Monday, December 31, 2007

Deborah S. Norman

A Mother's Love

Deborah Norman is my mother. She has been an incredible role model for my two older brothers and me as long as we’ve been alive. Over the past 28 years she has raised three motivated and honorable sons; not an easy task at all. While doing this she pursued her career as an educator of America’s Youth. Currently, she is employed as a math specialist at Palmer Elementary School in the Windsor Central School District. Her leadership and passion for effective education has recently helped the school reach some outstanding results. It is my pleasure to feature the woman who brought me into this world; sacrificing much along the way to make sure my brothers and I were raised well. (Your efforts continue to be appreciated mother). Enjoy and put heart in Debby’s insights on parenting and education, ~JWN

VIP: What are some of your thoughts on parenting?

DSN: I feel like the biggest way I learned to be a good parent was from my parents; my mother especially. She was a very good role model of good parenting. She was very intelligent and gracious to all people. Growing up she was wonderfully attentive to the family but she wasn’t an indulgent parent. We always had what we needed but she didn’t give us too much.

One thing that has always amazed me from moving up here to New York is that when people hear you’re from West Virginia the stereotype is that you are from a hillbilly town and your father is a coal miner, but in truth my father (Ralph Stickle) was a Ph.D. Research Chemist for Union Carbide and my mother was a former teacher. So, I actually came from well educated parents. Education was always highly valued in my family growing up.

We always had dinner together and there were always interesting topics of conversation. If a new topic that my dad didn’t know came up he would get right up from the table and go to our set of encyclopedias and bring one to the table. He would continue to embellish the conversation with whatever facts he picked up from the encyclopedia. That was a very common occurrence. You always got the feeling from the two of them that education was important. They never really preached about it being important, they just modeled it.

You could tell by the way the lived that they valued family, education, and the community.

My mother (Pamela Stickle) was really someone special.

VIP: What are some of your secrets to parenting success?

DSN: A few years ago I actually sat down and thought about this. I had never really done that before but I got asked to help teach a parenting class at church which went six weeks long. They asked six people to teach one lesson and I was one of them.

The biggest thing that always kept coming to mind was that it wasn’t just one big thing that you do but it is the paying attention on a day by day basis to what is going on with everybody. People get so busy with their lives; especially if they are involved with a whole lot else besides their family. It is easy for days or weeks to go by and lose touch with things that are going on.

I really felt that the thing that kept things on track the most was paying attention. You’ve got to pay attention and take the small problems that come up and keep them small. Try to notice the small things that might be bothering your children, maybe physical or mental, and keep them small by addressing them early on.

My mother said this to me when I had two small children, “Make sure that when you tell children to do something, they do it.” In other words, don’t let your children get away with things too much. She noticed that. I think Chris was two and Jack was four. She was not a critical person or a criticizing type of person.

I was a little hurt when she said it because I realized she wouldn’t have said it unless she noticed that I had weakened at times. But I am appreciative because it made a great impact on my parenting style.

The essentials are love, kindness, and attention.

Reading to your children a lot when they are young is important. I would read to my sons several times a day and they all became good readers. One even became an English major in college (laughing). It exposes them to new worlds.

Another key thing is being interested in your children’s pursuits. With that let your children know that they can depend on you in all those many ways; that there will be groceries in the house, that they can be picked up when they need you, and that if you say you are coming to something you show up.

There are a lot of people in this world that say they are going to do something but don’t really follow up.

VIP: What are some values you tried to instill in your sons?

DSN: Value family and learning. Have a sense of humor because that helps you get through a lot of rough spots. Have an ability to forgive others. Be caring about things. Have faith. Be able to admit your mistakes, short comings, or disappointments and make yourself move forward. Rest a little while, get back up, and try it again.

If you try it again, just about every time you’ll make it happen. That builds a tremendous strength within you.

VIP: What are some of the difficulties of parenting? How did you overcome them?

DSN: I always wanted to be a mother and I always wanted to be a teacher. Even though I loved being a parent there were some tough times. Some of the things that come to mind are probably not what you might expect.

One of them is getting tired. There are a lot of times when you are a parent that you get very tired trying to keep up with all that you have to do. It’s a full time job. In fact, It’s a 24/7 job; especially when your children are young. You don’t always get the rest you need but you have to keep going anyway.

It’s easy for people to say, “Well you’re tired, so you rest,” but that’s not the case when you have small children. Or even when you have teenagers. No matter how old they are, if you know they are out you don’t really sleep until you know they are home safe. There is no getting around being tired. It’s part of the job description.

It’s important to note though that when you are tired problems always seem bigger but after you rest you can put them into perspective. It’s amazing how at night things can seem overwhelming, but the next morning they don’t seem nearly as great.

Another difficult thing is juggling everyone’s schedule. When you have three busy children like I had, juggling transportation and the logistics of that can be challenging at times. You just need to try to be fair to everyone and let them get accommodated for what they want to be involved in.

Also, income is a big difficulty; especially during the key formative years from birth to age six. Those are usually years when money is harder to come by because you are so busy with the small children.

VIP: Three boys. How’d you manage that?

DSN: A teacher at school just had her second little boy and somebody said, “Gosh, another boy.” And she said, “Yeah, I don’t know what that will be like.” So, I told her, “Rest assured, you’ll laugh a lot.”

I think you manage that by keeping a sense of humor, laughing a lot, and making sure they get a lot of exercise. I really feel like exercise for boys makes everything go smoother. Everyone is getting rid of that energy in a good way.

Lots of cooking is important too. Good hearty meals. Also, again it is imperative to pay attention so you can notice the small problems that develop allowing you to deal with them while they are still small.

VIP: What are some favorite quotes?

DSN: The first one I saw on a poster when I was out in school.

“What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

This one I saw on a ketchup bottle at Tom Wahl’s. “To do a common thing uncommonly well, brings success.”

Maya Angelou in The Poet said, “I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse to be reduced by it.”

“If you judge people you have no time to love them.” – Mother Theresa

And, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful we must carry it with us or we will find it not.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

That one I used to have on a poster down in the basement on a concrete wall above the washing
machine. (Laughing). When you guys were little I had come across that. So, I’d be down there in that dingy corner of the basement and I would always see that quote on the wall. I know that one by heart.

VIP: What are some favorite books?

DSN: Practice of Kindness by Rabbi Kushner. It is a bunch of daily meditations about relationships and how people treat each other. And, What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey. It has all different topics.

It has all kinds of great quotes like, “If you feel incomplete you alone must fill yourself with love in all your empty, shattered spaces.” In other words you can’t count on somebody else to make you feel complete. Instead, you have to deal with that yourself. If somebody else helps you with that then it’s a bonus, but ultimately it’s got to come from you.

Cherokee’s Feast of Days. That is a bunch of daily readings that come from the Cherokee tribe. They were very in tune with nature and what keeps the world going.

Also, anything by Norman Vincent Peale is great.

I would like to add a movie as well; Phenomenon with John Travolta. They never list it on his top movies, but as far as I’m concerned it’s his best. I’ve watched it quite a few times and every time it makes me cry and think.

It is truly a picture about triumph of the human spirit. He (John Travolta’s character) gets put through so much from something he can’t control. People look at him funny and people prejudge him but he’s just a nice guy. And, a lot of people become his advocates. That’s why I like it so much. At the end when he is dying they want to do surgery on him but he won’t let them. He says, “That’s not what my life is. There is more to my life than that. I want to get out of this hospital and be with the people I care about my last few days.” He says, “That’s what it’s about!”

VIP: As an educator with an impressive recent track record as an elementary remedial math specialist, what are some of your secrets to success in the classroom?

DSN: I really believe these things after teaching and doing the nursery at church for so many years. It doesn’t matter whether it is a baby, a teenager, or an adult; everyone wants to feel that they matter. Everyone wants to be valued and noticed. Catch them being good and praise their successes.

If you don’t catch them doing good things then they will do bad things to get your attention. It never fails. They want to be noticed and they want to be valued. When they get ignored they will get attention any way they can. That is one thing that like Oprah, I know for sure. I do.

Smile. Pay attention. Teach. Teach again. Teach a different way! In other words, it doesn’t always happen the first time. You have to keep at it. Be creative. Use manipulatives (an active learning exercise) when possible to keep the students involved in what you are trying to do. Don’t give up on anyone. Be kind and never stop caring.

That is my philosophy on teaching and it works no matter what you’re teaching. I really believe that.

Deborah S. Norman

Mother, Teacher

14 Valley Vista Court

Kirkwood, NY 13795

Phone: 607.775.4950