Inspiring Books for Teachers

Teachers have been a topic of interest of late. Many are preparing their classrooms both virtual and face-to-face and some have already begun teaching for the year. I spent 14 years teaching and I remember the joys, frustrations and excitement of preparing a classroom for a new group of learners. All teachers are facing a new set of rules this year as they embark on the 20/21 school year and first and foremost, I want to applaud them and thank them for all that they do each and every day for our children.

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Second, I want to say, I know the struggle of keeping the fire alive day after day when faced with a difficult student, a challenging set of parents, a lack of funding for curriculum, lack of support from administration. Sometimes the, “Why do I do this?”, creeps in. This school year I know many teachers are facing a new set of worries, frustrations, complications and fears; yet they return because they love the children and they love to teach.

I decided to share some books that have inspired me most or helped me most as a teacher. Some are fiction, some are “How To” and some are reflections on education and society. Each one has helped me or motivated me in one way or another as a teacher and if you are an educator reading this I hope they can do the same for you!

The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers can Learn from Each Other

I believe this book should be required reading for ALL educators, and it wouldn’t hurt parents to read it either. The title subtitle says it all, what parents and teachers can learn from each other, because it should be a collaboration. We have become increasingly parent against teacher in this nation instead of working together to provide the framework our children need to succeed. I see the degeneration of the parent-teacher relationship now more than ever as countless people sit behind their computers and complain that teachers “need to get back into classrooms and work.” The community has lost connection with teachers, what they do, the hours “off the clock” they are still working and and instead respect for teachers has been replaced with contempt by many.

Teachers have somehow become the be all end all solution to every problem, every child has. I have had many fortunate collaborations with parents in my career that resulted in positive and on going relationships. I also had those who wanted to blame me for every problem their child was having, you can’t win them all. But if we worked together, kept the lines of communication open and on both sides worked towards what is best for the child, I bet we’d see amazing results!

Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

First I love A. J. Jacob’s writing, it is real, funny sarcastic and you actually learn something to boot! If you haven’t read one of this books, please do, they’re wonderful What I love about this book is that I WAS the kid who’s parents’ owned the complete encyclopedia set and I did sit and read it. I have loved learning and reading as long as I can remember and I haven’t stopped yet! This book is a funny reminder that we simply can’t know it all even when kids think we do.

It is important to be honest with children if you don’t know the answer to something and then take the opportunity to discover the answer together! I have often, both as a teacher and a parent, stopped what I was doing to look something up on the internet, or grab a book off the shelf so that a question could be answered. By admitting we don’t know everything, we show kids that it is OK not to have all the answers but that there are always ways of finding them!

We Need to Talk About Kevin

This book is one of the most powerful fiction books I have ever read. I have rad it twice so far and will probably read it again. I recommend this book to ALL teachers and parents, especially parents of boys. I will not delve too much into the plot, but I will say this piece was an eye opener on mental health in children. The first time I read it was before I had children and in today’s day and age I think this book is even more releavnt.

It is also an important reminder that as an outsider to everyone’s life but your own, you have no idea what another parent or family is facing or dealing with. Judgement hurts us all, it creates barriers, us vs. them. Unless you are living the life, you have no place to make assumptions on why a child behaved a certain why, or what a parent is facing personally. Thorough my experience as a teacher and my education I have been privy to things in children’s homes no one would ever guess. While none of us are perfect, mistakes are made, bad decisions chosen, do your best to reserve judgement on a child or family that doesn’t seem to make sense to you and instead find out in what ways you can help.

Teacher Man

If you are a teacher and you haven’t read this book yet, you should. Frank McCourt, was that teacher, the Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society teacher, the one that got his students. This book is powerful and shows just how much a teacher can give of themselves to their career and to their students. It is also an insider look into the fact that teachers, believe it or not, are humans like everyone else out there. That teachers have their ups and downs, professional disappointments, vices and personal problems.

You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party

This has been the single most transformative book to my career as a teacher. I read this and spent half a semester of grad school implementing this in the Pre-K room I was assistant teaching in at the time. I read this, and a light bulb went on.

We have all heard little kids say these things:

You can’t come to my birthday party!

You can’t come to my house!

You can’t play with my anymore!

It’s how children try to handle conflict and disagreements, by attempting to wield the little power they have or think they have. This book centers on helping children solve conflicts appropriately by giving them the tools to do so. It places the teacher in the role of mentor not judge or decision maker, but instead empowers children to make decisions regarding disputes together and in their own words. Since I first read this I have employed it every classroom I have worked in and have trained other educators on the principles and methodology as well.

A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, Power

A Call to Action is a reminder that there are many out there without the same access to education as those of us in more affluent countries and communities. It is a reminder than in many parts of the world and within many religions it is considered taboo to educate women and girls. This book was a reminder to me that we need to continue to encourage our girls to break the barriers of male dominated careers and help them know that they have the same rights to be an astronaut, doctor, member of the military, engineer, professional sports player and whatever else their heart might desire.

I temper this by saying, our young boys need to support to, just often in a different arena. We have to stop telling our boys they need to be “tough”, that they “can’t cry” and we have to allow our children both boys and girls, the opportunity to express themselves, follow their interests and be whoever it is they want to be. Cue the next book….

This is how it Always is

This book gave me goosebumps up and down. Not just because as a parent, it is hard to imagine what it would be like if my child were transgender, I know I would love either one of mine just the same, but what internal struggles would I have? It also affected me because of the way the education system failed this child by just not understanding and making their life so much harder.

This is a fictional story, but LGBT children and their families have been facing these struggles for a long time. These children don’t know where they belong, they often feel forced to hide part or all of who they are, and LGBT teens are one of the largest groups of individuals who commit suicide. This book is a reminder that while we can’t always understand what a child is going through, or know how to help, and it may even make us feel uncomfortable, but as the caring adults in their lives we need to find ways to let them know that we are indeed there for them and that we love them and that we wil be there to help them figure it out as best we can

The End of Education

This book is an insightful and critical look at how education has changed over the decades. While published 25 years ago in 1995, it still offers relevant insights into the modern education system, the changes made for the worse for both children and educators and insight into why and how we need to fix and rectify the American education system.

There have, of course, been many other books throughout the years that have impacted me one way or the other, but these are the ones that have been the most influential. Being a teacher is a hard job, being a parent is a hard job, let’s all remember to treat each other with respect. While we may hold different opinions on the current schooling situation we can still maintain that mutual respect needed to do what is best for our children. Stay Well!

Kid, You Don’t Always Get a Trophy

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Moms and Dads, I need your help. Please, PLEASE, stop acting like your child just won the World Series while they stood in the left-field picking their nose as their team lost the game. On the same note, don’t tell them they should get a prize for trying. All this bombastic praise is raising a generation (or two or three) of entitled, impatient, aren’t I the most fabulous children that don’t know the first thing about surviving in the real world. Now before you stop reading, thinking I am the meanest mom in the world, allow me to say this. I love praising my children when it is merited. They do not get a parade for picking their shoes off the floor, they do not get a plaque to hang on the wall for completing their homework, and they do not deserve a trophy for losing. They don’t.

How can our children learn to process disappointment, anger, sadness, and all those scary and ugly feelings if we don’t let them? It sucks, I know, I have watched my son cry because the camp he was looking forward to all summer was canceled. I have seen him stomp his feet in anger and frustration because he couldn’t quite get the new skateboarding trick. I had to explain to him that he wasn’t cast in the first play he auditioned for and really wanted to do. Instead of blaming someone or something else, telling him he was the greatest skateboarder ever or really deserved the part in the play over the other boy, I told him the truth. Crazy right?

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I explained camp was canceled due to coronavirus that it was out of our control, and it is really disappointing, but some things we can’t change. I acknowledged his frustration with the skateboard and told him that the only way to get better was to practice and keep working hard, and I also acknowledged his effort. That’s different than blind, blanketed praise. I didn’t tell him he deserved something or was owed something, I said to him that I could see how hard he was trying and if he kept at it; eventually, he would get there. And when it came to the rejection from the play, as a performer, I had been there more times than anyone can count, and I said it sucks, it hurts, but it’s the way it goes. You wait for the next opportunity, and you try, and you try, and you try. As the saying goes, you fail 100% of the time you don’t try.

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What you DO want to praise and encourage is their effort, hard work, determination, and insight. The key is to be specific. Tell them WHAT they did that caught your attention. Then, help them problem-solve to get to the next step. “You did a lot of research on your planet project, I saw you reading all those books from the library. Since you didn’t get the grade you were expecting, what do you think you could have done differently?” In one fell swoop, you validated their effort and work and opened the door to help them do better next time.

As parents, we want our children to have the sun the moon, and yes, throw the stars in too. We don’t want them to feel disappointment or shame or anger; how else will they learn? If we take every upset away and make them think they should always win despite lack of effort, natural talent, or unforeseen circumstances, how will they grow? If we hand them everything instead of teaching them the value of hard work, how will that benefit them? The best thing we can do as parents is to embrace the difficult times that come their way and use them as teachable moments. I know it’s not easy, but they will thank you later.

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These are a Few of my Favorite Things… for Kids

As both a mom and a Pre-K teacher I have purchased and interacted with A LOT of toys. Some have been fantastic and surpassed my wildest dreams while others have left me out to dry. I’ve complied a list of some my top toys. If you’re not familiar with these already then I hope I just introduced you and your child to their next favorite thing. Click on the name of any of these items to learn more!

Zingo! This a fan favorite in my four and five year old classroom. The set in my classroom used to be my personal game before my two outgrew it. It’s Bingo but requires letter and word recognition. It also promotes memory and hand eye coordination skills.

Lego Marble ~ Few things keep young children busier than Legos. Combine that with a marble run and there are endless opportunities. This is the perfect toy to boost STEM skills, problem solving and creativity.

Lazada Pig Pillow ~ My six year old has this and it goes everywhere with him. It’s so incredibility soft I want one of my own. It comes in a variety of sizes and options and is bound to be your child’s new best friend.

Chalk. Colored chalk is one of the most popular toys I have ever utilized. It is open ended and provides so much opportunity for creative expression. Plus it’s a great way to get everyone outside and enjoying the sunshine!

Dan&Darci Flower Growing Kit ~ Spring is the perfect time to take your kids outside and teach them about gardening. This kit is a great starter garden for your budding botanist and bonus it comes with paints to decorate the flower box!

Flybar My First Foam Pogo Stick ~ These are fantastic! Both my boys received these this year for their birthday and they are loving them! They hold up to 250 pounds, so you better believe I tried it out too. This toy is great for building balance and gross motor skills. Hey, if your kids don’t want one get it for yourself!

Kanoodle ~ This is a fantastic logic game that has even stumped me at times! Admittedly, when it comes to logic puzzles, I am not the best. I had to order a second one of these for the house because my kids were fighting over who got to play with it. Logic and problem solving are the key skills honed by this marvelous, inexpensive toy.

Piano Music Mat ~ We had one of these for years in our home and it was always a favorite of my two. Your kids can jump and dance around and make sounds with the instrument options and it has a record setting so your little Mozart can play back the music they made. I used it to reenact my own Tom Hanks “Big” Moment.

I could list so many more, and I will probably will down the line! When purchasing toys for kids I like to think about what possibilities the toy presents and what senses it engages. For me, the less electronics the better. Guide your children while playing by asking them open ended questions as this will engage and enhance their language and literacy skills.

If your quarantine brain is starting to fuzz on what to do to keep your kids engaged then I hope this list can give you some ideas or at least set you down the right path!

Solid Gold Poop or how my son’s potty training cost me $14,000

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Have you ever cried because someone wouldn’t poop in a toilet?  I am guessing that the answer for the average person is no.  If your answer happens to be yes, then I honestly hope your experience was nothing like mine.  I hope you have never lost all hope and sat on the floor of your bathroom and cried hysterically over someone not pooping.

My oldest son is a brilliant, funny, silly, athletic boy who loves all things reptile.  People who have met him in the last few years never believe me when I tell stories of what he was like from ages 3-6.  They think I am exaggerating and dramatic, and I know there have been a few people who just thought I outright made this shit up, no pun intended.  But I can guarantee you it was real.  I lived three years of potty-training hell and not to be glib about it, those were some of the darkest and most stressful years of my life. 

        Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the story, let’s talk about potty-training one of the hottest parenting topics.  EVERYBODY has an opinion on potty-training these days, and there are a lot of views to be had on the subject. One doesn’t even need to be a parent or early childhood teacher to tout their opinion.  I know people with no potty-training experience whatsoever who loved to make comments when I was going through this ordeal.  But here is the thing, every child is different.  Like other developmental skills, potty-training is not going to happen at the same time for everyone, there is no one size fits all approach.  Now, this is the part that really gets under my skin, parent shaming.  No one has the right to shame a parent because their child is not potty trained.  No one gets to judge those parents or that child.  Also, the parent whose kid happens to potty train so cooperatively before 3 is not a genius or a super parent who gets to lord it over other kids and their parents. Their kid is not smarter or better than the kid who doesn’t make it there until later. 

        You should, by all means, be proud of your potty-trained child.  PLEASE be proud.  BE happy, be excited, enjoy life.  I give you license (not that you need my permission) to jump up and down, pop a bottle of champagne, and celebrate. It’s a significant accomplishment.  Just don’t use that accomplishment as a means to think that you or your child is better than anyone else.  I will step down off my soapbox now.

        The average age for a typically developed child is around 27-40 months.  First off, that is a big range.  Also read that first part again, go ahead, I’ll wait.  Typically Developed are the keywords.  Turns out, mine wasn’t ready nor typically developed.  Question is how do you know if your child is ready?  You look for the signs of readiness.  The Mayo Clinic sites these (and I agree with them which is why I posted them)

 Is your child ready? Ask yourself:

Can your child walk to and sit on a toilet?

Can your child pull down his or her pants and pull them up again?

Can your child stay dry for up to two hours?

Can your child understand and follow basic directions?

Can your child communicate when he or she needs to go?

Does your child seem interested in using the toilet or wearing “big-kid” underwear?

If you answered mostly yes, your child might be ready. If you answered mostly no, you might want to wait — especially if your child is about to face a major change, such as a move or the arrival of a new sibling. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/potty-training/art-20045230

  *During this process, we threw both those things in his direction.

        I presented all this background knowledge so that my story makes more sense.  So, after much ado, here we go.  As mentioned in a previous post, my second son was born exactly two weeks after my oldest turned 3.  MAJOR CHANGE in his life.  Huge, wrecking ball, gorillas in the camp style change.  We didn’t know at the time that he would be diagnosed with anxiety a little bit down the line.  We knew he had Sensory Processing Disorder. He had been seeing an occupational therapist and a speech therapist for about a year.  The anxiety was a curveball we weren’t expecting. 

  Until the age of three, his therapy was free through the Infant and Toddler program in the state of Illinois.  After three, we became private pay for the OT, and we could not afford it at the time, so we decided to drop it and do as much as we could at home.  Our income consisted of my meager salary as a pre-K teacher in a suburb outside the city and a living stipend received by my husband at the time who was in school. 

  The concept of potty training had been introduced but wasn’t going anywhere fast and then BAM! Regression took hold.  He refused anything and everything with the potty.  Ok, it’s cool, he’s barely three and has a newborn in the house.  We’ll pause for now.  Only the pause became almost 3 years of terror.  This is where it gets rough, so hold on…

        When the regression wouldn’t budge, and he was approaching four, we decided he needed help outside what we could do.  The pediatrician had no helpful advice, so we took him to a multi-discipline therapy office.  Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to pull out the calculator and start adding up the dollars.  For the next year, he visited this office, during which he received the diagnosis of anxiety coupled with his SPD.  I don’t remember how often he went, but I believe it was twice a month.  These visits were roughly $150 apiece.  No insurance accepted, but they were good, and it was convenient to my work.   So after about 10 months of bi-weekly visits, our price tag is at $3,000.  The good news was that this $3,000 achieved peeing in the potty and little to no more accidents in that realm.  The poop…. Well, we are about to reach a new level.

        I am going to pause for a moment so you can try to understand what was going on inside this little four-year-old body and mind.  Life was confusing, new brother, and less mommy time.  He feared the toilet, common among young children, especially those loud flushes. Lastly, because of the SPD, he could not make sense of the urge to go.  His brain was literally unable to process the message from his body that he needed to pee.  On top of that, he is dealing with anxiety.  I have anxiety, and I can barely handle it at times, and I am almost 40.  That’s a lot to have to deal with at 4. 

  Now that we have fully trained in pee, we were told no more pull-ups during the day.  This would be fine except he would not poop in a toilet, nor did he wait until the evening when his sleep pull-up was on to go.  He would simply poop in his pants.  Usually, several times a day.  That meant several changes of clothing each day.  Because his bladder would also often release, he would be in urine-soaked pants as well. Most of the underwear couldn’t be saved.  I estimate I spent roughly $500 on underwear during this phase.  New total $3,500

        The anxiety created two outcomes; he would be playing and wouldn’t tell me he had gone resulting in poop being caked all over his legs and bottom, or if we were out in public, he would hide from me.  Now my anxiety took over.  I would turn around in Target or the park, and he would be gone.  My heart jumped into my throat every time.  To make it worse, I couldn’t just run all overlooking for him, I had a baby with me.  If you do not know what it is like to be afraid and feel fear every time you take your small child out in public, then I genuinely hope you never do. 

        The multiple accidents meant that in addition to carrying the standard supplies I needed for a baby while out, I had to carry at least 2 pairs of pants and underwear for him plus extra wipes.  I changed my son’s poop-filled undies and pants pretty much anywhere you can imagine, and none of them were pleasant.  At 4, he was way too big for a changing table, and even if he could fit up there, how humiliating for him.  I’d find the most private place I could, always grateful when a public restroom was nearby, and I would kneel on the floor as he stood so I could clean him.  Each time I would gently talk to him about using the potty to poop just like he did to pee.  But no change happened. 

  The frustration for me was mounting.  I loved this child so much, but how much more was I expected to take?  I often cried when I was in private.  I spent hours furiously searching the internet for other moms like me. Those searches usually found those individuals who thought they were the gods of potty training, making me believe I was a terrible failure, and something was incredibly wrong with my son.  I seemed to be alone in this battle.  I could not find another mom who really got what I was going through.  Looking back, I know this isn’t true; but at the time, my heart was bleeding.

  Just after he turned 5, and was still not pooping in the potty, we left Chicago and came to Maryland.  He was supposed to start Kindergarten in the fall, but he wasn’t fully potty-trained, and the move regressed him again.  The accidents became more frequent.  There was no way in good conscious I could put this struggling boy in the public-school system yet.  I had secured a job at a childcare center as an Assistant Director, and in the fall, he would begin there and do another year of Pre-K.  So now we add $7,500 to the total bringing us to $11,000.

        I want to thank the amazing, loving, caring Pre-K teachers he had at both schools who never made him feel ashamed, helped protect his privacy, and loved him through those two years.  Each and every one of you is amazing.

        Once in Maryland, I immediately sought out a therapist, and he still sees this amazing woman.  Originally it was not covered under the insurance we had, so now we tack on another $600 until insurance kicked in.  So, $11,600.  His new therapist got him, she still gets him, and she has been the single most influential person in this ordeal.  Because of his ridiculously high IQ, normal prizes and incentives didn’t work for him.  You couldn’t use reverse psychology (which is mostly how his brother was trained, him never one to lose a challenge), my older son needed more.  Finally, he started to go on the potty once in a while.  Dare my heart to believe this was happening?  Now his therapist suggested a big prize, what was the thing he most loved in the world.   His answer to her was Disney World.  So even though it had been less than a year since we took a trip there, that became the incentive.  I did not care at this point.  I did not care that we had just had a vacation there less than a year ago.  I made a huge colorful chart with Disney stickers on it, and 100 spaces clearly labeled and hung it on his door.  If he pooped in the potty 100 times, we would go.  And he did.  So we did. Total now $14,000. 

        Thinking about all of this now and writing it down, for the first time, is cathartic.  I’ve tried to talk to people about it, but I find most people don’t get how truly horrible this was for me.  My heart still beats a little bit faster. I still feel the anguish of that poor mom dreading a trip to Target, the mom who struggled to find swim diapers that fit so he could play in the water and the one crying her heart out sitting on a bathroom floor.  My son caught me one time, I thought he had gone back to his room to play, but he must have heard me and came back.  He asked, very quietly, “Why are you crying, Mommy?” I looked at him, and as calmly as I could, I said, “Because you won’t poop in the potty.”  He gave me a hug and went back to playing.  From time to time, he will say, “Hey Mom, remember that time you cried because I wouldn’t poop in the potty?”  I typically smile and say something like, “I do, I was very frustrated, but now it’s no big deal!” but inside, I am thinking, “Yes sweetheart, I do, I cried so many times.  I thought I was worthless and failing you, and I stressed beyond belief on a daily basis, but I loved you so much, which is why I did what I did and went through all of it”. 

        He is the most amazing child, who now, like a proper nine-year-old, drives me nuts for ordinary things.  I hate that his journey and mine had to be what it was, but he is happy and healthy. I have finally been able to tell someone, you, about what I went through, maybe one day I’ll even be able to laugh about it… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

100th Poop Trip March 2017