Who Inspired You?

Originally posted on Trinity School’s Flourish Blog. Cross-posted here:

I wrote an entirely different blog post for this week, which I’d planned on posting this afternoon, when I got sidetracked by a conversation I had with a parent at school today. This mom came in as our Mystery Reader, and she chose a book called A Letter to My Teacher. It was a sweet story about a teacher who made a difference in a child’s life, and the child’s memories of this special teacher.

After reading, we talked about her book choice. This parent explained to me that she saw it in the bookstore and thought it had such an important message about honoring teachers and the work we do. She went on to say that it brought back memories for her of teachers who inspired her when she was growing up. I told her that I have a few teachers who I remember vividly, and asked her, “Who stands out for you? Who do you remember making a difference in your life?” She explained that she had an 8th grade math teacher who recognized her ability in math and gave her a different, more advanced, textbook to work from. Instead of keeping her on par with the rest of the class, he knew that she was ready for more and gave her the tools to learn more challenging concepts. She credits this teacher as the first to notice her aptitude for math and science, which set her on the path to a successful career as a physician.

Of course, this conversation made me think of the teachers who I remember vividly, who inspired me:

  • I remember quite clearly my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Karp, who had a bathtub in her classroom that we could sit in. She read us There’s a Carp in the Bathtub at the beginning of the school year, to connect the bathtub to her name. She used to always say, “I love you like crazy!” After moving to a new school (and into her classroom) hallway through the my Kindergarten year, I remember her calm, loving nature, and how she took care of me at a tough time.

 

  • My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Collins, read The Witches aloud to our class. For the chapter on how to spot a witch, she dyed her teeth blue, scratched her head often, and complained about her aching feet. If you don’t get the joke, get yourself a copy of the book and read it to your kids— you won’t regret it!

 

  • My math skills were never strong, but I faltered badly in middle school and landed myself in a ninth grade remedial math class. Ms. Chadwick, my teacher, was patient and soft-spoken. She explained math to me in a way I understood, and brought it down to my level to help me understand the concepts. I was her star pupil that year and learned the pre-algebra skills I had not understood the year before.

 

  • Mr. Pignone taught law at my high school. I took his class my junior year. He taught me the importance of note-taking and study skills (“Take copious notes!” was his motto). He also took our class on an unforgettable field trip to the county jail, which definitely scared me straight, and I never got in trouble during my high school career.

 

  • During a student teaching experience in first grade, my cooperating teacher (whose name escapes me at this moment, but who I can picture so clearly), taught me that making your voice softer, instead of louder, works magic in getting children’s attention.

I had forgotten some of these memories until today, and I could certainly list more. Teachers make a difference in their students’ lives (remember Brooke’s Flourish post?), and I know we make a difference with our kids every day.

Which teachers do you remember? Who inspired you?

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Read Aloud: It’s Not Just for Little Kids!

As parents, the older our kids get, the less we read to them. When our babies were babies, we sat them on our laps and read the same stories to them over and over and over each night (mind-numbingly so, at times). But as kids get older and can read on their own, and schedules get more hectic, we tend to give up this time reading out loud, in favor of children reading independently. While this feels like a relief at first, I think that forging ahead with reading to your older child will prove to be incredibly beneficial for both of you.

Here are some reasons why you should leave the dirty dishes in the sink, put down your phone (guilty!), and put your own work aside for 15 minutes each night to read to your child:

– Reading to your (older) child gives you uninterrupted together time to share something meaningful. It provides some calm, quiet time in our hectic lives, a nightly routine that serves to relax your child before bed while giving you some one-on-one time that you may not normally have together. Drew (my 8-year-old) and I are currently reading the illustrated Harry Potter books together before bed. This was Drew’s book pick, and he is very invested in this time together. He will not let me “forget” a night or get too busy. He reminds me every night that we need to read another chapter. This one-on-one time with him is special for both of us, and I am sure that as he gets older, it will be even more treasured.

– Reading aloud to your child gives you the opportunity to read a book just above his/her independent reading level. Even if your child is capable of reading the book on their own, having you there to discuss the story, anticipate what might happen next, and get to know the characters together provides your child with the support needed to understand the book on a deeper level than they would alone. Reading and talking about books together enhances comprehension. I mentioned that Drew and I are reading Harry Potter, which would be out of reach for him to read independently. Even if he could read it on his own, though, reading it together gives us the opportunity to talk about the book and deal with any tough content together.

– As chapter books get harder, the vocabulary used in books gets harder, too. Most Second Graders tend to read right by these tricky words, because they can decode them and pronounce them correctly, even if they don’t know what they mean. Most children will not spend the time to figure out vocabulary words when they are reading independently, but when you are doing the reading, you can take time to highlight words that your child may not know. Wide reading is one of the best ways to build children’s vocabulary.

– Modeling your reading fluency (where to pause in your reading, your tone and intonation, how fast/slow you read), comprehension, and interest in books is an incredibly powerful tool for your child, whether he/she is 5 or 15. Even though your older child CAN read a book independently, you still have much to teach your child about how readers choose books, figuring out those tricky words (which shifts from pronouncing words to understanding them), and comprehending books on a deeper level.

– Finally, reading to your child shows them that reading can be pleasurable, and that you have a “reading life” that is not tied to school assignments or external rewards. Developing your child’s love of reading is probably the best reason to continue reading to your child even after he/she doesn’t fit on your lap anymore. And even if your child complains at first, I truly believe that this read aloud time will become a treasured time together. It is in my house, and in my classroom as well.

If you are not sure where to start, books by Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and Kate DiCamillo are favorites for their engaging characters, vivid language, and memorable stories. Do you and your family have a read aloud routine? I’d love to hear how you fit it in and why it’s a valuable time for you and your kids!

Lessons I’ve Learned as a Teacher Mom

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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?

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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!

ZEUS

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

BAJUNE2017

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

LEGOMAG

…and Nate really enjoys his Sports Illustrated Kids magazine.

SIKIDS

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!

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

imwayr2b2015

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?