As a teenager Noel spent some time in England, and fell in love with the country. Noel promised herself that one day she would leave the United States and settle in England, specifically in London. It didn’t happen until she was forty. Noel departed to live in England at the same time that her children left home to go to university.
Teaching and learning are her favourite things. Over the years she has been a classroom teacher, a special needs advisor, a literacy and study skills specialist, a teacher-trainer, a head teacher and finally a learning and behaviour specialist. Before Noel came to England she was the director of a small learning centre in a smallish city in the United States. Her plan was to open a similar centre in London, but on a larger scale so that she could reach more families. Noel knew that in order to do that she would need to save up enough money for premises, have a thorough understanding of the British educational system, and to develop a professional network.
I had two very interesting part-time jobs – suddenly I was saving money, learning about education in Britain and making lots of professional connections. Within a year I was able to open my centre.
You arrived in a new country with little money. How did you feel about it and how did you overcome the financial difficulties?
I arrived in England thirty years ago with exactly £600. I was so excited about finally living in the place I had dreamed of for so long that I wasn’t at all worried about my shortage of cash or about everyone’s dire predictions about the lack of jobs. I told myself that if I couldn’t make a living in London as a learning and behaviour specialist, I could either try to do it somewhere else, or I could stay in London and do something else to make a living. But either way, I would be enjoying myself.
I borrowed a telephone book and copied out the names and addresses of lots of schools and other organisations that had to do with children or parents or teaching. I wrote a letter explaining what I could offer and photocopied it 130 times and sent off the letters. I got about twenty interviews. Because I had been self-employed for many years, I wasn’t used to attending interviews. To keep myself from getting nervous, I decided to treat each interview as practice. I told myself it didn’t matter if I didn’t get that particular job.
Within a month of arriving in London, long before my £600 was used up, I had two very interesting part-time jobs: dyslexia tutor for the Dyslexia Teaching Centre in Kensington and study skills tutor for the American School in London. Suddenly I was saving money, learning about education in Britain and making lots of professional connections. Within a year I was able to open my centre.
The children were shouting at each other, climbing on the desks, and ignoring me. By lunch time on the first day, I was ready to quit.
What motivated you to start your venture around better parenting?
I write about this in my book, ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting’. I became a parenting advisor and author completely by accident. I started out as a classroom teacher. On my first day of teaching I saw that my four years of teacher-training college had not prepared me for the realities of the classroom. I had expected to walk into a classroom full of children eager to learn, ready to soak up everything I could teach them. What a shock I got! The children were shouting at each other, climbing on the desks, and ignoring me. By lunch time on the first day, I was ready to quit.
When I asked the other teachers for advice about classroom management, their well-meaning responses were vague and general so I still didn’t know what to do. So I thought about which teachers had the most engaged, positive classrooms, and I decided to study those teachers carefully and imitate what they were doing. I hoped that with this plan I might see some improvements in my class in a few months.
I didn’t have children of my own at that point so I said “I don’t know what to tell you, but this is what I’m doing at school. You could try it at home”. And in a few days the parents reported back, “It works!”
To my amazement, by the end of my second week the pupils were transformed! They were cooperating, sitting, learning, smiling. I realised that I loved teaching. Soon the parents noticed how well-behaved their children were at school and started asking me for advice about how to get their children to do their homework or go to bed without a fuss. I didn’t have children of my own at that point so I said “I don’t know what to tell you, but this is what I’m doing at school. You could try it at home”. And in a few days the parents reported back, “It works!”
That’s when I understood that teaching and parenting require the same skills. I started giving advice informally at the school gates, then I produced little photocopied booklets of parenting tips, then I started giving talks and workshops and courses, then I opened the centre, and then I started writing books. It all grew very naturally. What motivates me is that I want every parent who sometimes struggles, which is all of us at one stage or another in our parenting journey, to have access to a parenting approach that brings out the best in children and in parents.
Like many workaholics, I find that I’m happiest when I’m involved in a project.
You have dedicated a lot of time and energy to your career and you are now a very successful woman – what about your private life? How do you balance it?
I do spend a lot of my time working: giving talks and seminars, doing consultations, training teachers and parenting practitioners, writing, networking with and learning from colleagues. I find it very satisfying and endlessly fascinating. Plus, as anyone who is self-employed will know, if it’s up to you to keep bringing the work in, there’s always something you should be doing. So I don’t have as much free time as I probably should have.
I seem to have quite an extreme personality. Parts of me are very calm and confident, especially when it has to do with my work. But I’ve also suffered a lot in my life from depression and anxiety and self-doubt. Like many workaholics, I find that I’m happiest when I’m involved in a project.
For relaxation I curl up with an absorbing book every night, which transports me to a different time and place. My hobby is making handmade cards for my family and friends—Christmas, birthdays, Halloween, Valentine’s Day. I go to the U. S. a lot for work so I always combine that with spending time with my children and grandchildren in California.
My latest book, ‘calmer, easier, happier boys’, addresses the typical concerns of parents raising boys: impulsivity, schoolwork, disrespect, aggression, peer relationships, dependency on electronics, and lots more. I explain simple and effective strategies for raising motivated, cooperative and confident boys.
As an expert in parenting programmes, what would you recommend to migrant parents while dealing with the children in a new country and new circumstances?
Migrant parents in Britain may embrace all the good things about their new country, but they probably also want to stay true to the values and many of the traditions of the country they’ve left. But children and teenagers growing up here usually just want to feel British; they’re desperate to fit in. They may be embarrassed by their parents’ accents or the food they cook or their customs. I say to parents: Don’t let yourself get sucked into arguments with your children about this. Instead, understand and acknowledge how the children feel, but don’t apologise about your own lifestyle choices. Insist on what you believe is right. Children soon stop complaining and arguing when parents don’t argue back.
It’s very important for children from migrant families to be raised to be bilingual, not only understanding both languages but also speaking both fluently and being truly literate in both. This will connect the children to their heritage and to the culture of their parents and grandparents. Also, research tells us that fluency in a second language increases brain capacity. I give workshops for migrant parents on the easiest ways to achieve this.
Can you tell us more about your latest book on being parents of boys?
My latest book, ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys’, addresses the typical concerns of parents raising boys: impulsivity, schoolwork, disrespect, aggression, peer relationships, dependency on electronics, and lots more. I explain simple and effective strategies for raising motivated, cooperative and confident boys. The book comes out this month and is available on Amazon and on our website.
In your birthday invitation, you say ‘Noel’s Birthday – 70 years Young’. What does age means for you?
This February, I have a big birthday – seventy years young! So far in my life I’ve experienced a lot and learned a lot, and I’m eager to keep experiencing and to keep learning. Someone very close to me died last year, very suddenly and unexpectedly and far too young, and it’s made me much more aware of my own mortality. It has made me focus on what I want for the rest of my life. For one thing, I have lots more books inside of me waiting to be written, so I want to live for at least another fifty years. And I want to dance at my great grand children’s weddings!