A Parent is a Child’s First Teacher
“Black Boy Joy you will always be a son who is special to me.” ~ Charlitta Hatch
A parent is often noted as the person who helped to give life. Many children respect their parents as life givers and the providers of things that they need and want. There is typically a one-sided respect that children are expected to give their parents who gave them life with minimal expectations for parents to respect their children as individuals and to be treated as humans. This is particularly how parent and children engage in the Black community. Many Black parents have generations of experience parenting through fear, survival, and scarcity mindset. This leaves minimal experience for a mutual relationship built on trust, thriving, and abundance. Over the last 5 years, I have been on a journey of unlearning traditional ways of parenting through my Black, southern, Christian upbringing and learning new ways to parent that centers mutual respect and listening while still balancing what that means as a Black parent and a Black boy today. It is a constant check-in to make sure that the parent child relationship journey that we are on is working and helping us both to show up as the best version of ourselves in and out of the home.
There is a quote that many people reference that says that “A parent is a child’s first teacher.” Yet, how many people make space for Black parents to be the first teacher for their child? Many of the systems surrounding education have a narrative that Black parents are not engaged and lack resources and knowledge to help their children succeed today. This positions classroom teachers as the child’s first teacher with an expectation to not only teach in the classroom, but to provide the necessities and life skills that are typically provided at home. Most Black parents that I grew up with and the Black parents that I am currently raising my children with are engaged and honor their roles as parents. The parenting shows up differently than what is mainstream and white, but Black parents are engaged. There is a need for the narrative to shift so that teachers respect the role of Black parents in relation to their Black students and recognize that their view of how parenting work may look different, but it is no less right or wrong.
As a Black parent of a Black son, I am my child’s first teacher. As his teacher, it is my desire to use the world as our classroom. I will use every opportunity to provide experiential learning opportunities for him. It is important to me that everyday experiences as well as unique travel experiences are seen as an opportunity to provide insight, cultural context, character development, and great memories. Additionally, I will integrate cognitive learning techniques by asking my son daily what he knows before I share what I know or my opinion on any topic or situation. This allows me to acknowledge his knowledge and to see the world from his point of view before sharing mine. I can share lessons with him that I have learned along the way and to open dialogue for him to articulate his perspective so that I can learn from him as well. As his first teacher, I want to prepare him for a diverse set of experiences and tools to be able to thrive in different environments. My measure of success for my son is seeing how he can thrive in a variety of classroom settings with different types of teachers. The most important thing my son can learn from me is how to thrive anywhere. Thriving for me is defined as remaining confident in who you are, being confident in what you know and don’t know, and never allowing someone else to still your joy or dim your light. This could be challenging because while I am his first teacher, I am not with him all the time and in all the settings. This means that I must focus on teaching him cognitive skills so that he can apply them in situations as they arise.
To continue to grow as a Black parent, I must be a resource for other Black parents. I will leverage the same principles and techniques that I will use with my son. By engaging in a community of Black parents it will allow me to learn how other Black parents are assuming their role as their son’s first teacher. Developing a community of Black parents is dated back to the African Proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” This engaged community of Black parents learning and growing from each other will also help to change the narrative and face of what it means to be an engaged Black parent within the school system. I know that I can help amplify the voices of Black parents and provide an avenue for Black parents to get the support and resources they need to feel confident in their role as the first teacher for their sons beyond their homes and into the classroom as well. This may look like setting expectations with their son’s teacher on how they engage and like to be engaged with so that their presence is known and felt even if it looks different than what a teacher has experienced in the past.