently taking, we read an article about the metaphors applied to teaching as a profession and the harm it does to both teachers and the world of Education as a whole. The primary focus of the article was “teacher as saint” and all of the implications of that, including the idea that teachers do their job out of love and therefore do not need to be monetarily compensated, and that there is no actual expertise required.
However, a slightly less explored topic in the article was the idea of “teacher as mother”. This metaphor follows the same vein as “teacher as saint” due to the cultural expectations of sacrifice in motherhood. It even went so far as to quote Virginia Woolf’s “Killing the Angel in the House” about the societal expectations that place pressures on women to be certain kinds of mothers. In response, a fellow classmate brought up the idea of calling her students her “kids” and whether or not this behavior was a result of the pervasive metaphor.
It has given me some things to think about.
Why do I refer to my students as “my kids”? They are certainly not my children. I did not give birth to them and do not wish at this time in my life to have any children of my own. The closest I get to wanting children is truly enjoying parenting stories, especially those that involve children doing completely asinine things. So why am I claiming 85-some children as my own?
Even my colleagues who have multiple children refer to students as their kids, or as “my Lily” or “our Brianna”. It’s a somewhat strange phenomena if you really think about it. These children have, most of them, parents at home that are loving them. We do not need to claim them. We are not adopting them.
And the only thing I can come up with is that it’s a term that is claiming responsibility and showing affection. By calling them “my kids”, I am committing to them for the year that they are with me, or perhaps longer. I am committing to riding their emotional waves, celebrating their personal triumphs, and doing everything I know how to do to encourage their growth. I am investing in them.
I especially find this true with students who I continue to be invested in after they have left my class. I have several students that continue to stop by my room after school to talk and I will always consider them “my kids”. I still consider myself responsible for them, invested in them, and devoted to helping them navigate their lives.
So, while I don’t agree with the sacrificial and demeaning implications of the metaphors for teaching that are pervasive in our society, the side-effect, I suppose, of referring to students as “my kids” is one I don’t mind at all. I’ll definitely continue using the term, as the commitment to the students is one of the most important aspects of teaching and it’s one passion I refuse to surrender.