You want your kids to be happy, successful, fulfilled. You want them to make good choices. You try to help them avoid the same mistakes you made when you were younger.
And then you hear them teaching their younger brother. And panic sets in.
My daughter just started kindergarten this year. She is (quantifiably) the smartest kid in her class. And not just by a little. She has a wonderful teacher and we are working to make sure that she remains challenged by what she is learning, to avoid getting bored, but also so she learns some perseverance and how to “work” hard. These were two things that both my husband and I regret about our schooling; because school was easy, we didn’t try, and when we were finally (intellectually) challenged, we didn’t know how to handle it. For me, it was worse because I just figured that the easy way was the best way, and so I avoided challenges (reasoning: easy things got me lots of praise while hard things didn’t).
Now, having said this, she (thankfully) also seems to be well-liked by her classmates. I say thankfully because I was (at worst) bullied and (at best) ostracized throughout elementary school. I was a weird, socially awkward kid: a tomboy who loved science fiction and swam, as opposed to the rest of the girls who did ballet and figure skating. But I also know that being smart (and in particular the smartest kid in the class) can be dangerous. There’s still lots of time for that to change, but so far, so good.
The other day, the kids were playing on my laptop while I graded at home. They enjoy the website Starfall and it is nominally educational so I allow it, if only so I can get some work done. My daughter is excellent on the site, while my son (who just turned four) has difficulty maneuvering the track pad, as well as understanding how to “fix” things when my Flash inevitably fails. His sister patiently explained and re-explained, modeled and encouraged the ins and outs of the site, as well as how to “play” a number of the games available. I was really impressed with how she interacted with her younger brother, and I can well imagine that this is why she is well-liked among her classmates: patient, kind, and (for a five-year-old) considerate.
And then it hit me: she is an excellent teacher. Now, far be it for me to make any long-term prognostications based on one exchange (and besides, she says she wants to be a pilot), but I am quietly dreading the possibility that one the day that she comes home and announces that she wants to be a teacher. Or worse, an academic like her parents.
Now I feel like I have to twist myself inside out asserting that I value and respect teachers and what they do for my kids. But I also know that her kindergarten class has 27 kids in it. And I know how little teachers make. And how much bureaucratic nonsense they have to deal with. And how little respect she will receive from society. And, and, and.
And a university professor? I can’t in good conscious tell her that grad school is a great idea. And who knows what higher education is going to look like in 15 years. I already know that she will probably have to go into debt to attend college (we’re too busy paying off our own student loans to save for either of our kids’ educations), so more debt, with the real possibility of low-paying adjunct work. Is that the future I want for my daughter?
I said in the beginning of this post that we want to try and help our kids avoid the same mistakes we made. There are some days, despite the triumphs and intangibles, that I still think that maybe graduate school was a mistake. And in 15 years, when my daughter is making this decision, we’ll hopefully be in a better place, career-wise. She will have forgotten these early (and probably later) years of struggle. And while intellectually I know that educators, great educators, are important and integral to our society, I can’t help shake this feeling:
I want something better for her.