Students and Their First Teachers

Is there a difference between seeing someone who is a subordinate and someone who is a student? And when I say “student” I don’t necessarily mean in school only. After all, our kids are essentially our students. We parents are the very first teachers that our children have. And as so much research has proven, parents have some of the greatest effects over their kids and the choices that children make on their own: the good and the bad.

From the Collins English Dictionary courtesy of


— adj


of lesser order or importance


under the authority or control of another: a subordinate functionary

— n


a person or thing that is subordinate

— vb (usually foll by to )


to put in a lower rank or position (than)


to make subservient: to subordinate mind to heart

student (ˈstjuːd ə nt)

— n


a.a person following a course of study, as in a school, college, university, etc

b. ( as modifier ): student teacher


a person who makes a thorough study of a subject

Kids, in my opinion, are learning to be successful adults. Interpret what that means for yourself, since we all know there are many different ways of defining both the words: successful and adult. If what we are doing as parents is stewarding, or guiding our children towards adulthood, doesn’t that make us the teachers, and them the students?

steward (ˈstjʊəd)

— n
1. a person who administers the property, house, finances, etc, of another
2. a person who manages the eating arrangements, staff, or service at a club, hotel, etc
3. a person who attends to passengers on an aircraft, ship or train
4. a mess attendant in a naval mess afloat or ashore
5. a person who helps to supervise some event or proceedings in an official capacity
6. short for shop steward
— vb
7. to act or serve as a steward (of something)

You look at the definition of “steward” and you start to wonder who is really subordinate to whom in that equation. And any parent who finds him or herself in the middle of the workweek, shuttling children from school to music lessons, or sporting events or practices of any sort, or simply to a child’s friend’s house to play, knows that parents can often find themselves in very non-teaching roles: taxi driver, schedule organizer, cook, house keeper.

But to whom does a child turn for help with homework (at least when they’re in elementary school)? Mom or dad. To whom does a child turn when he or she is scared? To whom does a child turn when faced with a new and anxiety producing situation (whether frightening, or exhilarating, or both)?

Our children turn to us not just for comfort, but to learn. They look to us to see how WE react in those situations. Calm and assured, or frantic and frazzled.

Seeing this is easy. I first noticed this when our oldest was only months old. I had him in a Kelty Kids backpack, walking to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, MA to go play. It was only a few blocks from our house, had great grass, and a few hills to roll down.
As we approached the park, there was a young child, a year older than my son, who was playing with his stroller: pushing the empty stroller down the hill. As he ran down the hill after the stroller, and the stroller inevitably fell over, he approached the stroller, with extremely animated hands, flailing arms, and a singular stomp of his left foot, he exclaimed, “You’ve got to be KIDDING me!”

You think that reaction was innate and natural, or was that learned behavior? Yes, the question is rhetorical. A quick view towards the mother who was looking on, and seeing how she was dealing with the child’s older sibling I could see where the child learned the react the way he was reacting.

Our teaching of our kids starts the day they are born. Kind of unfair for us parents when you think about it.

Of course there are some people who respond well to totalitarian or authoritarian environments: fear, after all, can be a great short-term motivator. What, however, are some of the more constructive, and effective long-term qualities of a teacher in a school environment? Patience. Confidence. Empathy. Respect of others.

To have these qualities does not mean being milk-toast with a child. Being firm is possible without looking down on someone (one of the implications when using the word “subordinate.”) Setting firm boundaries for behavior does not mean looking down on someone. But taking this connotation of subservience out of the mix, an elevation of respect of your child, does not mean your child gets to make the rules. You are the Parent, with a capital P.

Is this all splitting linguistic hairs? Yes. But they are important hairs to split. When we as parents get scared that we are losing control of our kids – yes, we get scared often about our kids but rarely admit to it – we all have the tendency of tightening our grip, of trying to control our kids like they were wild animals needing wrangling by force. But even animal trainers will tell you that wrangling animals merely by force, without any respect for their autonomy, has only short-term gains.

I’m proposing that we, as parents, start looking at or own fears, tackling them, and stop trying to control our children, instead consistently remind ourselves that we are the ultimate teachers of our children, and as responsible teachers, we need to remind ourselves that our kids are simply trying to learn how to be successful adults. And the real kicker is that every kid learns differently. Lucky us.

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