If you haven’t met Pete Springer yet, you are in for a treat. Genuinely kind and encouraging, driven to recognize and appreciate others, and humble to a fault; he is the sort of human we need representing our species should aliens ask to speak with our leader.
What does that have to do with people calling him “Mom?” Pete worked as an elementary school teacher for 31 years. After retirement, he wrote a book. And, I read it.
In true Pete fashion, he wrote in order to help others. His non-fiction They Call Me Mom is chock-full of advice and instruction for teachers of all levels. He’s included plenty of his own experiences, admonitions, and the occasional touching or humorous anecdote.
One story, about a girl from a family being raised by a single mother, brought me to happy-tears. That same story is also on his blog: “The Trip.” There’s a bit of a name change of the protagonist, but the gist of the story is that a cute, little second-grader informs Mr. Springer that she is saving all of her money in order to take her family on a trip.
I also enjoyed reading about Pete’s mishaps before discovering he wanted to be a teacher, including stints as a tree-planter and Olympics event ticket-seller. His mishaps after discovering teaching are equally entertaining but, naturally, more heart-warming.
With every anecdote, Pete masterfully turns the events and morals to a life lesson. The man simply exudes being a teacher; he can’t seem to help it.
If that weren’t enough, Pete agreed to answer a few questions:
1. You have a lot of advice in your book. If you could give a new teacher only three tips, what would they be?
A. Believe that you do have the power to make a difference. Some child is going to go on to do great things because of you. What an amazing feeling and immense responsibility!
B. I can’t take credit for this one, but I believe it with all my heart: Maya Angelou—”I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
C. If I could, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat with one change—look after yourself as well as you do your students. If you don’t take care of yourself, then you can’t help them.
2. Many male teachers prefer higher grades or positions of authority. Did you ever regret staying in elementary school?
Never. Everyone has to find the right age for himself/herself. I seriously thought about becoming a principal, but I would have missed having my own classroom too much and hanging out with “my kids” each day. It was like being part of a big family. I could have taught middle school, high school, or even college, but I felt like I could impact the most people by teaching elementary school.
3. With both you and your wife teaching, did you find a work/life balance more difficult?
Having a spouse in the same profession was a good thing because both of us knew exactly how the other was feeling when one of us had a bad day. Sometimes we felt like talking about it, and other times we didn’t. My wife and I laughed a lot together, and there were times we’d end up in hysterics over some of the absurdities of schools and children.
4. When do teachers use the bathroom?
Next to never. I always tried to leave my room for a few minutes at lunch, but I didn’t even manage that some days. In an emergency (a couple of times a year), I might call the office or another teacher to ask them to send somebody to my room for a minute. If no one were available, sometimes we’d call another teacher who was on their break. Sometimes I brought my entire class to the next-door neighbor’s classroom for a couple of minutes when there was no other option. They could also do the same.
And, he gave us a bonus answer!
Extra tidbits of wisdom: Teaching is a team effort. Don’t try to do it all alone. You need to keep the parents informed because they want to know what’s going on, and most will be super appreciative of your efforts. Don’t live on an island—engage with the other teachers to see how you can find ways to work together to improve the program. Remember to have fun with your class. Years later, they aren’t going to remember your math or writing lessons. But they will remember that you ran around on the playground with them, dressed up in ridiculous costumes with them, and went to their extracurricular activities because you cared about them more than anything else.
If you or someone you know would like a short, sweet book on teaching; pick up a copy today. I’m not a teacher and still benefitted from his recommendations. After all, are we not all teachers in some capacity?
Keep a lookout for Pete in the future as well! He’s working on a fictional story for YA, next!
From Pete’s blog:
My name is Pete Springer. I taught elementary school for thirty-one years (grades 2-6) at Pine Hill School in Eureka, CA. Even though I retired over three years ago, my passion will always lie with supporting education, kids, and teachers.
When I came out of the teaching program many years ago, I realized how unprepared I was for what was in store for me in the classroom. My college education focused mostly on learning theory rather than the practical day-to-day challenges that all teachers face. Thankfully, I had some great mentors to lean on to help support me in the early part of my career.
I have made it my mission to pay it forward to the next generation of teachers. I was a master teacher to four student teachers, and I have several former students who are now teachers, including one who teaches at my former elementary school. That is pretty cool!
While I was teaching, I decided that one day I would write books for children. That ship is now in the harbor. I took some writing workshops, found a critique group, joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and I’m nearing the end of writing my first middle-grade novel. I’m writing for middle-school boys, as I don’t feel there are enough good books for that age level.
Interview answers, photo, and bio © Pete Springer
Blog post © Chel Owens