Moms in Progress: Jill Heffner, Teacher and Grandmother

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Anna

Hello, Texting the Truth readers! Many of our kids are getting ready to go back to school (mine start today actually!), so we wanted to chat with an experienced teacher, mother, and “Nana,” my mom: Jill Heffner! Welcome to the blog, Mom!

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Jill

Hello! I’m humbled by your invitation to share my thoughts. But, there’s nothing I enjoy more than talking about children.

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Anna

Perfect! First, can you tell us a little about the picture above?

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Jill

I’m a teacher at Mason City Schools. I’m the one in the front row, far left. Last year, a group of us were given modulars as classrooms. We called ourselves the “mod squad” and had a fun year. This was a baby shower we threw during our lunch period.

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Anna

Love it! Tell us about your family. How long have you been a mother and grandmother?

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Jill

I was blessed with motherhood over 41 years ago and am lucky enough to have 3 beautiful daughters. My 13 year old granddaughter gave me the title of “Nana” and was my first “angel.” Angel #2 came three years later and we finally got to experience having a boy! My other three angels are two girls, ages 6 & 7, and a 3-year-old grandson which almost balanced the boy-girl ratio. I’ve decided, as much as I love being a teacher, there’s nothing better than being a grandmother. My “angels” own my heart.

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Anna

I know that you do! And they are so lucky for it!

So how long have you been a teacher?

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Jill

I remember deciding that I wanted to become a teacher when I was 8 years old, however, life didn’t present the opportunity to go to teacher college until much later, and I was over 40 before I proudly realized my dream. Now, 25 years later, I’ve been lucky enough to teach all subjects and have worked with grades 3-5, the bulk of that time spent in 4th. My love and favorite discipline to teach is science, but my passion became reading because I found if my students struggled with reading, they typically struggled in all academic areas. With that mindset, I earned my Master’s Degree in 2002 and began working with small groups of students as a reading intervention specialist.

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Have you ever regretted that decision to teach reading instead of science?

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Jill

Not at all. Year after year I have the privilege of watching kids become more confident as their competence grows. THAT’S what I love most… watching students reshape their attitude of, “I’m just not good at reading” to, ” Reading is actually fun.”

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Anna

That’s awesome. It’s not an easy job, and you do it so well.

What is your advice about how we (as moms) can build a good relationship and partnership with our kids’ teachers?

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Jill

Great question and I admire moms that make the effort to partner with teachers. First, adopt an attitude of “teaming” with your child’s teacher and expect to work together to face whatever the school year presents. A quick and friendly email or phone call will probably resolve any issues that arise and assure the teacher you really do want to work as a team.

Anna
Anna

“Quick and friendly” — that’s so important!

Here’s another teacher question: From your perspective, how can moms best support their kids’ learning/education from home, especially if they are struggling with a subject?

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Jill

Again, communication is the key. Never assume the teacher is fully aware that your child is struggling with a particular subject or assignment. If you are a fairly involved parent and provide quite a bit of assistance at home, it may appear at school as though your child isn’t struggling at all. I have always been extremely grateful when parents bring student struggles to my attention. Either, I become aware that it is necessary to intervene at school or I already understood there was a struggle but now realize the parent is willing to take on a home intervention. Both scenarios are a win for the student.

Remember, your child’s teacher is surrounded by resources, able to collaborate with fellow teachers as well as specialists to address student struggles. Use those resources via the teacher.

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Anna

OK! So we should not hesitate to communicate. Good advice, especially when I sometimes feel like I shouldn’t “bother” the teacher.

What about this kind of situation: Our child comes home upset, saying the teacher was “mean” or “unfair.” What is the best way for a mom to respond?

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Jill

A healthy first response is to comfort your child, but not “take sides.” As moms, it’s easy to get angry when we feel our child is hurting because of unfair treatment, especially by an adult. But remember, you probably don’t have the whole story, either because the child is not fully sharing it or there is a misunderstanding. With as little emotion as you can present, lovingly but firmly get your child’s perspective with details. Then, calmly tell them you will need to talk to the teacher to understand the entire situation. Then, reserve all judgment until you have “the whole story.” Often, when children hear you’re going to talk to the teacher, they change or add to their stories. This is particularly true if they have “embellished” a bit. The calmer you are and the more willing you are to discuss it with the teacher, the better chance you have to help your child see the situation from a rational, realistic viewpoint. With this approach, you are modeling a life skill that will serve them well. My philosophy here…take a deep breath and wait to worry.

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Anna

I feel like your key advice there was “reserve judgement”! That’s not always easy to do, but I feel like it’s so important — even when we feel that Mama Bear instinct rise up!

Thinking back over your 25 years of teaching, what is the one parent relationship that stands out to you as really special, and what made it so special?

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Jill

I’m going to have to talk about Janice Penny. One year, I was given a group of students who were extremely challenging. I had an unusually large number of students with IEP and 504 plans. There were also a fair number of behavior plans that needed to be implemented. It was still fairly early in my career and I was more than overwhelmed. I began to work unusually long hours and it was affecting my home life as all three girls were still at home.

Janice knew her son was one of the most demanding of my time, both behaviorally and academically. She asked if she could volunteer occasionally and I eagerly welcomed her help. Occasionally turned into often, which quickly turned into daily. She is one of the kindest, most hard-working people I’ve ever known. She became my unofficial aide, knowing my routine and student needs.

She took on the busy work as well as anything she knew she could do well to free up my time to teach. When the year was over, we were more than friends. For years, she continued to come to school often to help whatever teacher needed her, even if it was just making copies or walking a class to lunch. Yes, that relationship was very special.

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Anna

Wow! So as a mom, I’m thinking that I can’t volunteer in the classroom every day! She was clearly amazing!! But I can offer to volunteer occasionally. And I know some teachers can even use help from home.

OK, here is a lighter question. What do teachers REALLY want for Christmas?

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Jill

I do love personalized gifts. I still decorate my Christmas tree with ornaments students have made me over the years. However, it’s not always easy to come up with those “special” presents. So, speaking honestly and practically, gift cards to places like Target & Kroger are wonderful because they are so versatile.

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Anna

That makes sense! Do you have any general words of encouragement for moms who have kids that are struggling in school?

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Jill

There are always people willing to problem solve with you. Don’t give up. Work through and with the teacher, and be as specific as possible about your concern. If you see no progress within a reasonable amount of time, ask the teacher to consult an intervention specialist or counselor. Believe progress is just around the corner. It certainly can be.

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Yes! I know there is a mom reading who needed to hear that. Do you have anything else you would like to add?

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Jill

Remember, your child is very much in tune with you.They will reflect your attitudes and principles. If you are excited about their upcoming year, chances are…they will be too. If you talk positively about their teacher throughout the school year, chances are… they will too. But remember, above all, show your child that you and their teacher are on the same page and only want to see them do well and be happy.

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Thanks so much for sharing your experience and wisdom with us as we head into the new school year!

Anna


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