I’ve worked with only a few teachers who didn’t have kids. Most of the ones who didn’t have any were just young and waiting for the right time. Eventually, they’d get around to child rearing. The tendency of coworkers to be parents wasn’t some special phenomenon among educators. Most people want kids. Considering this, I’ve always been on the outside for not wanting any. Some people around me found my lack of interest in parenting to be suspicious for someone in the education business.
A more particular situation influenced my branch of the field. I noticed this wasn’t as representative of the general population. Many of my special educator colleagues had children with disabilities. Most of those who did had entered the field in part because of their experiences with their children. Their connection with the field was deeper than just wanting to teach.
My ability to relate was nil. I’ve never had even the slightest desire to breed. Wanting children has been such a foreign concept to me that I’ve struggled to understand what (beyond biological urges) would make anyone crave a brood. As I aged, I began to think people who wanted children had something wrong with them. The best I was able to do was excuse people for wanting children, chalking this up to something that wasn’t for me but might make sense for others. I realized I was the one with the atypical attitude, but I couldn’t subscribe to the will to procreate.
Not only did I not want kids, my reasons for coming to the field were far less personal than what usually drives teachers. I came to teaching largely because I didn’t know what else to do. I figured there’d be job security. The pay and perks would be better than working in retail. As I started, I developed a sense of obligations to students, parents, and taxpayers. I invested time and effort. I developed relationships. I grew attached to my work, but I hadn’t come to the field with any palpable sense of purpose.
My lack of purpose may have affected my performance. It at least affected my dedication. I saw what I did as my job and little more. It wasn’t a calling. It was what I did during the day for money. I wanted to do it well, though. I gave tirelessly out of the sense of obligation I had developed. This sense of obligation was different than having a mission. To my mind, I could end my obligation whenever I wished. It was a contract. Parents usually don’t think this way. They generally commit themselves without questioning their involvement. Without any sense of a mission, I cut my losses when the work became too frustrating. The willingness to quit and the ease with which I did would’ve been uncharacteristic for teachers with kids.
A critical distinction was that I never thought of the students I taught as my children. Actually, I found this reasoning to be slightly warped when I encountered it in other teachers. My disconnect may have influenced my outlook. I could assume the role of an instructor and facilitator. I could assume the role of an interested mentor. I relished the dynamics of my relationships with students. However, they weren’t my responsibility beyond teaching them. Mentoring them in any way was a choice. I saw a definite line separating my responsibilities from those of their families. My interactions stayed squarely on one side of that line.
Similarly, I struggled to empathize with parents. My outlook was unintentionally cold and I realized this. I could contemplate their situations, but I really couldn’t feel much genuine empathy. As mentioned, I couldn’t relate to what made them want to raise kids. More critically, I couldn’t relate to the protective impulse they felt regarding their children. While I understood that they felt this and I didn’t fault them for it, I saw it as something that occasionally clouded their judgment rather than as a relatable quality. When parents insisted that their children were somehow special, I politely nodded along.
I often wondered if my disinterest in having children was part of a personality construct that inhibited my ability to teach. I’m not a particularly warm person. My matter-of-fact approach to everything turned out to be an asset in the classroom, because I ran an organized program and I could effectively multitask. However, I focused more on clinical results than emotional needs. Being detached helped me make difficult choices, but it prevented me from developing connections with some students. I came off as too formal to some parents. I lacked empathy and others picked up on this, sometimes at the worst times.
I was insensitive. I actually had to feign sensitivity in some instances. Working in schools required me to adopt a persona. People around me were better off not knowing how I felt about particular issues. I harbored thoughts others would’ve found horrendous. I privately condemned parents who had chosen to have multiple children while not having the resources to take care of one. Observing the struggle to care for severely disabled children worked as an effective form of birth control for me. I knew such sentiments were way outside the norm for professionals in the field. I kept my thoughts to myself.
Meanwhile, over and over I heard from colleagues and parents, “You don’t understand, because you don’t have kids.” I agreed. Typically, their point was to say I was out of touch in some way. I tended to think I could see certain issues more clearly without emotion-tinted lenses. Maybe those lenses would’ve been helpful sometimes. I could organize a classroom, plan and deliver instruction, and implement useful interventions, but I lacked the sensitivity piece that many parents who taught could naturally cultivate.
I held my own for a decade and a half. When I had enough, I was able to cut bait and leave with little regret. Lack of attachment made this easier. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt this way if I had kids of my own. With mouths to feed, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford to desert my career. My obligation may have felt more like a mission for my children and for the students I taught. I might still be on that mission.