What it’s like growing up as a teacher’s kid

The job runs in the family

Some jobs are naturally passed down from generation to generation (along with bad eyesight and/or straight teeth). The professions of doctors, pilots, policemen, and soldiers are all super-heritable careers—and so is teaching.

Teacher’s children are in a strange position. Our parents are paid to spend all day with other people’s children—that’s their work—and then they spend all evening with us, which is supposedly their “free” time. We’re like a veterinarian’s dog, or a mechanic’s car.

Three generations

Three generations of Leaders

Both of my parents and 3/4 of my grandparents are (or were) teachers. This is what I am proud to have learned from them.

You may have run the risk of being in their class

This only applies to kids who attend the same school where their parents teach, of course, but for these children, this is a vaguely looming and recurring nightmare from the time they enter school—will they be in Mom’s homeroom or Dad’s history class? If you end up in a parent’s class, you’re likely either to be the teacher’s pet or have your ass kicked—and it’s almost always the latter.

You heard all the gossip at the dinner table

Maybe all parents talk about their work with their kids, but people who dislike their jobs probably tend not to discuss work at length over the dinner table. The life of a teacher is often a whirlwind of student, parent, and colleague drama, so there’s always more than enough to talk about. I heard it all: the bratty kids, the outrageous parents, and the corrupt administrators; the staff parties, the field trip disasters, and the behind-the-scenes politics. Teachers’ kids end up knowing way too much about other people’s business, and worst of all, we’re usually sworn to secrecy. We lower our eyes in the hallway as we pass teachers and administrators, thinking: “I know what you think about the new principal,” or, “There are holes in your curriculum that you refuse to acknowledge.”

We also have access to particularly exhaustive information about other teachers’ kids. Our moms and dads are constantly discussing their children in the staff room, sharing our bad grades and friendship troubles. Teachers who have children at their school also nurse a not-so-secret dream that we will all date each other, thereby ensuring the production of pure-bred teacher-children for generations to come. 

 

2010

The crew in 2010

Their reputation at school affected yours—for better or for worse

All kids talk about their teachers, and the children of strict, boring, or lazy teachers inevitably have to listen to a lot of their peers’ bad-mouthing and complaints. In that sense, I’m very lucky that my parents are fabulous at what they do—I’ve always felt like the daughter of two celebrities. In eleventh grade, I was at a party with some students from my dad’s school, where someone asked excitedly, “Your last name is Leader? Are you Mr Leader’s daughter?” He and his classmates were such fans of my dad that they offered to buy me a drink.

I have dozens of memories like this: during my last year at high school, I wound up sitting on the pavement outside a bar next to an acquaintance and classmate who had been taught by my mother almost ten years before. He turned to me and slurred an impromptu, sentimental monologue about how bored and restless he had been as a kid—until he was assigned to my mom’s class. He swore that it was the best thing that could have happened to him, and I thought: I am the daughter of a superstar. I really do believe that.

When you were little, you were the class pet

My dad once took my sister and me in to his school for a day when were six or seven years old. This was probably frowned upon by the administration, but we two kids were on holiday and there was no one else to take care of us, so we sat in on his classes for a day—or rather, sat under his desk. The students were so old, we observed as we peeked out at the roomful of teenagers. We were tiny and terrified.

The older girls (who, looking back, were probably only 15 or 16) coaxed us out from under the desk and started braiding our hair. For the rest of the day we scurried around the classroom, distributing papers and wiping down blackboards and being cooed at. It was fantastic.

The budding intellectual

The budding intellectual

Developing curriculum is a skill you’ve had since primary school

Teaching is a job that requires a lot of creativity when done well, and both of my parents are constantly looking for new ideas for how and what to teach their students. For as long as I can remember, we’ve spent long car rides planning out lessons for their classes. My sister and I throw around education-jargon like old pros.

When they talk about their ‘kids,’ they don’t just mean you and your siblings

My parents both care so much about their students—putting in extra hours giving catch-up help to those who need it, spending lunchtimes meeting with parents, and always being there to fight for students’ best interests in front of an often indifferent administration. My mom tears up when she recounts her kids’ successes, even though most of these breakthroughs would seem insignificant to an outsider.

Students of great teachers are often students for life: there are always students stopping by my dad’s classroom years after graduating, or sending cards or Facebook messages with news and life updates. When my parents refer to the young people they teach as their “kids,” they mean it.

School starts to feel like home

Everyone spends a lot of time at school—about seven hours a day for fourteen years. But teachers’ kids put in a lot of extra time on top of that. We always got to school an hour early, and left a couple of hours after everyone else, so we made the school building our home. I can’t count the number of mornings and evenings I spent running around the empty school in my socks. We organized all the books in the class library for fun (it’s no secret that teacher’s kids are often nerds). I read book after book on the beanbag in my mom’s classroom, and my sister and I drew pictures, looked at maps, and played a lot of board games.

If the school building becomes like a home to teachers’ children, the school staff become like family. We have my mother’s colleagues over for dinner all the time, and I babysat their kids when I was in high school. I did visiting author talks for lower school classrooms, tutored the extra-bright kids in my mother’s class, and helped out with the lower school band. When I graduated, I received countless cards and gift certificates from a variety of teachers, only some of whom had directly taught me. The rest had simply become my extended family on my mother’s side.

Like mother, like daughter

Like mother, like daughters

You’re tempted to become a teacher yourself

Being exposed to the behind-the-scenes of education really gives teachers’ children an appreciation for the difficulties and joys of the job. I’ve learned from watching and listening to my parents that it can be thrilling—my mom comes home beaming after she’s had a breakthrough with a difficult student, and my dad thinks teaching is the best job in the world—but that it can also be tedious, dull, and frustrating. Sometimes students’ parents are unreasonable, the administration is unresponsive, and teaching is more exhausting than exhilarating. My mom says she feels like she fails her students every day, since she can’t possibly fill every kid’s needs all the time. But seeing my dad command the attention of a classroom and reduce everyone to fits of laughter, or hearing my mom’s ex-students talk about how she has changed their lives—I don’t think there’s anything quite like it.

I’m now enrolled in the Teacher Prep program at Princeton. I don’t know where it’ll take me, or what kind of job I’ll end up doing—but I know that I would be lucky to be a teacher, and I know that I have my parents to thank for teaching me that.

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