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On November 1st at 11:05p, Jonah, my newborn son, entered the world, joining my wife and me. While I’ve taught nearly 1,500 students in my 10 years of education, I hadn’t learned as much from one until I had after staying home with my new found family. Here are a dozen things he’s taught my wife and me that could be applied to kids of all ages:

1 – Make an assessment of life’s priorities. Before I had this young man in my life, I thought about having a cleared inbox, the best lesson plans, and top-notch parental contact. While all these things are still important to me, they certainly are not the first thing I see on my radar each morning. He is.

2 – Sacrifice for them. The 21st century seems to be a world filled with infinite expectations and finite resources and time to meet them. Something’s got to give. We have the control as to what they might be. Hopefully they’re not the things on our priority list.

3 – It’s a shame teachers – and people for that matter – don’t get more PAID maternity and paternity time. My wife, since she works for a progressive European-based company, gets to have 12 weeks off to stay home with this little guy. My job, which focuses on the well-being of young Americans, provides 5 days (using my sick to take care of a family member, which is my wife) and I can use 4 personal days I had saved. New-mother-teachers have to go through similar motions to make their way to some time at home. Those who adopt or foster aren’t privy to these privileges much at all. This all needs to change.

4 – Learn to laugh at the mistakes. I fainted while my wife was giving birth. My son urinates and defecates as much outside his diaper as he does in it. My wife could be angry about these things, but she laughs at all of them. She sets the tone for us as a family in doing so. I couldn’t love her more for it. You set the tone for your classroom. Laugh when strange things happen, don’t get angry.

5 – Worst experiences are subjective. For my son, each time he has a diaper change and is cold because of it, that is honestly the worst thing he’s ever felt. That could be the way for the student sitting in your classroom at what you wash away as a “minimal thing.” Don’t do that.

6 – If you really want to make an impact, you need to get “down and dirty.” Lots of diapers. Lots of laundry. Lots of sleepless nights. This all means lots of love and long-lasting impressions.

7 – Sometimes you know what’s best. This kid does not want to be bathed at all. He whines more than a fire engine coming down the street. But he must be clean. He’ll have to suck it up, and sometimes our students do, too!

8 – Sometimes the child knows what’s best. When he’s hungry, he needs to be fed. It’s just that simple. When your students are hungry for knowledge and sidetrack your lesson plan, are you going to turn them away?

9 – Know what role to play and do it the best you can. I’ve gone from being the big bopper in my house to 4th fiddle (yes, even the cat ranks higher than me now). I could huff and puff about it, or I could say that I’m going to be the best support for my wife, my son, and my kitty that I can. Sometimes we just have to acknowledge we aren’t in control – harder for teachers than we think! – and know our role.

10 – Don’t lose sight of yourself. I still get out to the gym each day, and I plan on doing it each day I can. I still have friends I call. I still have family members who look up to me. I still like to help in the community. This is part of me, and my son will sidetrack much of my time, but he won’t make me be less of me. In that same breath, I have to remind my wife that she needs to step away from Jonah, go for a walk, get a massage, talk to family, and so on.

11 – It’s amazing how many people are there to pitch in. Seriously. Who thought friends and family could be so generous?

12 – And how many just want good news in their lives. The 24/7 access to information and news is rotting our brains because we’ve become inundated with frowns. So many of us just want to smile. Kids do that for us.

13 – Everybody deserves a loving home. This is what kills me the most. I can see how some of my most troubled students ended up struggling in my 7th grade classroom because they struggled through a broken home filled with broken people and broken promises. God, we just want every kid to have a chance, and that starts and ends with a loving home.

14 – The most important classroom is your small one at home. I don’t need to elaborate on this one.

15 – You never know what it’s like until you get there. Just like all the educational theory we learned while studying to be teachers, the classwork leading to the big day – a son in your arms or a classroom with your name on it – mean nothing like the experience, which is and always proves to be the best teacher.

Mr. Jake Miller is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, a 2017 NEA Global...

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