from tots to teens

I have been amongst the teenagers for 11 years now.

I started in January of 2001 with my student teaching and I have been in the same district as a long-term sub and then as a contracted teacher since then.

In my first couple months in a high school, I was asked to prom by a senior boy who mistakenly thought I was a new student.  I was 21 at the time, but looked about 17.  We were both pretty embarrassed when I had to correct him…and decline the invite.

When I started subbing, my youngest brother was in high school.  If I subbed in his building, he hid from me and I ignored him.  His friends, however?  Loved it.  There were many sister jokes flung about.  Needless to say, I sort of avoided subbing in his school…for both of our sanity.

My first contracted teaching job started in the fall of 2003, was his senior year of high school.  And thankfully–for both of us–it wasn’t in his school.  I was 25 and not feeling totally like an adult yet.  With a brother the same age as my students, it was hard for me to be a disciplinarian.  I was good at being bossy, but not so good about dropping the hammer when necessary.

In the five years after being hired, I gradually got old matured into adulthood, but the teenagers stayed, well, teenagers.  By the time I was pregnant with Eddie in 2008, I had established a nice reputation of being a good teacher, but strict on behavior and tough on grading.

And then came Eddie.

Suddenly I was a mom.   And I realized…all those teenagers?  Were someone’s baby.

It was like getting punched in the face with the obvious.

I remained a tough teacher, in fact, I think I got tougher.  I knew that the parents of these kids wanted them to succeed.  In my mind, no one has a baby hoping he/she will fail high school.

When I was pregnant with Eddie, my students used to joke that he was “doomed”.

Doomed because I know what the kids listen to, what they talk about, how they slack, what kind of drama goes on.

Doomed because I bring all that up, tell them in the grand scheme it doesn’t matter, and then expect success anyway.

Doomed because I value education.

Doomed because I don’t put up with disrespectful ridiculousness.

Doomed because I had the perfect “mom look” when things were getting out of hand.

Doomed because I don’t just threaten, I follow through.

Doomed because I care.

And then those kids would stay after school and confess that Eddie was so lucky to have me as a mom because they didn’t have those things at home.

I would go home on those days and scoop up Eddie and weep.

Now that I am a mom of a wiggly toddler and pregnant with a wiggly fetus, I am constantly aware that my boys?  Will be 15 year olds someday.

Family members have already told me that “The Sluiter Boys: Eddie and Charlie” sound like a mischievous pair.  Eddie’s listening ears are about as well-functioning as a 15 year old boy.

I keep taking breaks from this post to teach those teenagers.

And because this post is in the back of my head, I find myself noticing all the teenage boy behavior even more than usual.

Last hour I had to tell a group of boys to keep their hands to themselves three different times.

This hour, I have already had to tell a couple boys to focus on the warm-up instead of talking about video games.

And just now, I turned to the kid next to my desk and said, “A, is your warm up done?  Get it out.  We’ve been in class for 7 minutes.  It should be done.”

Will this be Eddie?  Or Charlie?

As a teacher I know some of kid behavior is upbringing.  But by the teen years much of it is peer-related.  And a good chunk is just teenager-y-ness.

As our kids get older, we are less and less their main influence in decision-making and beliefs.

I see this all the time.

Frustrated parents come in and tell me they just don’t know what to do anymore. That they are at their wit’s end.

And I wonder…

Was it always this way?

Or did you have a great connect with that little boy or girl at one point?

Did you sit and play and read and have conversations?

Or is this a result of years of thinking a kid should be a certain way, but not showing him/her how to be that way.

And the big one…am I showing Eddie how to be a responsible, respectful teenager?

I know good parents end up with troubled kids.  And I know troubled parents end up with amazing kids.

I have literally seen it all.

And day after day I wonder…is what I am doing going to matter?

I don’t have that answer, but I have to believe it will.

I have to believe that my best will be good enough.

Because it is all I have to give my boys.

*Thank you to Sherri for the idea to write this.

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. I love this post. As a mom to one of those 15 year old boys, I absolutely love it.

    I worry about sending all of my kids to school, but with the youngest? I can still be involved. I can read to her class, have lunch with her, tutor if needed.. My oldest? The freshman in high schoool? He would die if I showed up in his cafeteria even if I was holding a lunch from McDonald’s.

    I only hope he has teachers like you that are mom’s that get it.. that understand these sassy teenagers are still someone’s babies.

  2. Oh, I knew I would love this if you wrote it! I can picture “The Sluiter Boys” being both mischievous and heartthrobs…oh, what fun you will have.

  3. As a former teacher, I understand these fears, too. I’ve seen Eddie’s smile; he’s going to be a charmer, that’s for sure. They will be such fun!

  4. Are you in my head? I think about this sometimes–what kind of student will Joshua be one day? What I’ve been thinking about more often is what kind of PARENT I’ll be one day?

    I’m afraid I have a tendency to helicopter. ::gulp::

    I do know that Eddie and Charlie? Will probably get into some mischief. But? They’ll be good boys, Kate. Respectful, honest, and polite.

  5. All you can do is “your best”. And hope they pay attention. Hope they understand why you teach them.
    I think they’ll be fine.
    They have good role models.

  6. I loved this post. Having a toddler AND a teen (both boys) – I am right in both worlds at the moment and have many of the thoughts you shared so beautifully here.

  7. Your influence will make a difference. They will have a teacher (maybe one like you are right now) that will relate to them. They will be able to choose a healthy set of friends. They will know, that no matter what you will be there to help them. Or bail them out of jail (just kidding!!!)

  8. My heart always feels better after reading a post like this . . . because I think the secret to “being a good parent” is questioning whether you’re doing the right things for your kids. Something tells me there is a lot of “just get them out of the house” going around.

    You’re one of the good ones.

  9. I worry every single day how my actions will shape my son.
    I know I’m doing good enough but is it enough?
    Sigh…parenting is hard.

  10. I’ve read a couple of studies about how the far biggest determinant of personality and behavior is peer groups and not family and it’s such a hard thought, because it’s an area so much out of your control! Silly peer groups.

  11. As a high school student I had one teacher who really inspired me. It only takes one, and it’s obvious by how you write, and how much you care, that you will be that *one* teacher for many.

  12. Okay, I teach 4 year olds this year and my assistant and I just had a parent meeting about a little boy because like you said. are they showing or telling? Parents are definitely telling how he should do things but not showing. It’s so hard to see what could be fixed without coing right out and saying, you need to stop doing this. I don’t want to over step my teacher boundaries, but I’ve seen how they say they do the ‘same things’ we do, but they don’t. They ask him to do things, or say you should know better. But he DOESN’T.. He needs to be told to do something and told WHY and shown how to use his words and ahhh. It’s hard, I get it. I had the mom crying to me because she feels guility because she is working 50 hours a week, and that can’t change, I get that. It’s so freaking hard. And this was a ramble that I don’t know even went anywhere.

  13. Beautiful post! I was a seventh-grade teacher before my daughter was born, and I’ve often had the thought that I would be a much different/better teacher now that I know what it’s like to be a mother. It’s kind of crazy to me to think that my toddler will soon be a teenager and doing teenager-ish things and all I can do is hope everything I’m doing now to teach her to be a good person will sink in somewhere along the way!

  14. As a mother currently navigating through the battle grounds of the Terrible Twos, this is frightening to me… what my single son will grown to be like. Ugh, if he’s anything like he is now (especially on a day with no afternoon nap), it more than frightens me, it scares me to death and makes me want to stay home with him all the days of his life.

    But, I know (hope) this is just a phase, as they say and that he will turn out to be a good kid, but you never know, do you? All we can do is be good role models and teach our children right from wrong and keep the lines of communication open and hope beyond hope.