Expat Story: 10 things my child’s teachers taught me about good parenting

Expat Story: 10 things my child’s teachers taught me about good parenting

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David Willows pauses for a moment in the mad stampede that is family life and considers how his children's teachers have contributed to his growth as a dad.

Good teachers enable our children to write a different kind of future. That’s a fact.

At the end of the last school year, however, I left thinking about the way in which the best teachers have not only gifted my children with an empowering learning experience; but, along the way, have unwittingly taught me a thing or two about how to be a ‘dad’.

1. My children need me. Our children need us to wake them up in the morning, prepare their clothes, make their sandwiches and get them to school on time; they need us to help them hang up their coat, kiss them goodbye and promise that we’ll see them at the end of the day.

2. My children don’t need me. It takes a while for some of us to realize, but the entrance to the classroom is marked by an invisible line; a threshold beyond which the genetic claim upon my children changes; a reminder of the fact that ultimately these little ones do not and cannot depend upon me alone, but will enjoy a variety of ‘significant others’ in their lives – each one enriching and bringing themes of hope, love and life to their unfolding story.

3. My children thrive with consistency. It’s the relentless, daily routines that make a difference, bring security, and make their world predictable.  In the curious land of our infancy, consistency is king and, as parents, we ignore it at our peril.

4. My children enjoy inconsistency. Bring a tree trunk into the classroom and ask the children to paint it in bright colours; take a trip to the local supermarket and draw a map of the journey; meet a local author in the library and listen to him tell his stories – it is this occasional disruption of the routine, the element of surprise, that fills my children with a sense of awe and wonder. As a parent, it is good to be reminded to be creative and ‘shake it up’ occasionally for those entrusted to our care.

5. My children are part of a group. There comes a moment for all of us, when we suddenly realize that our weekends are destined to be spent wrapping presents for 5-year olds and driving our kids to remote locations across town, in search of the house with balloons out front.  It is at this same moment we realize that our children actually have a secret life beyond our reach. It’s like when I walk across the playground and an older child comes up to my daughter and greets her. For some reason, I am always taken aback – and somehow left feeling that she’s still too young for that kind of independent socialising.

6. My children stand out from the group. A class is nothing more than a list of names on a rota.  At least, that is what some teachers would have us believe; except the good ones – who, with every word, make me feel that my child is the most precious, unique, and deserving child they have ever taught. I continue to be in awe of how they manage to do this with all twenty children in the class.  As a parent of six, I am already finding it a challenge!

7. My children can do nothing.  There’s never enough time for anything these days. We find ourselves as families rushing from one place to another, desperately trying to fit everything in. Rest time‘ in the classroom, though, is different.  It speaks of quality rather than quantity – and the importance of balance in our daily routines.  I need to get better at teaching my children that ‘nothing’ is sometimes ‘everything’.

8. My children can do anything. As we grow into adults, most of us find ourselves locked into certain roles.  Perhaps that’s why I still love the ‘dressing up corner’ of the classroom; reminding me that we can do and be anything.  Children desperately need to believe that and, even more, believe in themselves. I love it when my little girl comes home and tells me that, when she grows up, she wants to be a chef, a fireman, a cleaner or a hedgehog!

9. My children will forget. Lost property bins flourish around young children. It’s just in their nature to forget these various items of clothing from time to time; just as it is part of learning involves forgetting, making mistakes, and failing occasionally.  Some teachers believe that forgetting is bad and that memorization is key. Great teachers, I have learned, simply help children to re-trace their steps and find their way back to whatever it is they have lost.  Great teaching never, ever involves humiliation or red-faces.  

10. My children will remember. Perhaps this is the most important lesson of all.  It’s not the big things, nor the expensive things, nor the fancy things that will stay with them into adulthood. As parents, I know we know that; but it is good to be reminded that what stays with children are the moments we offer them when they can be utterly themselves and know, in that same moment, that they are safe, loved, and truly unique. 

J., M., A., and C. (you know who you are) – you are all wonderful teachers and it has been my privilege to learn this much from you these past months.

Thanks also for making a difference to the future that our children are writing for themselves.


David Willows is Director of External Relations at the International School of Brussels.  

David’s blog, Fragments: A storytelling approach to life and work, can be found here.

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