Teaching, coaching own children presents challenges for area residents

Emily Moore, choir teacher at Heineman Middle School, talks to her son, Elijah, 13, in her office Friday after school in Algonquin. Moore teachers Elijah in the school choir, as well as her younger son, Samuel, 12.
Emily Moore, choir teacher at Heineman Middle School, talks to her son, Elijah, 13, in her office Friday after school in Algonquin. Moore teachers Elijah in the school choir, as well as her younger son, Samuel, 12.

Taylor Otto wasn’t sure what to expect from her new volleyball coach when she made the varsity team her sophomore year at Prairie Ridge High School.

The team was young and in transition, but expectations were high because she wasn’t only an underclassman, but the daughter of longtime head coach Stefanie Otto.

That first season was full of ups and downs, and Taylor Otto often found herself arguing with the head coach the way a child would with a parent at home.

Her team often paid the price for her outspokenness, having to run laps.

“I never understood why she would make everyone run, but now I see where she was coming from,” said Taylor Otto, 17. “That’s a tough thing, having to coach your daughter at such a high level. I needed to mature, and we needed to work together as coach and player, not mother and daughter.”

The now-junior is one of many area students coached or taught by a parent at school, an experience most agree is a balancing act for all those involved. That also includes children whose parents serve as administrators or staff members, a situation that lands both in the same building on a daily basis.

A double dose

Stefanie Otto has taught biology and coached volleyball at Prairie Ridge since the high school opened more than 15 years ago.

The mother of four knew the day would come when she might have to teach or coach one of her children, and she prepared herself early on for the challenges of balancing home life with her profession.

Her first opportunity came in the classroom with her oldest daughter, Taylor Otto, during her freshman year. That was followed by having to coach her daughter last year as a sophomore on the varsity volleyball team.

“I established that I am not her mom in the classroom or on the court. I am her teacher and coach first,” Stefanie Otto said. “I have to treat everyone equally.”

The classroom allowed the mother-daughter duo the opportunity to spend more time together on homework and school activities.

“At first, I was trying to figure out if it was going to be good or bad,” Taylor Otto said. “But I liked her as a teacher because I could get help and ask questions at home.”

The volleyball experience proved more difficult, as the pair butted heads several times over things that would normally be left to discuss at home.

“I hold her to a higher standard, and out of everyone, she needs to be the role model,” Stefanie Otto said. “The team had to run a lot because she didn’t live up to my expectations and lacked maturity.”

To deter any thoughts of favoritism by other students or parents, Stefanie Otto also uses a checkpoint system with her coaching staff when making volleyball-related decisions.

“I lay out all the options to my coaches and ask them what I should do,” Stefanie Otto said. “If there is a decision that has to be made, we are all making it together, and I don’t have to wonder if I made that decision because she is my kid.”

That system led to more success during her daughter’s junior year on the volleyball team. 

“This year, with a little maturity and more leadership, she did a great job,” Stefanie Otto said. “I have to do what I think is right for the team as a whole, and she understands that.”

Her daughter agreed.

“It just took some maturing and me realizing that she is not my mom, she is my coach,” Taylor Otto said. “I’m really excited for next season because it should be even better.”

Choir boys

As a choir and theater teacher at the Algonquin-based Heineman Middle School, Emily Moore could always be found at plays, concerts and performances with her two sons.

She currently has Samuel in sixth-grade and Elijah in seventh-grade choir classes.

“They had grown up wanting to have a chance to be up on stage with me,” Emily Moore said. “At first it was a little strange, but they have always been really involved, and now they understand why Mommy comes home exhausted after a long day.”

An unexpected transition while having her sons as students has been the interaction with their friends, which on any given day can include teaching them in the classroom, and then hosting a few of them for a sleepover that night.

“I used to go to work and then come home; it was two separate lives,” Emily Moore said. “Now I know all their friends, and they are also my students. When they have sleepovers, these kids are seeing me in my pajamas and I am making them pancakes, then I am Mrs. Moore at school.”

Both boys have enjoyed the experience thus far.

“I knew I was going to have a great teacher,” said Elijah, 13. “I’m just excited because I know I have her there and she is by my side no matter what.”

“At the beginning of the year, I thought it would be awkward, but it has turned out to be kind of fun,” said Samuel, 12. “Other than grading us harder, she treats us like everybody else.”

A lasting effect

When Ronald Ludwig became principal at Hannah Beardsley Middle School in Crystal Lake more than 17 years ago, he moved his family into school boundaries so his three children could be in the same building as their father.

“I knew I would be spending a lot of time at the school, but also knew that for at least three years, I could have the advantage of seeing them grow as students,” Ludwig said. “It gave me an opportunity to watch them in sports and other activities I otherwise might not have been able to because of my schedule.”

As principal, treating his children like the other students was the most important tool in remaining unbiased.

That included talking to coaches about not allowing them on teams they didn’t deserve to be on, and holding them more accountable than the others.

“I was always anxious one of them was going to cross that line of behavior, but they did a nice job and toed the line,” Ludwig said. “Whether you are a teacher or administrator with kids in the building, you have different camps judging that situation. It wasn’t a bad thing, but could be challenging at times.” 

Two of his children, now adults, have gone on to teach and coach in McHenry County.

That includes Ryan Ludwig, a special education teacher and freshman football and wrestling coach at Cary-Grove High School.

“It was kind of weird at that time because you are at an age where you are just trying to figure out who you are,” Ryan Ludwig said. “But as I got older, I got more comfortable. It was pretty awesome.”

The experience also led him to his career in education.

“One of my dad’s big things was working hard to do whatever is good for the kids,” Ryan Ludwig said. “It definitely had an impact on my life in wanting to help younger people. It absolutely influenced by career decision.”

Ronald Ludwig’s daughter, Alex Ludwig, is a teacher and coach at Bernotas Middle School in Crystal Lake. His other daughter, Abigail Ludwig, 21, is attending nursing school.

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