What We Wish We Had Known About Being a Parent Educator
Being a Family Education teacher in many places means that someone (and Early Childhood Director? Another teacher?) saw that you had the ability to connect with a group of parents and encouraged you to try this job! You may or may not have a current license in Parent & Family Education, but might be teaching with a sub license, and out-of-field permission OR perhaps you work in a family education program in a setting other than a school. We all start somewhere and grow!
Here are a couple things we wish we had known as we had begun teaching ECFE many years ago.
You don’t have to be the expert on everything. Some of us begin teaching parent education at a fairly young age. This can intensify the felt pressure to always have the “right” answer. Boy, does this ever set you up to have a hard time getting parents to relate to you. ;) Parents want wisdom (and to learn about what’s typical, best practices, etc.), but MOST of all, people want to know they are not alone. That someone else has had a similar experience. It’s also ok to not know the answer to a great question a parent has and get back to them after you’ve consulted fellow teachers and trusted resources.
You don’t have to pipe in on every question. This class is not about you. While it’s great when you can do some self-disclosure (telling about your experience), so that you are relatable to the group, it’s more important to draw out the parents in your group and build their connection to each other. Quick tip: make sure you have a tea, coffee, or water (or other drink) to help control the amount of talking you do vs the parents.
Just because a parent is quiet, doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. Some parents are introverts. Some parents come from really yucky childhoods and want to learn a fresh way of doing things. Some parents have anxiety in group settings. Once you get a feel for why a parent might be quiet, you’ll learn how to best connect with them. Some parents enjoy connecting before and after class briefly, when it’s more of a one on one connection. Some don’t mind chatting with you (for a short while) while doing projects with their child.
Be you. You don’t need to project a perfect image. Don’t pretend to be a perfect parent yourself, as we mentioned before, it can hurt your connection. Be professional, of course, in what you talk about and how you approach your work, but add your own “flavor” to the job. Love to read? Teach parents what you are learning and share book titles. Love to be outside? See if your parent group can meet outdoors in good weather or do a walk-and-talk parent group! Love to craft/create? Parents often love this from time to time too.
As Henry Ford tells us: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” Whether you are beginning this job at age 25 or age 65, it’s a fantastic privilege to get to work with families and keep learning!