My First Teacher, My Mom

Now, more than ever, Moms are being asked to do so much more and be more in their children’s life. With schools around the country closed, the education industry has asked Mothers to put yet another thing on their “to-do list.” It is an unfair ask, but yet Moms (and Dads, but hey, it’s Mother’s Day) are doing what they always do; they are simply being amazing, even if they feel like they are lost with this whole home learning thing.

Indulge me for a minute; I’d like to talk about my Mom. I promise that it all relates.

My mother, Maryann Armida, may not know all of what I am about to write. Well, maybe she does, but knowing her, she’ll deflect any sort of credit or praise and say something self-deprecating that totally undersells all the credit she deserves.

My Mom was my first teacher.
And, she continues to hold that role 45 years later.

She may not know it, and maybe I didn’t until just right now, but everything I am in a classroom has to do with her.

I am one of the lucky ones who has been blessed with a Mother who put every fiber of her being into making sure I, along with my younger sister and brother, were safe, were happy, wanted to be our best, we continued to learn, and we always felt loved. That sounds like the exact job description of a Teacher, doesn’t it?

I was lucky to have a Dad who did the exact same thing, but, sorry, Dad, it’s Mother’s Day.

My Mom, just as almost every other Mom in the world, likes to undersell all that she does and all that she has accomplished in her life. I can’t tell you how many times my Mom has made the comment that she’s the invisible one in the family.

She doesn’t say that to fish for compliments.

She says it because she feels that all of her children have turned into, in her words, “her finest accomplishments.” She says it because she sees just how strong, how independent, and how we continue to learn from our experiences. She says it because she prefers to be in the background, allowing us to shine.

That philosophy is what teaching is. I try, every moment, to have my students be the center of our classroom. They direct the learning. They show just how amazing they are. I try to be the invisible person in the room. Because, like Mom, I realize that it isn’t about me and my personal glory. It is about allowing students to explore, to fail in a safe environment, to learn from failure, and continue to grow.

My Mom taught me that at a young age. And, she continues to teach me that today. Every time I am in a classroom, I try to be like my Mom, allowing my students (kids) to be the focus and feel secure enough to take risks, to find their passions, and truly know that they are my focus.

One of the most amazing things about my Mom is that she is always there, no matter when, how, or what I’ve done previously. As a teenager, there were many late nights of a “container of ice cream and two spoons” moments where she would allow me to talk through things. She would then give the most incredible advice as if she knew exactly what to say. Now, I may not have understood everything then and there; I may have been guilty of an eye roll sometimes. But, eventually all of those little sayings, the words, sunk in. They had meaning and they transformed.

It is because of my Mom that I have my door open to kids at any time. I will literally blow off meetings if a student is in need of help. I may not be able to share a container of ice cream with them, but we can sit together and I can listen to their problems, their stresses, and their worries for the future. And, I know that when I say something like, “You have to be here to get there” kids may not understand it at the time and I have to take a moment to explain it, just like Mom did for me.

Life may have forced those ice cream moments to evolve into texts, FaceTime calls, or regular calls, but the spirit of those talks is still there. Much like we’ve been forced into distance learning, the connections with kids may have taken a different form, but me being there has not.

While I may not always agree with a kid’s choice, I never judge and I always support.

My Mom taught me that at a young age and continues to show me that throughout my life, no matter what poor, crazy, or different life choice I made. I try to do the same for my daughter and all of my students.

My Mom may sometimes think she isn’t strong. And, yet, she is one of the strongest people I know, especially when it comes to her kids. Now, I fancy myself the favorite (I am), but I know she can be vicious when it comes to her kids and grandkids. My Mother, a soft-spoken person, but one who can throw a good F-Bomb with the best of them, has told off a person of faith not once, but twice because she felt that they had wronged me (they did).

She’s the Mom who celebrates every single thing I do as if it is the best thing ever done.

She will tell everyone that I am the best teacher, the best writer, and the best father. She will defend me against anyone. She will be the first one to read my work, to text me that she loved it, and to text that she’s proud. She may be quiet, but she is fierce. She always, no matter how badly I may screw up, get in the way of myself, or forget to call her, has my back.

I believe that is one of our most important jobs as a teacher. We must be there to not only pick up our students when they fall but to be their biggest fan, pump them up when they need it, make them feel like they are the most important person in the room when they are with us. We must celebrate their successes, tell them we are proud of them and make their accomplishments a big deal. And, when they may not act ideal, we must do what my Mom does for me: we must pick them up, never judge them, and help guide them.

A little-known fact about my Mom is that she is an amazing writer.

She’s had the talent since the day she could begin to write and still has that ability today. Her willingness to be vulnerable with her words is something that can’t be taught. The way she uses her words, the passion in them, is something not many people possess. Her text messages are filled with these brilliantly put-together words.

One may think that the easy connection with this would be my writing, but it isn’t. It’s a story that my Mom told me a long time ago.

She had a teacher who would fill her paper with red ink. And, it wasn’t because her words weren’t good enough or her grammar was poor. It was because her words weren’t what the teacher wanted. And, I believe that this has a lot to do with why my Mom doesn’t write for a living. It’s a shame because her perspective and her words could impact the world. In a way, I hope I am doing that for her or at least together.

That story drives me as an English Teacher.

Every student has to believe that they have a voice. Every student has to believe that their thoughts matter, that they matter, and they are more than just a grade. Their voices need to be encouraged and that is my primary role. I never want any student silenced or boxed into something that I think they should do. They all have the chance to change the world.

There was a period in my life when I thought about leaving teaching. I was frustrated with a whole lot of things going on in my life. Divorce led to a time when I moved back in with my parents. I didn’t think what I was doing was making a difference for kids. I was down. And, yet, every day when I left for work, my Mom would say, “Go teach them something.”

At first, I’d reply with something like I don’t think it matters. Then, because she wouldn’t give up, my response turned into, “I’ll try.

” And, now, that I am no longer living with them, each day I do hear her voice saying, “Go teach them something.” I try not to let her down every single day.

Truthfully, that has become much harder to do now with us being in quarantine. But, the goal remains the same–Go Teach Them Something. Now, more than ever, it is important to keep telling kids that we are here, they will learn, and that we will all do this together. Even if I can teach them one thing during this end of the year–it is something.

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You see, everything that I am as a Teacher, as a person, has to do with my Mom. She was my first teacher. And, I know that I am not alone. Today, Moms (Dads and families) are thrown into this home learning role and there is a general feeling of being overwhelmed, not being able to keep up, and the fear of their children “falling behind”. Throw in protecting their family from a pandemic and you have a perfect storm for feeling as if you aren’t enough. My Mom always thinks she isn’t enough or hasn’t done enough for me or her kids.

Mom and Dad with Em

Mom, you are so much more than simply enough. You helped me find my way, to always choose happiness, to be a good parent, and to be there for anyone who needs help.

She’s exactly the reason why I know that we will all be alright and get through this pandemic and home learning. Moms are every kid’s first Teacher. Moms know exactly what to do, even if they aren’t sure. You are all guiding your kids through this as my Mom did through every obstacle and moment in my life: with forgiveness, with encouragement, with expectations, with a safe environment to learning from mistakes, and, most importantly, with love. Your kids are going to be just fine because they have you working as a team with their teachers. In fact, they’ll be more than fine because they have you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms. None of us could be doing this home learning thing without you. None of us could be an effective teacher under normal circumstances without you.

Finally, Happy Mother’s Day to you, Mom. Thank you for always, no matter what, being there. Most of all, thank you for being amazing.