PUBLISHED: Monday, February 17, 2014

Tamar Jacobson

Published: 2014

One glance at Tamar Jacobson’s résumé is all it takes to know she brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to all that she does for the early childhood community as a teacher educator, writer, presenter, advocate—we could go on and on! We’re not the only people who have noticed her dedication. Dr. Jacobson is the recent recipient of the National Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educators (NAECTE) Outstanding Early Childhood Teacher Educator Award. We’re thrilled to give you the opportunity to learn a bit more about Dr. Jacobson in this month’s Author Spotlight.


First things first, tell us about the books you’ve written.

My books focus on a type of self-reflection I call “internal ethnography,” where we work at making connections between what we experienced as young children about bias or discipline and our interactions with children and families. While using my personal exploration as an example, I discuss making those connections in detail. The type of bias I write about in my first book includes prejudice about culture, gender, different ability, and sexual orientation, to name a few. My second book evolved out of my work with teachers while facilitating workshops about discipline. I observed that teachers are confused about the difference between discipline and punishment. I write about internal ethnography specifically in relationship to how we filter discipline strategies through our emotional memories of punishment that many of us endured as young children.

When we understand why we do what we do, we become more intentional and we are able to develop meaningful relationships. We are able to develop discipline strategies that are relevant and meaningful for each child. As professionals, we must take responsibility for our interactions in order not to hurt children with unconscious, unintentional behaviors. Indeed, we have an obligation to get to understand ourselves and get to know how we feel as we develop important relationships with children and families.

In short, my books are about: relationships, relationships, relationships!


Who should read your books?

I write for teachers of young children, teacher educators, social workers, legislators, and administrators. However, I have heard from others that my books benefit individuals on a personal level, and they are also helpful for parents of young children.


Why should someone buy each?

There are similarities in both books, Confronting Our Discomfort: Clearing the Way for Anti-Bias in Early Childhood (Heinemann, 2003), and “Don’t Get So Upset!” Help Young Children Understand Their Feelings by Understanding Your Own (Redleaf Press, 2008). The main premise in both is self-reflection as internal ethnography, but each one focuses specifically either about bias or discipline.

Tamar Jacobson with Don't Get So Upset!

Did certain events or circumstances inspire your books?

My life as a preschool teacher in Israel and teacher educator in America inspired my books. I realized more and more that when I understood why I do what I do, I was able to become more intentional and less unconscious about my interactions and relationships with children, families, and college students. My first book, Confronting Our Discomfort: Clearing the Way for Anti-Bias in Early Childhood (Heinemann, 2003), was influenced by my experiences growing up for 20 years in the racist British Colony of Rhodesia, before it became Zimbabwe, and then living in Israel for 20 years before immigrating to the States 25 years ago. As a young woman I was a political activist. When I arrived in America in my late thirties, I went back to school for my doctorate. My studies included my concern about how our biases make us uncomfortable about diversity, however well intentioned we are. It was during the time of the first publication of the Anti-Bias Curriculum by Louise Derman-Sparks and Task Force (NAEYC, 1989). I facilitated an anti-bias support-supervision group for child care professionals and administrators as part of research for my doctoral dissertation. This study was included as one of the chapters of this book. Over the years, I was invited to do workshops on a number of different topics, but when I spoke to teachers and students about discipline, I realized that although we are given lots of ideas about strategies in disciplining children, teachers are not given any opportunity to process their own emotional memories of being punished when they were children. And so, with regards to the second book, “Don’t Get So Upset!” Help Young Children Manage Their Feelings by Understanding Your Own (Redleaf Press, 2008), I became eager to write about our attitudes and feelings about discipline.


If book writing and publishing parameters were non-existent, what else would you have loved to be included in your books, or how would they be different?

I have found that when I share my own personal stories, life experiences, or internal ethnography process, my readers or workshop participants allow themselves to explore their own. They understand the material better. So, I would include many more personal stories. But then, wouldn’t that become a memoir? So, probably I would love to write a memoir using the stories of my life as a model to help teachers reflect more in depth about how their own emotional lives affect their relationships with young children.


What do you like about writing books?

Writing is self-expression and a way of sharing with others what I think and feel is important for children and teachers. Some people find self-expression in painting, dancing, or singing. I have found it in writing—books, blogs, letters, or journals. As an educator, I am able to offer teachers a different way to think about what they have always been doing. For me, writing is activism, where I am able to offer the reader another option. In addition, I have discovered that the more I write, the more I learn about my self. I once had an advisor who said that we teach about that which we need to learn. Indeed, when I taught young children, I was able to understand more about what I felt when I was a young child.


What is your writing process like?

I think about a subject a lot, long before I ever sit down to write about it. I find myself reading about what interests me, but mostly I think about what I want to say. These thoughts accompany me as I drive, teach, go shopping, cook, clean, while I am at dinner parties, and even in my dreams! And then, one day, I just sit down and write and write until it all comes out.


And where do you tend to sit down and write?

I write in my study on the third floor of our home. It is a large and bright room with natural light from the windows. I have violets and orchids growing on the windowsills. There is space for me to do yoga and meditation, and also a corner for my cats to play with their climber and toys. Displayed on the walls are my favorite paintings and inspirational sayings. It is a great room to write in. I can’t wait to climb up to the third floor as soon as I awaken at 5 o’clock each morning.

Tamar's cats

Do you have any writing rituals?

The best time for me to write is early in the morning. A cup of coffee seems to help as well. Once I am writing I just sit and write away. No rituals per se. When I was younger, I used to love to have music in the background. But, lately since I am older, I love silence. And I especially love to write accompanied by my cats sleeping somewhere in the room with me.

Tamar's cats-second

Did you always know you wanted to work in the early childhood field?

Great question! I think I would have liked to be a journalist, musician, or a counselor. But, in my early twenties I lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a year. I worked in the children’s houses, specifically with young toddlers, and I loved working with the children and their families. So, when I left the kibbutz I went to study early childhood education at a teachers’ seminary in Jerusalem. I suppose I could say it happened by accident, but I really believe we make the choices that affect our futures. Working with young children helped me heal from an emotionally abusive childhood of my own.


You mentioned your work as a preschool teacher in Israel, and we know you’re currently serving as a professor at Rider University in New Jersey. Can you share a brief timeline of your professional life?

In Israel, I worked for fifteen years as a preschool-kindergarten teacher through the Ministry of Education. When I was 39 years old, I immigrated to the States with the equivalent of an associate’s degree from a teachers’ seminary in Jerusalem and an Israeli teacher certificate. For the following ten years, I completed a BA, MEd, and PhD in early childhood education at the University at Buffalo, while directing the campus children’s centers and teaching courses as an adjunct instructor at UB and in area colleges. During the eleven years as director, I created a state of the art campus children’s center, where early childhood students from several area colleges came to intern. I worked in the AEYC organizations at local, state, and national levels, facilitated workshops, and wrote my first book. Nine years ago, my husband and I relocated to Philadelphia for his work, and today I am chair of the Department of Teacher Education and director of the Early Childhood Program at Rider University in New Jersey.


What trend or issue in early childhood is grabbing your attention right now?

Since hearing Bruce Perry speak fifteen years ago, and having been invited as a fellow at his ChildTrauma Academy, I am convinced that the most important issue is the quality of relationships adults develop and nurture with young children. Emotional memory affects brain development, attachment, and children’s sense of well-being and mental health. While I also educate and inform early childhood teachers about curriculum, assessment, and how to work with parents, I predominantly focus on reflective practice specifically as it relates to understanding how teachers’ emotions affect their interactions with children.


Where can we find you (or what are you working on during) on a typical day?

Most days I can be found in Memorial Hall 102D at Rider University, in New Jersey! As chair of the Department of Teacher Education and director of the early childhood program, I have many administrative duties with faculty, students, and parents, as well as with my dean and the upper administration of the university. In addition, I teach the early childhood courses for our undergraduate and postgraduate certification program. On days when I am not at Rider, I can be found up in my study at home in Philadelphia, writing or reading, grading papers, or working on a blog post.


What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your career?

This is such an interesting question, and a difficult one to respond to briefly. I think the answer is a personal one in that when I was young I had low self-esteem, and not much self-confidence. Since coming to America, I have realized that I am intelligent, intellectually and emotionally, and I have much to contribute to the early childhood profession. I wish I had known that about myself when I first started my career. If I stray into having regrets, I think about the time I wasted by not believing in myself more. I think my personal life might have been easier as well.


What do you like to do in your free time? What’s on your bucket list, career-wise or personally?

I love to sing and play the piano. I especially love to sing when my son accompanies me on the piano. He is such a talented jazz pianist, and he understands my style having heard me sing to him since he was an infant. Gardening and houseplants always bring me pleasure, and during the last 15 years I have come to adore cats! Currently I have two, Oscar and Mimi, and I enjoy spending time just observing their behaviors, or even playing with them with their toys. I love going to the movies—all kinds, but especially those that deal with the human condition and complex relationships. I very much enjoy blogging and social media, including Facebook and Twitter. I started blogging nine years ago, naming it Mining Nuggets, because one of my blogger friends described well-written pieces as “mined nuggets,” and I like that idea. Lately I am trying to develop a blog called The Good Mother: A Handbook of Guilt for Parents. A place where parents of young children can come to feel some relief from the fears and anxieties, and the burden they experience about how to be good parents.

I wish I could facilitate support-supervision groups for teachers of young children all over the country! Counselors and psychologists can ask for supervision, or even refer their clients when it becomes uncomfortable to work with them. Teachers of young children have no assistance when it comes to understanding their emotions with regards to how uncomfortable they might feel with some children. They are not able to refer children out! I believe we have a responsibility to give teachers a type of counseling supervision because working with young children means working with strong emotions day-by-day, minute-to-minute.

I am also longing to write a memoir. Perhaps when I retire. Lately I very much enjoy facilitating full day workshops for early childhood professionals in programs and centers. I often am invited to travel around the country for presentations and consultations. I love doing that!


Where can we learn more about you and read more that blog you’ve mentioned?

You can visit my professional website at school and my blog.


Learn more and see a full list of titles by Tamar Jacobson.