My Life as a Mom and a Teacher by Tara McCabe
I remember vividly my daughter Kelly’s first day of kindergarten, which was the same week I returned to college to get a teaching degree. Kelly was ready for school; she was very independent and was excited to be a student. With her plaid Catholic school jumper and a new backpack, she hopped on the bus that morning, waved goodbye, and didn’t look back. Her brothers, Andrew and Kevin, were in third grade. As they all went to school, I attended my own education classes at a local college.
My life as a teacher has been indelibly influenced by my life as a mom, so it seems fitting that my formal teacher training began when my children were finally all in school. However, the most important aspects of my teacher education were formed not from my university courses, but from my experiences being the mother of Andrew, Kevin, and Kelly.
Kelly’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. King, taught Kelly to read and write, but more importantly made Kelly feel loved. Mrs. King knew something special and unique about each of her students, and when she spoke with parents, it was clear that she also loved her students. Kelly graduated from kindergarten confident in her abilities, primarily because she knew her teacher loved her. As a bonus, she loved to read.
Andrew and Kevin started listening to books as newborns. When they were three years old, I decided to try reading a chapter book aloud; the boys kept insisting on “one more chapter” of Charlotte’s Web. After that, we always had a chapter book to read, and Kelly grew up listening in. I read aloud during many dinners, on long car trips, in waiting rooms, and every night before bed. By the time the boys were in second grade, they were reading the Harry Potter books and in fourth grade were enthralled by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I had grown up in a reading home and loved to read, so hadn’t really thought beyond that when surrounding my children with books. Then one day I came across The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease and in addition to widening my selection for read-alouds, this book showed the data concerning children who read a lot and those who didn’t. Mr. Trelease stressed that kids who read a lot are strong readers. He emphasized reading aloud to build vocabulary and create a love of reading. This seemed very straightforward, especially since I could already clearly see the effects of reading in my own children.
While working on getting my teaching degree, I was introduced to the emphasis on standardized testing. One of my practicum experiences was in a school where the teachers were under tremendous pressure to raise reading scores. Being naïve, I thought the students needed time to read books that they liked and should be read to. If they liked to read, they would do it more and get better at it, right? But that isn’t what the school did. There was no free reading time in the classrooms and no read-aloud time. Instead, there were mandatory test preparation times daily, countless reading worksheets, and guided reading which involved children reading aloud and being “caught” when a word was mispronounced. I felt frustrated, knowing that my own children were great readers because they liked to read. It seemed so simple and obvious.
When I started teaching in my own classroom, it was wonderful to have the freedom to do what I thought best. I filled bookshelves with books, made silent reading time a priority, and always had a book to read aloud. These are the things I did in my own home to raise readers, so I knew it worked. I have continued to learn from authors like Donalyn Miller, Kylene Beers, and Penny Kittle, and have incorporated new ideas and practices in my classroom. These authors have strengthened my belief in the power of reading, as has my experience at Nerd Camp this past summer in Michigan.
However, even with all of my “official” professional development experiences, my most important influences really are from my life as a mom. I understand that a project can be forgotten on the kitchen table when you are rushing out in the morning, or that with after-school activities it can be hard to find time to study for spelling words when all you want to do is read your book. I know that giving kids time to read books they like will improve their reading skills, and that it is crucial to put the right books into their hands so they will love reading. I know that if a child is unhappy coming to school, it is a very long year for the parents too. Finally, a mom wants her child to be appreciated and loved, just like Mrs. King did with her students. Not surprisingly, she is a mom, too.
Tara McCabe has been teaching sixth grade in Davenport, Iowa for twelve years. She loves reading, being a teacher, and watching her daughter in the Band of the Fighting Irish. Her children are now in college, after having aced the reading sections on college entrance exams, and are all majoring in engineering. You can follow her on Twitter at @irishteacher6.