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About the Author:

Coleen Armstrong

Coleen Armstrong Oozes Enthusiasm
for Writing, for Kids—and for Teaching Kids to Write

Coleen Armstrong, who with John Lazares wrote “Please, Don’t Call My Mother,” oozes enthusiasm: for writing, for kids and for getting parents involved in education.

“When I was a child, my mother used to say I could be anything I wanted—but please, don’t be a teacher,” she recalls, smiling. “She’d taught school herself and found it frustrating, overwhelming, exhausting and utterly thankless.”

Armstrong took her mother’s advice to heart—but something else touched her soul.

“At age 16 I was sitting in English class, listening to a teacher butcher ‘Our Town,’ and I heard a command from the universe.”

Instantly, Armstrong claims, she knew she was headed for the classroom. What she didn’t know was that she’d spend 31 years there, teaching English, German and Spanish. Many of her students were at-risk kids, in a blue-collar community where a huge percentage of the students struggles to balance school with jobs, families, and the constant threat of drugs and violence.

Armstrong’s attitude: “I couldn’t change it. I could only deal with it.”

And deal with it she did—with creativity most of us can only envy. She introduced Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” with film clips from “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Breakfast Club” and told kids to compare the characters. She abolished due dates for papers, deciding she didn’t have to “brandish a sword or threaten failure” when students missed the recommended deadlines for writing projects. The result: “Reprimands became unnecessary, lectures irrelevant,” points out Armstrong. “The kids became masters of their own destinies; they couldn’t blame me for their failures.”

Better yet, her students became more conscientious. More concerned about not only their deadlines, but Armstrong’s. Communication improved—and so did relationships. There was more honesty and more trust. “Exactly the things we teachers claimed we wanted,” she declares.

And there was more parent involvement, too, in part due to Armstrong’s insistence on home visits. She made it a point to introduce herself to as many parents as possible, so that they could share their concerns—especially when kids risked not meeting graduation requirements.

Today Armstrong continues to radiate enthusiasm—now for her new career as a feature writer and the editor of “Design,” Cincinnati’s home and garden magazine. It’s the perfect opportunity to turn her creativity in new directions: “I’ve learned to write faster than ever, to never forget my audience, and to answer virtually any question on the building and remodeling industry.”

Coleen Armstrong

Parenting Books
“Please, Don’t Call My Mother!”

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Last updated May 05, 2008