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Even my parents, as wonderful as they are, are not perfect.
It was only once I had been teaching elementary school after a few years that I began to realize all of the little ways that my upbringing had influenced particular ways of being in the classroom….
And I promise you that after you’ve been teaching for a little while, you will start to see parts of your childhood illuminated in your interactions with students and in the fabric of your way of life inside your classroom.
So, let’s take a mental break from COVID and fill our minds and hearts with a little bit of fun and laughter today as I share 4 things my mom taught me about working with children (that I really wish she hadn’t)!
Before we dive in, if your school decides that the best thing for the staff and students at your school is to transition to teaching online and you want some great ideas for how you can do that and keep your kiddos uber-engaged and connected with you, even when you have to teach online, I invite you to check out my new mini-course called Transition to Teaching Online:
All right - let’s talk about 4 things my mom taught me about working with children (that I really wish she hadn’t).
Our parents are the ones who teach us how to speak and who encourage our very first words, then phrases, and sentences, and if we’re lucky, they love us so much that they teach us everything that their parents taught them in the most loving way possible.
But sometimes, even the best-intentioned parents might not be the best teachers for their children.
You see, in my case, my mom has a habit of constantly mispronouncing words, but I don’t think that I really understood, until I started teaching, the impact that had on my personal and professional life (we took this pic on her birthday one year at her favorite restaurant: Red Lobster):
For example, my mom loves the “Dala Lami” and “Deepak Oprah.”
She used to ask my brother, when he had a Blackberry, years ago, if he’s going to call her on his “Mayberry” anytime soon and she always asks if I would like to have “gabozo beans” on my salad.
But I just didn’t realize that my mom’s confusion over words was going to really impact me in my teaching, until one day, I had been teaching elementary school for about 5 years, I caught a cold.
I was teaching 2nd grade, so of course, my students often passed on their colds through hugs and wiping their noses on my skirt when I didn’t even realize it when they were sick. (You really don’t have any choice when they’re that little – they just end up right beside you – which is why COVID is going to be such a challenge inside primary classrooms, but anyways…)
The point was that I was very sick, and I was laying on the couch, feeling barely alive, with my nose running and my throat burning.
I asked my husband if he could please get me a “lozenger.”
Yes, I know. Even now, spell-check is trying to correct me. He laughed at me.
“You mean lozenge, right?” he asked.
I glared at him. I was NOT happy about the fact that he was trying to correct me when I was this sick.
“No, I mean lozenger. That’s what they’re called, you know,” I said.
“You’re kidding, right?” he asked.
I was not in the mood for this.
I buried deeper into my blankets and felt sorry for myself. He grinned and leaned towards me.
“Look at the package. Do you see that? It says LOZENGE,” he said.
I blinked and everything was fuzzy, and I was convinced that this was a trick my mind was playing on me because of my fever. But there it was in black and white: lozenge.
I immediately thought, with horror, about all of the 2nd grade children I had taught and corrected over the past five years when they had used this word.
Children who, whenever they came tugging on my skirt with languid eyes and stuffed up noses would ask in small, hopeful voices, “Mrs. Friesen, can I please have a lozenge?” and I, in my best teacher voice would laugh, oh aren’t they adorable, they say the funniest things, and respond, “Oh sweetheart, of course you can have a lozenger.”
As I had learned in university, modeling proper language clearly, I would strongly emphasize the word lozenger, and then ask the child to practice by please asking for it correctly.
I remember parents calling me in the evenings because their children listened so well to Mrs. Friesen that they could only do homework assignments exactly how Mrs. Friesen had asked them to, because Mrs. Friesen always knew the best way.
I can only imagine how many children went home and corrected their parents about using the word “lozenger.”
I called my mom.
“Mom, why do you use the word lozenger? You know it’s lozenge, right?” I asked.
There was silence on the other end of the phone. “Oops. I didn’t know that! Sorry,” she said.
So, be aware: Sometimes, our parents might not always be the very best models of language. You might have something like that in your own experience of growing up and you don’t even know that it’s incorrect – until years later when you realize that you’ve taught it to literally hundreds of children. 😂
(In my defense, I discovered years later that are places where the word lozenger is commonly used, like when I visited New York and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw an entire aisle in Walgreens dedicated to lozengers – not lozenges!)
That’s when I realized that yes, it was in fact commonly used in other places in the world. But it wasn’t the commonly used word where I was teaching in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
So, if you’re a teacher and you don’t know this yet – you might want to ask which word is acceptable where you live!
Now, I really don’t want to offend anyone with this second example, but tied to this example of language is the second thing my mom taught me about working with children that I really wish she hadn’t. (And I say that lightly because I wouldn’t change a thing about my mom).
The second thing she taught me about working with children was the power of positive affirmations. My mom is amazing in the sense that she was always telling me and my little brother Chris how proud she was of us and how smart we were, but it was the WAY in which she did this that maybe wasn’t the most positive example out there.
You see, my mom is adorable. She’s always all dressed up and looks like a million bucks – she even won a beauty contest in our city & was crowned Mrs. Lethbridge.
But, what my mom doesn’t even realize is that she has a potty mouth.
She seriously has no idea that she swears as much as she does, and I have no idea how I managed to grow up NOT swearing with her as my first and most constant example of language.
When she’s in a particularly good mood, she loves to call everyone around her her most affectionate term – and I’m going to spell it out because I want this blog to be PG – but her most affectionate term is: “You’re such a little s-h-*-t."
We’ll use the word SHRIMP instead, so she’d say, “Oh my gosh, you’re such a cute little shrimp!” or a variation of this phrase, “Oh, you’re such a smart little shrimphead.”
Nope, I’m not making that up. 😂
Since I was a little girl, I’ve been a little shrimphead every time I’ve done something wonderful or whenever mom is in an especially good mood. When I came home from school with straight A’s, my mom beamed and told me what a smart little shrimphead I was.
When we gave her a thousand dollars to go to the spa for her 60th birthday, as she embraced me she cried, “Oh you little shrimp. You didn’t have to do that!"
And it’s not just people who this term of endearment is lavished on. I used to have two Maltese-poodles named Tango and Sparky, who I love and miss every day, and when she saw them, she used to just gush,
“Oh, how are my little shrimpheads?! You are such good little shrimpheads, aren’t you?!”
Seriously, she has no idea that she’s doing it.
These two words have made me afraid to have children, because I knew that one day when my little girl went to kindergarten and talked about her family, it would have become public knowledge that her grandma calls her a shrimphead. 😂
I know, right? How I ever ended up teaching elementary school and NOT having a potty mouth is beyond me. However, my mom did lavish all kinds of loving, positive attention on me.
Even though the words she used might not have been very appropriate, her energy and spirit behind it was incredible to experience.
All right – moving on – the third thing my mom taught me about working with children that I really wish she hadn’t was:
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet but my family didn’t have a whole lot of money growing up.
Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t poor, we were blue collar, but I wasn’t one of those kids who got a commercially packaged pudding in my lunch at school each day.
No. Instead, if I was lucky, my mom would make pudding and put it in a Tupperware container for me to enjoy as a treat. Plus, my mom was way too pragmatic to pay an extra .17 cents for a pre-packaged pudding when she could just do it herself.
You know how in most households, parents encourage their children to eat fruit because it’s healthier, right?
Well, in our household, fruit was a luxury because fruit is not cheap, so each time I reached for a piece of fruit as a snack, my mom would say,
“Stop eating all of the fruit! Have a cookie if you’re hungry.”
In her mind, this made complete sense. Fruit was more expensive than cookies, so cookies tended to be the filler food that we ate at our house between meals.
My brother and I would snack on cookies and licorice, and mom would gain weight while for us kids, the calories seemed to just slide off. 😊
Then I would get phone calls like this when I was in university:
“Hi mom, what’s up?” I asked.
There was a long pause, then a sigh.
“I need help,” she said. “I need someone to tell me what to stop putting in my mouth.”
I laughed, knowing, although she had phrased her request somewhat awkwardly, that she was actually asking for help with what she was eating.
“Oh mom, I’m sure it’s not that bad. What did you have for breakfast?” I asked.
Again, a long pause.
“Angel food cake,” she said.
“But there wasn’t any frosting on it, so that should be ok, right?” she said.
That conversation led to my mom begging me to go on a diet with her.
I really hesitated. I had been watching my weight, I worked out at least four times every week, and at that time I really didn’t need to go on a diet. But I agreed to try it with my mom to give her some moral support.
I went over to her house and we went through the meal plan she had photocopied from one of her friends carefully, and right away I knew that this was going to be hard for me because the diet consisted mostly of vegetable soup.
All morning, in between classes at university, I drank coffee instead of tea because I thought it was a little heavier and would help me to feel fuller.
At that time, I hated coffee. I hated the taste of it, I hated the smell of it, and I hated the way it left a funny aftertaste in my mouth. But I was desperate to stick to this diet to support my mom.
I struggled to concentrate on my assignments, distracted by hunger, but I did it. And at lunch time I went back to my parents’ house, ravenous for the vegetable soup we were allowed to eat.
As I came into the house, I called out for mom, hoping that she had already heated up our lunch.
That’s funny – she wasn’t anywhere. Just then, I noticed that there was a light on in the pantry. I opened the door, and there she was. My mom. Eating a bag of Oreos.
Seriously. So here’s the thing: We’re supposed to model good nutrition for our students, but sometimes it's hard to do that when we've grown up with a bit of a different model... my mom, unfortunately, became pre-diabetic before she changed the way she ate and started limiting sugar in her diet.
So, you might start to realize just how much your eating patterns growing up impact your modeling for your students, and hopefully you aren’t modeling eating angel food cake for breakfast for your students!
And finally, I still can’t believe this last one, but the last thing my mom taught me about working with children that I really wish she hadn’t is that spelling isn’t really that important.
Probably my favorite mom-spelling-moment was when we were in New York together on a special mother-daughter shopping trip to celebrate her birthday, and we were just wandering through one of those gorgeous New York neighborhoods, talking.
I finally got the chance to ask her a question I had been wanting to know the answer to for a very long time.
My mom’s name is Jo-Anne, and as you can see, she has an E at the end of her name, Jo-Anne.
My middle name is also Ann, just like my mom, but I always wondered why there wasn’t an E at the end of my middle name.
So I asked her.
“Mom, why doesn’t my middle name have an ‘e’ at the end of it?” I asked.
She looked surprised.
“It doesn’t?” she asked.
I looked at her, shocked. Did my mom just admit that she didn’t know how to spell my name?
“You really forgot to put an ‘e’ at the end of my middle name?” I asked.
She glared at me.
“Well you try being in labor for 24 frickin’ hours and then have a spelling lesson. You can add an e if you want to, it’s no big deal you know,” she said.
So there you have it. I had lived more than 40 years of my life without an E at the end of my middle name, and she was right – it actually wasn’t that big of a deal after all.
I still haven’t added an E, if you’re wondering. Because now, each time I spell my full name, I laugh a little bit, thinking about my mom. 😂
I hope you enjoyed learning these four things that my sweet mom taught me about working with children that I wish she hadn’t.
I’d love to hear your stories about how your childhood and upbringing is impacting your teaching in ways you hadn’t even realized. I love hearing stories about how we all grew up because it really does give us insight into how we handle ourselves around children – both good and bad.
If you haven’t already joined my Beginning Teacher Talk Private FB group, I hope you’ll join soon. We have the most amazing group of educators on the planet inside that group, so if you’re looking for a community of support & encouragement, come and ask to join us by clicking here now!
Until next week, I hope you have a fabulous week, and remember: Just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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