I moved to Atlanta at the very end of the summer and was very grateful to land a job teaching in one of the Jewish day schools. My gratitude took a nosedive when I saw the list of my students with my nephew’s name staring up at me. It was at that moment that I wondered if I should quit before even starting. (If only I didn’t need the job so desperately!) My very own nephew, about to become my fifth-grade student? Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Davey dearly. He’s a very delicious kid, and we’ve always had a great rapport. But when doting aunt becomes no-nonsense teacher, the recipe seems doomed to flop. For the first few weeks of the school year, Davey was a model student, and I chided myself for my nervous reaction. But lately, he’s been acting out. I am not sure how to balance this tightrope act without adversely affecting my relationship with my sister, brother-in-law, and beloved nephew.
Hoping For Inspiration,
What a challenging situation! The factors in this equation seem unbalanced and very difficult to resolve. So, what is the solution? If I found myself in your situation, here are some things I would try.
First, I would sit down with my sister and express my feelings.
“Sis, this setup is really hard for me, you, and for Davey. But I want to do the right thing. So, when issues arise, how would you like me to deal with them? I am not willing to sacrifice my relationship with my nephew – or with you! But I can’t treat Davey differently in the classroom; the other kids will pick up on it, and it won’t be healthy for him or for them. I really need your help and support.”
Hopefully, your sister will respond well to your overture. Most parents want their children to succeed, and part of achieving success entails accepting the natural consequences caused by their actions, whether they are positive or negative. In addition, I’m sure she also wants to maintain and cherish the sisterly bond between the two of you.
Next, I would take Davey out for some special one-on-one aunt-nephew time.
Over ice cream or pizza or donuts, I would aim to have the following exchange.
“Davey, you know how much I love you. You’re the greatest nephew, I adore you, and nothing will ever change that.”
I would allow a minute for that message to be absorbed.
“Davey,” I would continue, “as your teacher, I have to treat you the same way I treat my other students. So, even though I love you, if you don’t do your homework, you might have to stay in for recess and complete the assignment. Or if you disrupt class, you might get detention. Do you understand why this is necessary?”
Davey will probably nod.
“Sure,” he might say. “No one will like me if I’m the teacher’s pet! Also, it wouldn’t be fair.”
“You’re right on the mark, Davey! Thank you for understanding. But remember, out of school, I’m Aunt Dayna, NOT Ms. Shafer. And you’re my Davey. So, we’re still going on hikes together and having all kinds of good times, right?”
If you see that your little talk has been forgotten by the time consequences must be administered, you can always add in a private incentive program. Why not offer Davey a special outing for a week’s worth of great effort? Tell him that you see it’s hard for him to resist the urge to have fun with his friend during class (or fill in the blank with whatever behavior he is exhibiting). Then you can design your incentive system however you like. Incentives are usually powerful motivators for kids. Warning: they are very difficult for adults to sustain beyond a few weeks! With that in mind, I would recommend keeping the incentive plan relatively small for a limited duration, the goal being to get Davey back into the routine of performing well so that excelling will be its own reward. If needed, you can always devise a new plan.
And Dayna, keep in mind that February is now over. With spring break, Passover, and Memorial Day weekend on the horizon, the end of the school year is not that far off!
Wishing you strength and wisdom in navigating your aunt-teacher relationship,