Mrs Burrell by Ty Burrell

21st February 2014 at 00:00
The star of Modern Family and new animated film Mr Peabody amp; Sherman found that being taught by his mother didn't mean he got off lightly at school

I wasn't a great student when my mom, Sheri Burrell, taught me at the age of about 10. And I wasn't a great student after I left her class either. But the one year of my education when I got the most out of myself was the year my mom was my teacher. It was fifth grade.

It was a really important time for me because we had just left a small town of about 20,000 people called Ashland in Oregon and moved to an even smaller town of just 200 called Applegate. Applegate was essentially an outpost in the logging territory of Oregon, very remote. My mom taught me in a one-room schoolhouse that used partitions to separate the grades. Each grade had 10 to 12 kids.

It was an odd transition; we were all fish out of water. We'd bought a small country store, which was the only source of food and petrol. It was actually the library and fire station, too, and it was only as big as a small house. So we were trying to adjust and my mom, instead of coddling me, pushed me educationally. She pushed me hard, man. In retrospect, it was a situation where she could have let me off the hook, because I was maybe a little vulnerable. But she wouldn't allow me to slack off. Not a bit of it. And it wasn't just me. By the time I was older it had become a regular story with student after student from Applegate Elementary - she would never let them get away with not giving their best.

These were kids who would take advantage if the opportunity ever arose, but my mom wouldn't let it. There was a level of discipline to her teaching but it certainly wasn't stern. I'd say her methods were just steady and relentless. She was of the "we're not done, so we'll just stay here until we're done" school of thought. She was methodical. When you got it right, you got it right. But if you didn't get it right, you just needed more time.

As a parent, I now understand how much effort that requires. If you feel the need to let up, as a father or mother, that's not because your child can't get it, it's because you're running out of gas. And she wouldn't run out of gas. Not on me and not on any of the kids she taught.

It was weird in the early days, having my mom as my teacher, but she commanded so much respect that it pretty quickly became a source of pride. I was nervous at first, but everyone else was so positive about her - the kids and the community - that I began to see her in a new light. That's not to say that everything was perfect. I'm sure I look back with rose-tinted spectacles. But certainly the sum total of being taught by my mom was overwhelmingly positive.

One of the many things she taught me as my mother, which I also saw in her teaching, was the establishment of compassionate boundaries. I do this as a parent and she taught me that boundaries are a form of love. A child needs to know that you care enough to establish a boundary and I've really grown to believe that. Setting basic guidelines is a tacit way of saying that we care.

Ty Burrell was speaking to Tom Cullen

Modern Family man

Ty Burrell

Born: 22 August 1967, Oregon, US

Education: Applegate Elementary School; Hidden Valley High School, Grants Pass; Southern Oregon University; Pennsylvania State University

Career: A film, television and stage actor, Burrell is best known for playing Phil Dunphy in the sitcom Modern Family.

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