Why Moms Make Awesome Teachers

I was at a school district meeting tonight, surrounded by mostly women, many of them my age, give or take a few years. In response to a request to ‘list five aspects of our identity we would like to share with the group’, it took me less than a second to reply. “Mother”, “woman”, “writer and teacher” quickly topped my list, and I discovered that for most of the women I talked to, ‘mother’ was easily the most common descriptor. I honestly didn’t think much about it. I’m mamawolfe, mom to two, teacher to thousands, writer of stories about life in and out of the classroom.

moms make awesome teachers

It hit me first after talking to the teacher-mom of a kindergartener who identified herself as a ‘friend’ first – and after talking to me, she wanted to change her mind.

And then another woman spoke up, surprise and a bit of concern in her voice. I recognized her as a middle school teacher, and I was startled by her surprise at the numbers of self-identified mothers. She appeared stymied by the idea that we educators would not only be shouldering the responsibilities of mothering our own children but of our students as well. The overwhelm in her voice and the shake of her head struck me.

Isn’t that what mothers do best? Isn’t that why moms make awesome teachers?

Being a mother is my top priority, my deal-breaker. It’s nothing to hide behind or even consider some part of myself that would tie for first place in my identity line-up. It’s not that I always imagined myself as a mom or a teacher for that matter; I never really imagined myself as much of anything when I was younger. But after spending the last 27 years with other people’s children – then going home to my own – I slowly discovered that being a mother has not only brought out the best parts of me, it’s brought those best parts to my classroom, too.

I was a teacher long before I was a mom. I remember barely being ten years older than my students, mystified when their parents would ask me for advice about how to manage their teenage children.

Honestly, I had no idea. I remember thinking, Aren’t parents just supposed to know that stuff? Ha! Little did I know…

By the time I became a mom I was six years into teaching but kept on going. I remember 9/11 and wondering what would happen if I was off to work and never came home again. I thought often about how hard I worked to teach other peoples’ children and wondered if I  put as much energy into my own.

I struggled with the teacher-mom balance for years – until I embraced it. I am a mom first, then a teacher.

A first-year teacher recently asked me for advice on managing life and teaching, and the first word I thought of was BOUNDARIES. To be a successful working mom, to not feel as if I’m successful in the workplace without sacrificing my kids, I realized I needed strong boundaries – barbed wire type boundaries, with “NO TRESPASSING” signs dotting every five feet or so. Teaching children, serving families, is all-consuming for me. Keeping clear that my own kids come first, then my school kids has eased my guilt about not being able to always be everything for my students. But over the years, I’ve discovered that the lessons I’ve learned from being a mom have shaped who I am as an educator – and I’ve realized precisely why moms make awesome teachers.

Why Moms Make Awesome Teachers

Moms make awesome teachers because that they live the most important part of the job: moms know what it means to put kids first. Moms know how to wrap their arms around their child and make them feel safe. Moms know that nothing good happens when kids are tired or hungry or feeling sick. Awesome teachers know when kids feel loved, they do better at home and in school.

moms make awesome teachers

Moms know that being first isn’t always best and that sometimes we all need to take a breath and try again. Moms know that sometimes life gets in the way, that the dishwasher doesn’t always get unloaded and the printer runs out of ink right around bedtime the night before an essay is due.  Flexibility is a huge part of life; awesome teachers look at the big picture, not the setbacks.

Moms make awesome teachers because we know that kids come first, always, that all kids are still learning, and there are lots of ways to tie shoelaces and they all keep shoes on feet. Awesome teachers know there is not only one “right” way to do things, and individuality keeps us thinking.

Moms know that kids can be raised in the same house by the same parent with the same rules and come out to be entirely different humans and that oftentimes gender has very little to do with identity. Awesome teachers love their students unconditionally and teach them where they are.

Moms make awesome teachers because we know that sometimes the best thing to do is close the textbook and get a good night’s sleep. Awesome teachers know when to push and when to look in students’ eyes and tell them it’s OK, let me help you.

Thank you to all the awesome moms, amazing teachers and brave students out there – you make a difference in my life every single day.

primark

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Does Your Child Have These 4 Skills Before Starting Middle School?

Other than the first day of kindergarten, the first day of middle school may be one of the most anxiety-producing days for students and parents alike. The good news is that you and your child CAN and WILL survive this transition – especially if you help.  Just ask yourself: can your child do these 4 Skills Before Starting Middle School?

  1. Teach your child to pack their own lunch – and a good snack. When my kids were little, I always figured if they weren’t hungry or tired I had a chance of surviving the day. This didn’t change as they grew up; the basic needs just get a little more difficult to enforce. Middle school students expend a LOT of energy, and they are hungry all the time. I’m not kidding. If you can teach your child to pack their own lunch – or at least a healthy, energy sustaining snack, not only will your child’s teacher be happy, but you also have a good chance of having a stable child at the end of the day! Reusable water bottles, fruit, protein bars and whole grain crackers are great snacks that help keep students alert and on top of their game. And be sure they pack it themselves- teaching simple self-care techniques prepares them for taking control of their health and wellness and will reduce stress.4 skills before starting middle school
  2. Practice self-awareness. This skill tags along with self-care, and also helps develop an awareness of their emotions and feelings. Middle school students have rapidly changing views and experiences; teaching your child to reflect on life milestones, accomplishments, and successes and challenges from the previous school year helps them to learn about themselves as a learner, as a friend and develops a growth mindset. When school gets challenging, having self-awareness skills to fall back on helps develop confidence and a calm approach.
  3. Teach your child to write an email. Thanks to technology, today’s educators are much more accessible. If your school uses a management system, make sure you and your children understand how to log on and how to contact teachers. But parents – resist the urge to be the first point of contact with teachers. Have your child reach out with a simple, direct email that states their question and asks for help. I also advise middle school students to set up a professional email address that is used for college contacts; Gmail is an excellent service. Developing self-advocacy skills will ease the communication anxiety and provide valuable training for high school and college.
  4. Help create an organization system with specific weekly goals. To develop strong study skills and create a peaceful after school environment, your student should create an organization system that works for them. Binders, color coded and labeled folders, digital systems, and traditional paper calendars are all ways middle school students can stay organized. Setting measurable weekly goals, and reflecting on progress, are ways to teach your child about self-monitoring and problem-solving. Not every system works for every child, so it’s important to listen to your child’s ideas and give things a try, even if it isn’t YOUR way. Setting up a reward and logical consequence system alongside to weekly goals will offer a tangible reason for your child to work hardto meet their expectations.

Helping your child develop these 4 skills your child needs before starting middle school should ease the transition for everyone. Remember, your child is likely nervous and anxious about all the ‘newness’ they are experiencing, and while it may seem as if the last thing they want is your advice, just knowing you’re there and paying attention can open the door for supporting them through this exciting time.

Can Your Child Do These 4 Skills Before Starting Middle School?

*This post first appeared on The Educator’s Room – please visit The Educator’s Room website here for more about teaching and parenting.

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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When Your Child Leaves For College

What To Say When Your Child Leaves For College

Three years ago, on this day in 2014, I was wondering what to say when I dropped my daughter off at college. It should have been simple, right? I write voraciously. I’m an educator. I’ve hundreds of kids leave the comfort of home and be absolutely fine. I’ve had good friends to mentor me through what to expect, just like during pregnancy. When your child leaves for college was most certainly a topic on the tip of my consciousness.

But on that day, when it was my 18-year-old baby girl launching off to another state, I was stuck.

I drafted and erased and revised and published getting ready for graduation essays, college tour recaps and leaving home for spending the summers at Mt. Hood. I’d survived a year with my 8th-grade son unexpectedly moving to the mountains to train for the Junior Olympics, yet I was a wreck figuring out how to handle his accident 10 days before her college move in day, a flooded kitchen and my own over-the-top anxiety. This definitely was not going according to plan.

When Your Child Leaves For College

And on this day, three years later, Facebook reminds me of our beautiful, bittersweet drive across the Utah Salt Flats, 10 hours of me and you and wondering how I would manage to say everything that I wanted/needed/should say in the next 24 hours.

I’m a Gen X parent. I grew up with a kind of free-range parenting, knowing I should be home before dark and feeling invincible. We hadn’t heard of HIV, or date-rape, or helicopter parenting. And here I am, the first generation of parents raising the i-kid, happily doling out dollars for the tech that would keep me connected – a part of my baby’s world 650 miles away.

Now I needed to figure out how to employ a kind of ‘stealth-parenting’ – finding the walk to back up my talk, if I could even figure out what that ‘talk’ was. After listening to her college president speak at the convocation, I scribbled out a letter to my college bound daughter. It’s been my most viewed post of all time – I guess I’m not alone in wondering what to say when your child leaves for college after all.

When Your Child Leaves For College

When Your Child Leaves For College

Two years ago – on this day – I became a shuttle driver, watching both my babies paddle out into a Utah river, scramble up a waterfall, and leaving me alone in a hotel room as they chose a campsite over room service. Thank you, Facebook, for reminding me that she could survive her first year of college, and so could I. Nervously relaxing in that hotel room, I struggled with my monkey-mind – what do I say when your child leaves for college the second time? What words does she need to hear – or do I? No longer was I dishing out advice about dorm rooms and ‘firsts’ – suddenly, adulting was more real than ever. My cyber-stealthing had helped somewhat; Instagram and Snapchat offered glimpses into the life I was sure she didn’t really want me to know much about, yet I was desperate to see.

The second year she was on her own, shopping at Costco and stocking up her apartment. She was cooking meals and going to classes and occasionally sharing a bit with me. Driving back, watching the sun rise over her city, the tears came. This time felt different, lonely, hopeful. I comforted myself by writing a letter to parents leaving their kids at college and didn’t look back-most of the time.

When Your Child Leaves For College

One year ago, summer started with her first study abroad, words only shared through sparse wifi connections along the Camino de Santiago. Adventuring is in her blood, and for the first time, I sank into the trust that things will be well, that she will be well, that I will be well. The power of prayer and hope and the knowledge that she would have to figure things out without my advice allowed for us to grow – mostly, for me, I admit. I couldn’t wait to see her, to hug her and note the changes that exploration had inked into her spirit. The third year leaving her at college was more about my transformation into wholeness; I was turning 50 and felt the crack widening. I learned to look at life as it is, to embrace change and hopefully anticipate the changes of motherhood in front of me.

When Your Child Leaves For College

This year I didn’t have to worry about what to say as I dropped her off because it didn’t actually happen. She’s officially adulting now, and never really came home. I traded my tech for travel and bought a ticket to visit her instead. I spent seven glorious days immersing myself in her life, discovering her city and the places she likes to buy her coffee and have special dinners out. I met her friends and bought her wine. We adulted together, no words needed, and then she dropped me off at the airport with a hug and a smile and a glint of a tear in her eye.

Now, her fourth year, I realize this: it’s not the words you say when you’re leaving your child at college, it’s the words you say when you’re not there. It’s how you find a way to be that safe place to fall back to, the warm demander from a distance. It’s the words you say when they fight with their roommate or fall in-or out-of love. It’s the words when you wish you were there to wrap yourself around her, to hold her close and smell the coconut shampoo in her hair and help her through.

It turns out, leaving her at college isn’t the hardest part; having her not come home is worse. This year, leaving her at college is more about leaving her childhood and welcoming her adulthood.

These are my words to help me through this one. Feel free to let me know if you have any advice.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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adulting

You’re Adulting Now: Thoughts On Love For My 21-Year-Old Daughter

I don’t want to go, but I know I can’t stay either. You see, you’re adulting now. You don’t need me in the way I thought you did, or that you used to.

I made a party for you last night. I felt like my own mother – hovering a little from the sidelines, content to be in the shadows of you and your friends adulting on the patio. How many times has my mom been there, behind the scenes, while I took the adulting spotlight?

I happily chopped veggies and cooked chicken in the crock pot all afternoon while you were at work. I baked a lemon cake and chatted with your roommate as we frosted it with whipped cream and berries, just like I used to when you were little.

You’re adulting now

adulting

I made blueberry and pineapple fruit ice cubes, but this time they were for sangria not lemonade, sliced oranges and got out the real wine glasses.

Later, I listened to your girlfriends chat about summer adventures abroad, pushing themselves when they were scared on the ski slopes, and what they dreamed their lives would be like.

They’ve got a bet going on who will get married first and who will become a Mom before everyone else.

They wonder how long it would take to create better male birth control and why couldn’t we elect a female president and how scary it must be to be a mom, all while sipping their sangria and laughing together.

You really are adulting now.

adulting

I made too much food. I really am feeling like my mom right about now, too. That’s a good thing. When I’ve been learning about adulting, my mom has been my greatest teacher. Anything I could or couldn’t do, she could do better. Always.

When I turned 21 my dad threw a big party for me in a restaurant. I ordered my first official cocktail – an old-fashioned – and wore a burgundy and black lace dress that matched my jet black hair. You dad was there, too, but just as my boyfriend. It was big and fun and loud and I remember my own dad smiling a lot. Grandparents, too.

I wasn’t sure how to honor you, though, at 21. It didn’t seem like all the “yo bitches” stuff I found online was quite appropriate. I’m a cool mom, but I have my limits. I couldn’t figure out how to get all the family together out in Salt Lake; one of the drawbacks of you living so far away is we can only visit in small groups.

Grandma has to settle with me texting her photos as we go.

Your grin when you saw the candles on your birthday cake wasn’t any different from when you were two or twelve. You smiled to celebrate you.

adulting

I love that every single one of your friends ate a big slice. #stronggirls.

I did the dishes quietly while you laughed outside and took your final photos, hearing your laughter through the screen door. I wasn’t quite sure how long to hang out with you all. We hugged goodbye to your friends with just a bit of sadness from me; I’ve no idea when I’ll see them again.

When the boys showed up I was already reading and ready for bed. I’m glad you fed them the leftovers and sat around the kitchen table. I could hear you teasing each other as I tried to give you some adult space- honestly, I wasn’t up for anymore adulting today.

And while your voices rose and fall through the closed door, I realized how you don’t need me anymore the way I thought you did. It’s not just the number 21 on a cake or the apartment key on your ring. You’re adulting now, like it or not.

You keep your own hours and earn two paychecks. Your friends leave at a reasonable hour to get rested before their “real” job starts on Monday morning. You do your dishes and put a cork on the wine bottle and make sure the front door is locked and the lights are out.

adulting

You plan to meet for happy hours after mountain biking and know the importance of eight hours of sleep before a work day. You offer me your bed instead of the couch, and your eyes smile when I tell you that for now, at least, the couch is fine.

I’ve only got five hours before I get on the plane and go back home. I want you to sleep but want to cuddle up with you and fresh coffee on the couch and soak in every last minute together. I’m pushing away the nagging thoughts about leaving and trying to dismiss the fact that this time, I don’t know when I’ll see you next.

I hate it when I cry goodbye. I know it makes you sad, too. Adulting can be hard.

Thanksgiving seems like a long time away. I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of adulting yet- the kind where you hug and say it’s been great to see you and safe travels and walk away without knowing how many more days to count down until I wrap my arms around you again.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that- but I’m sure that you are.

That should take the sting out of leaving just a little- at least for me.

You’re adulting now. You’re going to be just fine.

I’ll have to keep my “how-many-days-til-I-see-Lily” countdown secret this time.

I think I need to hang onto my baby girl just a little bit longer.

adulting

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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the fall of lisa bellow a must read

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: A Must-Read About Mothers, Daughters, Trauma and Loss

“Sometimes in the morning, while she waited for her brother to get out of the bathroom, Meredith Oliver would stand in front of her bureau mirror, lock eyes with her reflection, and say, “This is me. This is really me. Right now. This is me. This is my real life. This is me.”~from The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: A Must Read About Mothers, Daughters, Trauma and Loss

When I read the first page of The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo, I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me. Not only am I extremely picky about the novels I spend time with (have you seen my Instagram shelfie shots? It’s obnoxious how long my ‘to-be-read’ list is), but also I spend every work day surrounded by girls like the main character of the novel, Meredith Oliver. Meredith is a typically self-conscious eighth-grade girl. Now I love my job teaching 8th grade, but sometimes at the end of the day, I just want to escape into a  novel nowhere near my real life.

I’m sure glad I didn’t give up on this one. The Fall of Lisa Bellow got under my skin – in a good way. That’s why I’m calling this one a ‘must read’ about mothers, daughters, trauma, and loss.

the fall of lisa bellow a must read

What it’s about:

Meredith Oliver is the youngest in her family; her parents, are both dentists and her brother Evan, is a high school junior. The novel starts off describing her typical teenage angst as she goes about her day, feeling overshadowed by her brother who has experienced life-changing trauma. The plot takes an uptick when on an ordinary day, in broad daylight, Meredith finds herself in the middle of a sandwich shop robbery, quivering in fear on the dirty floor next to the most popular girl in her eighth-grade class, Lisa Bellow. When the gunman chooses Lisa as his hostage, leaving Meredith behind, the plot expands to pull in their families, Meredith’s emotional struggle with being the survivor, and the ripple effects of trauma on the mothers of both girls.

Meredith’s mom, Claire, is uncomfortably pulled into the grief Lisa’s mom is experiencing, which forces Claire to desperately try to cling to her own daughter, the survivor. Claire’s character development weaves threads of maternal guilt, the anxiety of knowing if she’s doing the ‘right thing’, and the universal struggle between parent and child during adolescence. Evan, Meredith’s brother, appears first as a victim of his own traumatic accident and develops as an example of how one can rise and triumph. Mrs. Bellow, Lisa’s mom, portrays the gut-shattering grief experienced by parents experiencing the loss of their child, and the conflict of trying to live without her.

the fall of lisa bellow a must read quote

Why I liked it:

Aside from the fact that I am fascinated by the teenage mind and how humans seem to navigate into and out of its murkiness, I think what I connected with most in this novel was the battle experienced by Claire as she grappled with her maternal instincts versus the reality of her life as a mother, wife, and woman. I know firsthand, like so many mothers, what happens when our children are hurt, either mentally or physically. When my son experienced his ski racing injury and had to rehabilitate and adjust the trajectory of his life experience, I felt the anxiety of second guessing the enormity of his experience and wanting to trust my belief that ‘all will be well’. You can read my reflection on that experience here. Motherhood is no simple task, and add in marriage and career and mid-life disquietude I certainly connected with Susan Perabo’s character.

One of my favorite scenes came about half way through the novel. Claire, in desperate attempt to connect to her daughter’s experience, is consulting Meredith’s therapist. Frustrated at her inability to control the situation, Claire asks,

“How will I know when she’s ready?”

“You’ve been protecting her your whole life,” he said. “You’ll know.”

But he was wrong. Protecting her? …She could not protect her daughter. She could not protect her from the stomach flu. She could not protect her from cancer or AIDS or the common cold. She could not protect her from the mean girls. She could not protect her from her friends. She could not protect her from her own thoughts…She could vaccinate them and make them wear seatbelts and batting helmets. She could give them cell phones with emergency numbers on speed dial. She could give them straight-talk books and scared straight DVDs and a solid, honest, pitch-perfect piece of advice every single morning on their way out the door. But in the end, there was no intervention.

There was only awareness”

~from The Fall of Lisa Bellow, page 165

How many parents have felt this urge to protect, to intervene, to try to anticipate every hurt and shield our children from the pain of real life? This novel reminded me so much of the book If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie with a somewhat reverse plot line. I wrote a post inspired by If I Fall, If I Die called “Please Don’t Go Outside” in which I explored the paradox of wanting your children to grow and love and become their own person and the fear of letting them go where you can’t see. You can read it here.

I also enjoyed the narrative structure of the story; told in alternating points of view, the novel bubbled with tension and kept me connecting with both Meredith and Claire as the plot unfolded. Additionally, there were points in the storytelling where I found myself pausing and thinking about why the writer chose a sort of ‘flashback’ technique that made me wonder if I was really understanding the point of view at all. This beautiful writing, combined with authentic characters and suspenseful plot lines, kept me pushing to finish my end of the year grading so I could reward myself with just a few more chapters of this lovely book.

Who should read it?

As I paged through the story, I questioned if this was a young-adult novel or simply a story for parents struggling with watching their children grow. At the end, I decided it was both. I’m going to share this book in my 8th-grade classroom, and watch who gravitates towards it. I think teens will certainly connect with Meredith’s character and conflict, and I know moms and parents will align with Claire and Mrs. Bellow’s challenges.

Overall, I think The Fall of Lisa Bellow is a must read, and I sure hope you’ll come back here and let me know what your thoughts are.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo is published by Simon & Schuster, who provided me with a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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