A brief survival guide for teachers with small children

Jamie Thom has five golden rules for the often impossible-seeming task of thriving as both a teacher and a parent of young children

Jamie Thom

A survival guide for teachers with small children

“Sir, you are looking a bit rough!”

A quick glance in the mirror at break confirmed my worst fears: this delightful 14-year-old’s fashion feedback was true. I was bleary eyed, my hair was even more out of control than usual and my shirt looked like it had been ironed by a squirrel.

To be fair to myself, my three-year-old toddler and five-month-old baby had clearly agreed an “our parents shall not sleep tonight” pact the previous evening.

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In despair, I turned to social media that evening. I confessed my utter inability to be a functioning adult, let alone teacher, and sought guidance on how to make teaching with small children work. The advice came flooding in…

1. Be strategic

"Plan ahead" seems to be a mantra that works for teachers with young children. The more organised we are in all aspects of our life, the easier the demands become. Applying the long lens to our work in school, by planning ahead, identifying the days and weeks that will be more demanding, will help make us feel calmer and more in control.

2. Reuse

Now is not the time in our careers for creating endless resources and wildly exciting collaborative activities for every lesson. Instead, it is about keeping everything simple, minimalistic and clear. That includes reusing what is hopefully a pedagogical goldmine from the more earnest and energetic stage of our careers. It might even be the time to ditch those delightful PowerPoint presentations… 


3. Collaborate

There is the practical collaboration we should make the most of: sharing ideas, sharing lessons, sharing coping strategies with colleagues about that devilish class who send your sleep-deprived mind into overdrive.

There is also emotional collaboration: there will be other teachers who are finding life as relentlessly demanding with young children as you do. I felt so much better after my social media confession. It is hard enough being a parent, and adding in the emotionally taxing nature of teaching can make it even more challenging. A cup of tea and a good gripe is sometimes what we need more than anything else.

4. Tackle perfectionism

There has been a nagging voice on my shoulder recently that claims I am not the teacher I used to be (or indeed the parent, husband or friend). It is easy to give in to these persuasive whispers, but they are merely a reflection of that tendency towards perfectionism that we teachers are so familiar with. It is an impossible juggling act with young children, one that we will never "win" with. Sometimes the fact that our children are fully dressed and smiling, and that our day in school has passed without any major disasters, is more than enough.

5. Gratitude

There are so many joys to be found in both parenting and teaching. Giving ourselves some space, every day, to pause and recognise those joys and positives that have occurred alongside the 100-mile-an-hour day, gives us the fuel to keep going (that includes having a suitably ironed shirt). Combining teaching and parenting is hard work – but I’m not sure there are any other two things that are as noble or rewarding.

Jamie Thom is a teacher of English and an author, based in Scotland. He hosts the podcast The Well Teacher and tweets @teachgratitude1

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