About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Foundation Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

A few weeks after my son was born in November 2015, I began waxing nostalgic. I had spent a lifetime and a career working with and teaching other people’s children – and now it was time for me to teach him. Or so I thought.

Within a couple of weeks, I had picked up the idea that I was the student, and he – albeit indirectly – was the teacher. So I wrote about it (“15 Things My Newborn Son Taught Me About Education”). A year later, most of those rules still ring true. They are listed below, with updates:

1 – Make an assessment of life’s priorities. Last year I wrote how I used to look forward to clearing my desk, my email inbox, and my brain of all the tasks at work. Trying to eliminate that itself is exhausting. You know what isn’t? Going home and playing hide-and-seek under a blanket for an hour. Or stacking cups. I could do that forever. Grading 3-page essays? Not so much.

2 – Sacrifice for them. I think many parents can still do a better job of this, and I for one am guilty for giving my phone attention over my son. I’ve deleted Facebook from my phone (so that helps), but I still have a ways to go. That said, I’ve never worked harder making dinner, cleaning dishes, tidying up toys, or simply supporting my wife on her tough 2:30am wake-up calls. But it’s worth it. We can say the same about our classrooms. Know all those hoops you have to jump through just to go and teach your kids? I know it’s tough, but you have to do it.

3 – It’s a shame teachers – and people for that matter – don’t get more PAID maternity and paternity time. Yeah, this still rings true, especially once we want to add +1 to our family, it’d be great to have bonding time together. Paid.

4 – Learn to laugh at the mistakes. I fainted while my wife was giving birth. Parenting is trial by fire. Just because something works now, does not by any means equate success in the future. I’m learning that with my mock trial unit on the Boston Massacre, and students are learning that themselves, too. That being said, when number 2 comes around one of these days, I’m going to have the smelling salts ready.

5 – Worst experiences are subjective. The worst thing that happened in my son’s life was when he lost his toy wooden screw driver. For other students, failure and misery wear masks that hardly cause us trepidation. That’s no excuse for us to overlook their concerns.

6 – If you really want to make an impact, you need to get “down and dirty” be the best team. Period. There are many days that I look to my wife and wished she’d help with this chore or this task. I know for a fact that she feels the same about me. Coincidentally, there’s always bound to be a time when you look to a colleague or student with a familiar eyebrow raised in scorn. Flatten it out and work together as a team. When you do that, everyone wins.

7 – Sometimes you know what’s best. I never met someone who wanted to squirm out of a diaper change so quickly and devotedly. Clean diapers, though, kid, make for a happy little learner.

8 – Sometimes the child knows what’s best. Who they heck knew cardboard boxes could be so interesting? Or that my own kid could dance better than me?

9 – Know what role to play and do it the best you can how to play all roles and wear all hats. Sometimes you’re the “good cop.” Sometimes you’re the “bad” one. Maybe it’s time to be the disciplinarian. Maybe it’s time to be the diplomat. Parenting – and teaching – involves wearing so many hats.

10 – Don’t lose sight of yourself. I have many friends who are only moms, husbands, or teachers. They are nothing else. While there’s a certain greatness in this thought, we all need time to unplug and do what makes them happy. For me, today, it’s jamming out to new music,  typing, while sitting under a tree on a beautiful, sunny day.

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

12 – And how many just want good news in their lives. Election 2016, I think you taught me this more than anything.

13 – Everybody deserves a loving home. It kills me a bit more every time I’m introduced to a broken-down student who I’d like to bring home and add to our young family.

14 – The most important classroom is your small one at home. I didn’t need to elaborate on this one then, still don’t have to elaborate today.

15 – You never know what it’s like until you get there. Everybody has advice, but the best that I’ve heard is do what you feel is right. I truly know why there are so many parenting books written – there are certain situations where you hope someone provides the elixir to solve it, and so many more where people are willing to give you advice. Just like in education, the means to do something are almost limitless. The ends to getting there – producing happy, resilient, motivated young people who are a joy and boon to the community – are much more myopic in scope. Getting there is the fun. Just do them right in the travels.

We’ll see what I learn in the next year. Anybody have any prediction for the “terrible two’s?” I’ll be glad to field them.

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