Typhani Harris| February 2014

Second Mom: one of many hats

One thing that is extremely special about teaching in the arts, especially an art that nestles in the role of family, is relationships.  I do not have any biological children of my own, but if anyone asked, I am the mother of hundreds.  I play second mom to many and the only mom to quite a few.

This is the reality of the 21st century.  According to the 2010 census, one third of American children are living in a single parent home.  This alarming statistic quantifies the role of the educator greater than that of merely sharing subject-based knowledge.  Often we are charged with being the auntie, sister, brother, father figure, and sometimes, even the mommy.

The mommy hat is quite possibly my favorite hat because I get to nurture, advise, love, and support.  Since I traditionally spend four years with my students, our family bond grows substantially strong. Anyone who enters education thinking it is a cheesecake job; go in, teach some stuff, leave, get holidays off, and anywhere from 1 week to 3 month vacations, is seriously in it for the wrong reason.

Our rewards are certainly intrinsic and not extrinsic.  Our ability to mold the future, beyond that of the subject we teach, is truly a hidden blessing of education.  It is a gift to share trials and tribulations; challenges and celebrations; rites of passage and adolescent mistakes; and a plethora of firsts with our students.  However, this hat comes with many adversities.  Just like any parent, I worry: am I giving the right advice, am I administering an appropriate amount of tough love, am I steering them in the right direction, and will they hate me if I’m wrong??

I recently had a run in with one of my daughters.  Her mother is in the Navy and spends many months away at a time, so she often needs me to wear my mommy hat.  Recently, I explained to her that I was not a fan of the boy she is seeing.  I am sure all parents of teenage daughters are familiar with this scenario; I know my parents are!  Her response to me was that her mom approved, and since I am like a second mom I too should approve.

This is where the battle ensued…because I am not her mom.  Her mom doesn’t have the privilege, and I say this facetiously, of seeing the students in their school atmosphere.  Any little boy can play the part in front of mommy…but I see what he is like with his friends, his teammates, his coaches, his teachers…and with my daughter.  I love this child as if she were my own, I would do anything to make sure she is safe, healthy, taken care of, and prepared for the world.  But where do I draw the line?

I find the job of coach, advisor, mentor, director; anything outside of teaching the subject, becomes personal.  It is so important for us to create a family bond within our arts programs, because it offers nurturing collaboration, caring mentorship, and an overall stronger stage performance.  But at the core we are still just their teachers.  Our job description is to provide an intellectual education, but isn’t it just as important to foster a moral education?  Noddings (2003) admitted that “moral education is, then, a community-wide enterprise and not a task exclusively reserved for home, church, or school” (pg. 171).

This plays into the age-old idiom it takes a village to raise a child.  But as educators, how do we know when to draw the line.  Noddings’ (2003) philosophy is: if we train through care, then the secondary aim of intellect can be achieved.  However, this is such a fine line.  Where does our teaching end and our nurturing begin; or better yet, when do I wear my mommy hat and when do I put my hat on the stand?

I, as many of performing arts teachers, am in a unique position.  Spending four years with our students allows us to be on the forefront of their development, and witness little girls and boys, become young ladies and gentlemen.  But with that experience comes the need for flexibility.  We need to be able to adapt and adjust to the needs of our ever-changing students.  Beyond teaching perfect four-part harmony, a historical symphony, or a flawless pirouettè, we need to administer the moral education of citizenship, compassion, and collaboration, and sometimes that means we have to wear a different hat.

Second Mom, Education Closet, Image Credit: http://1teachermom.wordpress.com/

Noddings, N. (2003). Caring. University of California Press, Los Angeles, Ca

Next Week: Common Core

Preparing for the Test or Preparing for College: what is Common Core actually doing?

Common Core optimistically promotes a real-world, situational-based approach…but before students can succeed in the real world they must succeed in college.


About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.