Teacher’s pet? Working with other people’s kids vs. your own

Teaching a drama class that includes your own children is rife with rewards and challenges. Photo: Martyn Kyle Teaching a drama class that includes your own children is rife with rewards and challenges. Photo: Martyn Kyle

Patience is a virtue I missed out on. I’m not great with temperance or diligence, either, but patience is in especially short supply. And you know what quality really comes in handy in parenting? Patience. But sadly for you, my child, I have very little patience with you and your “reasons” a.k.a. excuses. You’ll eat this nice dinner I made, you’ll go the heck to sleep, you and your stuff will get to the bus stop on time, and you’ll do it all with minimum backchat. What’s that? Of course you can’t sleep—you’re standing here talking to me! BACK TO BED. You do too like squash! EAT IT.

Where the lack of patience really hangs me up, though, is in teaching my children new skills. Who has the patience to teach an easily distracted and frustrated 5-year-old how to tie her shoes? Well, not me. In fact, my daughter learned to tie her shoes from Caillou’s mom. She sat in front of the DVRed episode where the whiny, inexplicably bald Caillou learns to lace up his sneakers from his treacly, inexplicably saintly mother, and re-played it over and over until she had it figured out. Meanwhile, by the time our second child was ready to learn, I had no more patience with listening to that stupid show, so he wears slip-ons.

I am slightly more patient while teaching things to Other People’s Children. It’s a good thing, too, since I teach a children’s drama class at Live Arts, as well as classes at Four County Players’ summer drama camp, and the occasional substitute drama teacher gig at the Village School. Other people’s children don’t live at my house, and even if they get on my last nerve, class is finite. I can do almost anything for an hour, but parenting is a lifetime appointment.

So clearly adding my children to my drama classes was not a great plan. But it’s one I’ve undertaken multiple times, given the high cost and hassle factor of securing reliable childcare. For me it’s almost always Take Your Kids to Work Day.

Predictably, there was trouble from the start—as in, on the drive over to my first day of teaching for Live Arts. I hadn’t taught in quite some time and I was nervous, not least because I was letting my not notably mature 5-year-old son take a class geared to ages 7-10. Just wrestling him and my 8-year-old into their car seats had exhausted my little store of patience.

Then my daughter broke the tense silence: “Mom, I have a question. Do you even know HOW to teach drama?”

Underminer! With a clenched jaw I muttered, “Well, we’re all hoping the answer is yes.”

Concerns about my children’s behavior in my class proved prescient. My daughter was wont to roll her eyes and sigh if she didn’t like the improv game I chose, or stage whisper some commentary like, “THIS ONE IS STUPID.” My son was prone to lift up my shirt and palpitate my bare stomach pooch while I was trying to bring to order a rollicking class of 14 kids. I’d often have to pull one of them aside mid-class for a teacher/parent-student conference. Halfway through the session of classes, I was frustrated and worn out, and I realized I had to try to get in front of the problem.

On the way to class that afternoon, I waded in.

“Kids, you’re preventing me from being the best teacher I can be for our class. Every minute I spend distracted by your behavior is a minute the class isn’t getting my attention. That’s not fair.”

My daughter pointed to her brother. “He’s way worse than I am.”

I snapped, “He’s way younger than you are!” A pause while I struggled for patience. “Having you two take the class might not have been my best idea, but it’s too late now. So I need your help. I want you each to pick a punishment that I get to use on you if you’re disrespectful or disruptive in class today.”

My son was intrigued. “ANY punishment?”

“Yes, but it has to be bad enough that you really don’t want me to do it. Otherwise, I’ll pick one. I’m giving you a chance to choose your own adventure.”

My daughter nodded solemnly. “O.K., Mommy. If I’m bad today, I never get to have dessert again.”

I almost laughed. Harsh!

My son chimed in. “And I never get any more screen time ANYMORE EVER.”

This was magic! They were so much meaner to themselves than I had planned to be!

In my most serious voice I said, “O.K., deal. If you guys don’t keep it together for the rest of the classes, you now know exactly what will happen.”

And, actually, things did improve dramatically after that conversation, although it was probably the clear communication rather than the threat of draconian punishment that did the trick.

Now, almost four years later, we’re all used to me teaching a class they attend. I was actually quite touched to see the genuine efforts they made in my playwriting classes at the most recent 4CP summer camp. I recognize my limits, though, and I get my trusty co-parent to navigate the horrors of math homework—I can’t even teach myself how to multiply fractions. And I am working on achieving more patience and calm with activities like yoga. Not the 90 minute classes, though—they’re just too long.