|Photo by Katherine Bricetti Photography|
Meredith Essalat is the author of the new book The Overly Honest Teacher: Parenting Advice from the Classroom. She is an elementary school principal in San Francisco.
Q: Why did you decide to write this book, and how was its title chosen?
A: My husband and I temporarily relocated to Dallas, Texas, in 2014, and during this, I had the chance to reflect upon my time in the classroom.
I began to jot down notes, ideas, wishes, and frustrations— everything from details about lessons that either worked really well or fell super flat, to memories of classroom hijinks and adventures in teaching adolescents, to ideas on how I could bridge the communication gap that so often exists between teachers and parents.
The more I wrote down, the more the ideas turned into broader topics, extending beyond my own classroom microcosm into the realm of education as a whole. And, suddenly, my book was born.
The title was an evolution— it began far more verbose, but through time and revision, my editorial team and I realized that my pursuit of total transparency and authenticity, both as an educator and an author, was best conveyed as The Overly Honest Teacher: Parenting Advice from the Classroom.
Q: You write, " I never thought I would end up being a teacher." What changed your mind?
A: You’re right! Initially, I didn’t see myself as a teacher. I actually ventured into pursuing my teaching credential as a means of bolstering my understanding of educational pedagogy to be a better academic fundraiser. But, once I set foot in the classroom as a student teacher (part of the credentialing process), I was hooked.
My first position was in third grade, and I was mentored by a 40+ year veteran of the classroom. I learned so much from her about classroom management, lesson planning and execution, as well as not sweating the small stuff. Right from the beginning, she empowered me to take academic risks with my students, and I honed my own unique style of bringing the curriculum’s content to life.
I cannot imagine my life without teaching now. It is so innately enmeshed in who I am as a person— how I define myself and my life’s accomplishments. My pride for my students— who they are, what they have achieved, the humans they are becoming— is unending.
The rapport that I have built with parents and guardians throughout my 14 years in schools is one of my best treasures. My gratitude for the pivot in my career that brought me to the classroom, is certainly something for which I do not take for granted.
Q: Given the challenges for teachers, parents, and students during the pandemic, how would you advise people to cope with this school year?
A: It doesn’t matter which school, in which city, in which part of the country. The frustration is palpable and the desire to find our footing in a situation that is nothing short of abnormal has everyone begging for the familiarity of at-school learning once more. As a principal, I totally get it. I want things to be back-to-normal, too.
I also respect the process that we are going through—growing pains and
heartache pangs that are helping educators become stronger teachers; enabling
students to grow into adaptable scholars; and, allowing parents to gain further
insight into what it truly takes to educate our children.
Parents need to remember that they are not alone—they have a community of teachers champing at the bit to collaborate with you to make remote learning successful. Email them when your Zoom links fail or the homework assignment on SeeSaw is confusing. Call or text if your child’s lack of motivation is getting in the way of their academic success. Communication is key in making virtual learning work for everyone.
I want parents to know, too, that learning doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Teachable moments can and do happen anywhere.
I found some of my best moments as a classroom teacher were those that I didn’t plan for— the unexpected conversation around a current event or a song lyric that came to mind on my way into work. Films and video clips that inspired class wide discussions about self-esteem, racial injustice, and inequality. These moments mattered, almost more than the textbook lesson I had so carefully planned out.
Remote learning is the perfect opportunity to help students hone their independence skills. Task them with making their lunch the night before, or have an area designated where they can find their mid-morning snack on their own. Have their workspace outfitted with the supplies they need throughout the day and help them get into the routine of cleaning up their desk and charging their device each evening.
Create overt opportunities for children to stretch their independence muscles, giving specific tasks they are responsible for completing.
Get your family members back into a morning practice of waking up, brushing teeth, getting dressed, and having breakfast before logging on, eyes bright and brains alert. No pajamas. No lounging while learning. Clothed, fed, and sitting upright at either their desk or a table. Guaranteed that this will help everyone feel a sense of purpose and resolve, even in remote learning.
Some days are going to be a breeze while others will be peppered with potholes and missteps. The most important thing that we need to do, together, is make sure that your children, our students, stay on-track, engaged, and growing in the wisdom and know-how they need to be academically successful long after remote learning has passed us by.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I wrote this book with the goal of increasing the communication and collaboration between teachers and parents. Too often, the goal that we all share— the successful growth and development of the children in our care— gets lost in misinterpretation.
I want parents to better understand the inner workings of the classroom environment, taking with them proven tools, strategies, and methodologies to apply at home regarding their children’s academic, social, and emotional development. The more we can increase the teamwork between educators and the families of their students, the more cohesive a learning platform we can create for overall success.
And, given that our children crave consistency, the unification of dialogue and messaging is key to their holistic growth. Parents and teachers, alike, can apply my recommendations in The Overly Honest Teacher to their own journeys in child-raising in order to more adeptly create a learning platform and pathway for their kids and students.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Well, I am an elementary school principal, so we are in the process of getting our new academic year up and running with remote learning. We are running a daily schedule in line with what we normally do in-person as we want to make sure that we are maximizing the opportunities for our students to receive as much direct instruction from their teachers as possible, including P.E., art, music, and Latin classes.
Additionally, I am drafting a workbook that will serve as a companion piece to The Overly Honest Teacher, helping parents and guardians to individualize the strategies I outline in OHT to their own unique family dynamics.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I regularly share teaching tips and parenting hacks on my blog at OverlyHonestTeacher.com. Please come visit me there for my latest stories and advice.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb