Lessons I’ve Learned as a Teacher Mom


As most of you know, this is my 20th year of teaching. It is also my tenth year as a mother. Being both a mom and a teacher provides a unique perspective. It’s taught me a lot about my children and how they learn. It’s taught me a lot about meeting kids where they are, communicating with parents, and mutual respect. While I don’t always get things right (I am not even close to perfect), I have learned a lot along the journey. Here are a few of the best lessons I’ve learned as a “teacher mom.”

1. Don’t Go on the Defensive – Parenting is hard. Whew, let me say that again. Parenting is HARD. It is definitely the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s messy. It’s emotional. Boy, is it emotional. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to keep things in perspective when issues arise at school. As a teacher, I have to communicate hard things. Things that parents don’t want to hear. And while I know this rationally, when I am on the parent side of the table, my emotions sometimes get the best of me. I think this happens to all parents, even with the best of intentions. When I have gone on the defensive as a parent, when I got angry or upset in a parent/teacher conference, or when I was in denial about my child’s needs, I ALWAYS regretted it later (I’m sorry, teachers. You know who you are). I’ve learned that even when I feel emotional, to be open to teacher feedback. That doesn’t mean that I always agree, or that I don’t share my concerns, because I do (and I think parent input is extremely important), but when I take a defensive stance, it is hard for me to hear the information about my child that the teacher is sharing. When you are on the defensive, emotions are so high that communication can shut down. I have to work at it, but I try to go into a conference with an open mind and a clear head.

2. Ask for Back-Up – When my boys don’t want to listen, or do their homework, or try to tell me that they ARE allowed to bring their collection of 65 million Pokemon cards to school (yeah, right), I always contact the teacher to get some back-up. I don’t see this as a weakness in my parenting skills, but instead as teamwork. You know the saying, “It takes a village…”  So, I use my village. I email the teacher to elicit help. I explain the situation: “Nate despises doing his reading homework and tells me every night that he doesn’t have to do it. Can you remind him that he has reading homework every.single.night and that his mom is not just being mean to him?” Teacher response: Check. Done. Here’s another: “Drew thinks that he is allowed to bring hot wheels cars to school because everyone else does it. Is this allowed? If not, can you remind him that this is against school rules?” Teacher response: Check. Done. When I am being the heavy, and my kids are pushing the limits, I team with the teachers, and I have always been met with a positive response. I can tell you from experience that teachers WANT to help. We want to partner with you! If you communicate clearly what is going on at home, I guarantee that your child’s teacher will try to figure out a way to help and support you. We want to be on your team. When I have asked my own children’s teacher for help and support, I have never had a negative response. Now, that does not mean that I burden my kids’ teacher with every minor issue we have going on at home. I definitely pick my battles, but when I truly need support from school, it is always there.

3. Parent for the Child You Have Now, Not Ten Years From Now – This is an incredibly important lesson that I learned from the Parenting Boys panel that Joe Marshall led with several other heads of school during his first year at Trinity. One of the heads of school, Chris Cleveland from Wesleyan, spoke passionately about parenting in the now, rather than looking too far down the road into your child’s future. He shared that so many parents are focused on the “end game” that they forget to be present. He said (and I’m definitely paraphrasing, as this was many years ago): “Do we want to raise honors students or Harvard graduates, or do we want to raise good people?” Some of you reading may be thinking, “Yes! Yes! All of the above!” But the point was that focusing on our children’s character, work habits, study skills, and habits of mind now in the elementary years will pay dividends later. Pushing our children harder and faster towards goals we set for them (the college they should attend, for example) puts so much pressure on children that the skills they need to learn to be successful students and citizens often fall by the wayside. Teaching my own children to be respectful, responsible for their own things, complete their homework, and be kind to others are all more important to me than grades. If you know my children, you know that this is a work in progress. They do not always look adults in the eye and greet them, they are not always obedient, and they are not always kind, but they know that these are the qualities that matter in our family.  I know that if I focus my efforts on shaping caring, empathetic, resilient children, the rest will follow.

4. The Power of Yet – This one is related to the above lesson about teaching your child character and social/emotional skills. Mindset is one of the most powerful things we can teach our children, and one I still struggle with as a parent. You have heard Jill Gough, our Director of Teaching and Learning, refer to the power of “yet” and Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research. It is important that we praise our children’s effort rather than the product. Although I know this as an educator, and practice it in my classroom, for some reason I when I get home, it is easy to slip back into praise for the sake of praise. I am working hard to change how I talk to my children about their school work or their after school activities. I am learning to praise their hard work, effort, and resilience. When Nate finishes his fluency practice for the night (the most dreaded homework in our household), I say: “Wow, you worked really hard on that reading! I think if you keep practicing all week, your teacher will notice how much you improved.” Instead of asking about assignments and grades, I ask my kids to tell me about something they worked really hard on at school, or something they learned more about. While these questions are often met with, “I don’t know” and a shoulder shrug, sometimes they surprise me with a great nugget about their learning, allowing me to reinforce the belief that if they keep working and practicing, they will get better and better.

5. Be a Role Model for Your Child – Whew, this is a tough one. As parents, we are tired. We are stressed out. We worry. Often, I find that I am my worst self after school at home with my own children. It’s like I’ve just used up all of my patience at school during the day, and I am short with my kids at home. When my children see me lose my temper easily or cope poorly with anger or disappointment, I always see this behavior mimicked later. I always think to myself: “Yep. That was my fault.” :::sigh:::  We have to model gratitude for our children. We have to model self-control. We have to model kindness to others. We have to model putting our phones down and being present. It is definitely hard to do this at the end of a long work day.  I do not always do the right thing. Sometimes I play on my phone during dinner or serve fast food because it’s easy. But I know that my kids are watching me. I know that they are listening. I know they see when I feel frustrated, or angry, or disappointed. I know they see how I deal with my emotions. I know they see when I am kind to others, when I show gratitude. I know they take everything in. This is true of my own children, and the children in my class as well. I work hard to be a role model for the behavior I want to see in my children, and when I see them misbehaving, I often look in the mirror.

I hope these lessons that I’ve learned as a “teacher mom” give you some insight or something to think about. This post was not meant to be preachy or judgemental, but rather to share my unique perspective as an educator and a mom. A final lesson to end this post is one that Maryellen Berry taught me several years ago: Give yourself some grace. As I already mentioned, I am far from perfect. I am not always the mom or the teacher that I aspire to be; however, tomorrow is a new day. Beating myself up about my shortcomings does not help me become a better teacher, a better mother, or a better person. Each day with my students, and my own children, is a new opportunity to learn, grow, and practice the things that I cannot do yet.

I’d love your feedback! Please post a comment.



Reluctant Reader? Get ‘Em Hooked!

Reading is one of my favorite things to do. Life is busy, and I don’t always have time to read for pleasure, but I try to read a little bit before bed every night. I have lots of favorite books and remember reading experiences throughout my life fondly (Remember in 6th grade when Mrs. Collins read us The Witches and dyed her teeth blue?!? I do!).

Despite my affinity for reading and love of books, both of my children have many, many things they would rather do than read. In fact, getting them to read is pretty tough (disclaimer: both of them have language-based learning disabilities that make reading hard), but I have found a couple strategies that work to get them reading, even when they would rather play video games.

1. Let them read what they want – Interest and engagement are keys to reading motivation. I no longer try to control WHAT my kids read, I am just happy if they do it. Graphic novels provide support for reluctant and/or struggling readers because they have pictures which tell the story along with the text. If the book happens to be silly or gross (ahem, Captain Underpants), my boys will enjoy it even more! Many parents and teachers disapprove of books that seem inappropriate in our adult eyes (guilty as charged), but kids LOVE them. Drew’s (8 years old) current favorite: the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey.

2. Don’t worry about “levels” – As a second grade teacher, I admit to being overly concerned about kids finding the “right fit” book at all times. The teacher in me knows how important it is for kids to read books that are not too easy and not too challenging so they can make the most reading growth; however, the mom in me knows that if kids are INTERESTED they will read. So, while Dog Man is technically too difficult for my younger son right now, he actually WANTS to read it. For a kid who doesn’t like to read, motivation is more important than level.

3. There are many things to read – Don’t forget that there are many kinds of text. Magazine subscriptions are often a great way to get kids reading. Both of my boys get excited when their Lego magazines come in the mail each month, and my older son loves reading Sports Illustrated for Kids. Does your child love Superheroes? Get him/her comic books! Love to cook? I love to read cookbooks. Start with your child’s passions and go from there.

4. Utilize assistive technology – While I do want my children to read print books as much as possible, there are many ways to enjoy books using assistive technology. Audiobooks and websites, such as BookFlix or Learning Ally, allow struggling readers to access text that they cannot decode, but they can understand if they hear it. This provides the opportunity to listen to a harder book than the child can actually read. Nate (10 years old) loves to listen to non-fiction books using BookFlix, which reads the book out loud to him while he follows along.

5. Read to them – Similar to audiobooks or websites, I can read a more challenging book to my children than they can decode independently. Unlike using the computer, though, reading aloud to my children provides us a time to cuddle up, put the technology away, and share something together that we enjoy. Drew, my younger son, and I have been reading the Little Legends series and we’re currently reading the fourth book. He reminds me every night that it’s time to read, and he is disappointed when we have to stop. For a kid who doesn’t like to read, this is HUGE! My older son, Nate, is a harder sell. He doesn’t like to sit still, especially when books are involved! He does not care to read fantasy books with us, but he is obsessed with all things sports. I read Magic Tree House: A Big Day for Baseball (about Jackie Robinson) to him, and he was totally captivated by it. When kids are INTERESTED, they will read (or listen, in this case).

I hope these tips and tricks will help you find something for your reluctant reader to enjoy! Have a tip? Leave it in the comments!

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?


Happy Monday, Readers!

I’m joining Jen Vincent (@mentortexts) of www.teachmentortexts.com and Kellee Moye (@kelleemoye) and Ricki Ginsberg (@readwithpassion) of www.unleashingreaders.com on Mondays to round-up what I’ve been reading this week. I hope you’ll join me by adding to the comments!

Today I was supposed to be working on cleaning out my classroom closet at school, but plans changed when my youngest son got sick this morning. We came home instead, which gave me some extra time to do laundry, clean the kitchen, and read!

I’ve been flip-flopping between books this week, which I normally don’t like to do, but I couldn’t help myself.

The first book is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. It is a adult book that is highly recommended, and one of Oprah’s Book Club picks, but I am sort of struggling through it. Since I’m about 3/4 of the way through it, I am determined to finish it. I am not sure why I’m having trouble staying engaged and interested in the story, because it is very well-written.

When this happens to me, though, I always think about the I-PICK song (Boushey & Moser, 2006) and I start singing in my head, “Interest, interest, why am I reading it?”  It is so, so true that if you are not interested in the story, it is pretty hard to stay focused as a reader. I know I could abandon the book, but I think I will stick with it a little longer.

The other book I’m reading right now is one rising 3rd and 4th graders might enjoy. It is the first book in the Heroes In Training series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, called Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom. The series is an updated, kid-friendly version of classic Greek myths. This particular title tells the story of Zeus, Cronus, and the Olympians. The book is told from ten-year-old Zeus’s point of view, which helps young readers understand the story. It is full of action and adventure, as well as a lot of new vocabulary words if you are new to Greek myths! This series seems perfect for readers who like adventure, history, and stories… even if they are far-fetched!


This week, I’ve also been reading a lot of recipes. When it’s summer, I love to make dinner outside on the grill, so I get pretty excited when I get my Bon Appetit in the mail. June’s magazine is usually the grilling edition. I’m thinking about making these salmon burgers this week… what do you think?

If you don’t already get magazines in the mail, think about putting this on your birthday or holiday gift list. It’s fun to get something in the mail each month, and you can find a magazine for pretty much any topic that you are interested in learning more about!

I like cooking magazines best, like Bon Appetit


While Drew gets pretty excited when his new Lego Club magazine arrives…


…and Nate really enjoys his Sports Illustrated Kids magazine.


There’s also National Geographic Kids, Cricket magazine, Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick, Jr. magazine, and many more. Add a magazine to your reading list this week!

What are you reading? Please comment!


Summer Is Here!

Hi there, readers!

How’s your summer so far???

It seems like summer has its arms stretched open wide with possibilities.

I have a lot of lists for summer time:

  • Fun books to read
  • Books to read for learning
  • Things to do around the house
  • Things to do to get ready for my boys’ school next year
  • Things to do to get ready for my school year

But for the first week of summer, I just went to the pool, grilled out, ate watermelon, and relaxed.

How ’bout you? Leave a comment and tell me what you’ve been up to!



It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


Hi, friends! It’s Monday! What are you reading?

I think I got some insight into young readers this week. I have been trying to read a book for the past few weeks, but I’m just not making a lot of progress. I keep rereading the same chapter over and over. In the meantime, while I am not really reading this book, I find my attention wandering. I am thinking of lots of other things that are happening at home.

The biggest thing that is distracting me right now is that I *think* we are buying a new house (fingers crossed!). So, my reading this week has mostly been furniture catalogs, decorating magazines, and blog posts about the best paint colors to paint your house (who knew there are so many different shades of gray???). I found myself suddenly consumed with all things decorating this week, which is not usually an area of interest for me.

I realized that this is what happens often with kids and reading. When kids are really interested and motivated, they can get hooked on a book, series, or magazine. Often, when kids have a question or wonder, they can get excited about reading to find out the answers. A topic that interests kids can really motivate them to read more. This week I felt like I really understood the importance of interest first-hand!

What have you been reading this week?


Series Books for All!

I was scrolling through Twitter today, catching up on tweets from several education-related conferences this week.

One tweet caught my eye, proclaiming that series books were the perfect way to maximize summer reading. In second grade, series books are a powerful way to get students reading a lot, while improving their comprehension skills. This tweet reminded me of many of my students this year. One worked his way through The Magic Treehouse series all in order (yes, I’m looking at you, B). Another student was so enamored with Junie B. Jones, she read the whole series and then reread her favorites (yes, C, I’m talking about you). Others plowed through all of the Mercy Watson books. Once I brought in the Kingdom of Wrenly series, there was a wait in our classroom library to get these books in their book bins!


Images from Amazon.com


While series books are perfect for younger readers, upon reflection, I realized that I often read series books as an adult reader. I read the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series and couldn’t wait for the next installment. I read all of the Hunger Games. While I didn’t make it through the whole series, I know Miss Leonard has read every Harry Potter, probably more than once.

In addition to reading series books as an adult, I often read books by the same authors. In fact, the Goodreads website sends me emails to let me know when a new book is out by one of my favorite authors, because it knows this tendency of mine. This strategy of picking books by the same author began for me in elementary school when I read all of the Nancy Drew books. In sixth grade, my teacher read The Egypt Game aloud, and I proceeded to read every Zilpha Keatley Snyder book I could get my hands on. Now, I am likely to pick up a new Emily Giffin or Lianne Moriarty book, because I know I’ll enjoy it. I anxiously await new books by Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Creech, Jhumpa Lahiri, or Khaled Hosseini.

So, why are series books so great?

  • We know the characters. They become our friends.
  • We can predict what the characters will do because we know them so well.
  • Series books tend to follow a similar plotline. We know how the book “works.”
  • We want to know what happens next!
  • We always have a new book to read when we’re hooked on a series!

Are you hooked on a series or a favorite author this summer? Why do you like reading these books? Please comment below!

Terrific series books for 2nd and 3rd graders:

  • Cam Jansen
  • Horrible Harry
  • Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot
  • Junie B. Jones
  • Stink
  • Judy Moody
  • Galaxy Zack
  • Black Lagoon
  • Magic Treehouse
  • Ballpark Mysteries
  • Calendar Mysteries
  • Capitol Mysteries
  • A-Z Mysteries
  • The Kingdom of Wrenly
  • The Lunch Lady
  • Dragonmasters
  • My Weird School
  • Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew
  • Ramona Quimby
  • Time Warp Trio
  • Geronimo Stilton
  • The Boxcar Children
  • Who Would Win?

Something Unexpected

When I go on vacation, I usually load up my Kindle with fiction books to read on the plane and while lying on a beach somewhere. Occasionally, I will also download a city guide or travel book to read up on the location we are visiting. This summer, we planned a big family trip to Hawaii. My husband and I went ten years ago on our honeymoon, and we decided to go back for our anniversary, plus our two boys. In preparation for the trip, I packed swimsuits and shorts, my hat and sunglasses, and downloaded several books from my “To Be Read” (TBR) list to enjoy on the very long plane ride.

Because our flight to Honolulu left out of Newark airport, we decided to spend the day in New York City first, since the boys had never been before. We had lunch at Katz’s Deli and dragged the boys all over the city. They deemed it loud, smelly, and hot. They were most impressed by Central Park, but overall, were not big fans of one of my favorite places. In the afternoon, they decided to check out the hotel pool with my husband, and I stayed in the room for some peace and quiet. Rather than pick up my Kindle to read, a travel magazine on the hotel night table caught my eye, and I picked it up for some light reading.

The magazine had several feature articles about exotic locations, but a short article profiling a Hawaiian chef named Ed Kenney caught my eye. I liked his story of working at some big name restaurants before deciding to open his own in a sleepy little town in Oahu where he lives with his family. Then, after the first restaurant became successful, adding two more.

Without really knowing where these places were in relation to where we were staying, I grabbed my phone and jotted down the names of his restaurants, as well as some of the other restaurants in the area Chef Kenney recommended. When we arrived in Hawaii, I looked up the restaurants again and figured out that the town was close to several sights we wanted to check out on our first day in Honolulu. After a beautiful early morning snorkeling at Hanuma Bay, we drove to Ed Kenney’s casual Kaimuki Superette for a terrific lunch.

“How did you find this place?” my husband asked, surprised at my knowledge of local restaurant gems.

“Oh, I read about it,” I happily replied.

Reading does take you places. I usually plan what I want to read next, but sometimes, reading something unexpected has delicious results.

What have you read lately that helped you, surprised you, or took you somewhere new?

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