Teachers: What Life is All About

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I was talking with a wise friend a few days ago and I heard him say,  “Life is all about big people helping little people become big people.”  He didn’t take credit for the quote.  He said he had heard it somewhere.  But the simplicity and the truth of that statement has been resonating in me for several days.  That one sentence defines teaching, parenting, mentoring, coaching, and a wide variety of other professions and important roles we play.

When I wrote my first book for teachers, I was working with a publisher who kept sending me book cover ideas seeking my approval.  But none of the covers seemed to speak to the message the true classroom stories in the book conveyed.  I was embarrassed to be taking up so much of their time, being picky.  I sat down in a preschool classroom with preschool scissors and construction paper.  I cut and pasted a design in 20 minutes sitting at chair and table suitable for a 4-year-old.  I sent it off to the publisher with a note that said, “I’m seeing something more like this.”  I’m not an artist of any kind.  I expected them to take my hastily made sample and design something professional.  But they made the front of the book by simply scanning my 20 minute design onto the cover and adding the title.  At first I was embarrassed about it because I have no artistic skills.  But then I realized it did convey a message.  Why was it effective?  Because it says, in simple graphic fashion almost exactly what my friend said to me. “Life is about big people helping little people become big people.”  (Throw in an apple to make it teacher specific).

book cover

 Yes, teachers teach academics.  Yes, teachers work to raise test scores and reading comprehension.  But too frequently the media and other outside critics forget one of the most important roles a teacher fills.  We teach little people how to become big people. We teach about living life with character.  We teach about ways to problem solve and adapt in times of change.  We teach tolerance and acceptance.  We teach little people how to use positive self talk to push them forward toward a dream when they are no longer in our classroom. We teach them about the rewards of utilizing initiative and perseverance and also the consequences of procrastination.

Of course the real truth is that the words big and little are relative.  Some people who are big have much to learn from little people.  I have learned some of my life’s most important lessons from my students.  Some of the ones who have struggled the most with academics have taught me the most about teaching.  They taught me that until I can explain something in a way that they can understand it, I am not teaching. Others with behavior challenges have taught me to continually hone my skills of patience.  I can de-escalate the hairyiest of situations.  Still others have been happy to point out my shortcomings, not always inaccurately.  They helped me learn some uncomfortable truths about myself.  Usually it is the littlest ones who best understand both enthusiasm and tolerance.  Little ones have taught me the most about unqualified acceptance and the simple joys of living.  My teens remind me to continue to fight injustices.  They possess the optimism of youth.  They believe they can change unfair things so they go out and fight battles I have long ago given up as impossible.  One time, with zero encouragement from me, a group of them took on an impossible battle on my (and their) behalf.  And they won.  I’ll never forget it.

Life IS about big people, helping little people become big people.  And vice versa.  We are all in this together. It works best when we use one another to learn life’s most important lessons.  But using test scores as the only measurement of success for the teaching profession is like writing a fairy tale and only saying, “Once upon a time…” and stopping there.

Let’s get clear about this.  Test scores alone will not make our students live happily ever after.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Contact Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Big Shoes to Fill

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Kelsey big shoesI think my daughter was about 3 when I snapped this photo of her.  Look closely at her feet.  You’ll see she is trying on my high heels she found near the front door even though she isn’t even really dressed for the day yet.  Doesn’t every kid do that at one time or another?  My shoes look so big on her feet.  As it turns out, those shoes and that role became her dream.  I’m sure those are the heels I had on as a taught that day.  Kelsey attended the school where I taught, so it wasn’t such a stretch to understand why she wanted to grow up to become a teacher.

But life did a reversal on us and today I try to fill her shoes.  You see, Kelsey was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was only five.  The brain radiation required for her to survive, altered her IQ significantly.  Radiation that kills cancer cells also kills healthy brain cells.  So not only did Kelsey battle cancer she was changed from having an above average intelligence to becoming what society politely calls “special needs.”

Watching this happen to her changed me dramatically as a teacher.  I learned what it feels like to sit on the uncomfortable side (the parents’ side) of the IEP table.  I experienced how it felt to see her friends begin to turn away from her.  I helplessly watched her social loneliness during the high school years.  This changed me as a mom, a person and especially as a teacher.

So what did I do about it?  I’m not a celebrity.  I can’t challenge big stars on TV to dump buckets of ice water over their heads even though watching Kelsey’s battles felt like ice water being dumped on me daily.  Celebrities wouldn’t answer any challenge from me.  Day in and day out, what did I do?  I’m a teacher.  So I talked about Kelsey in my classroom.  I made students understand her battles.  I made them think about what it would feel like to walk in her shoes.

In one way I was very lucky.  I happened to teach high school students who wanted to become teachers.  I assigned each of them to write an essay about what it would feel like to walk through a day of high school with a disability.  I made them put into words what it would feel like to walk into a cafeteria full of typical kids if they had a disability. How would it feel to walk in the hallways or go to a dance?  I made them share those essays out loud.  They hated this assignment because it made them feel so uncomfortable, but they did it…for a grade.  Before they wrote these essays I read an essay that I had written about Kelsey.  I wrote it in Kelsey’s voice even though she didn’t actually write it.  I used exactly the words she had shared with me about the rejections she experienced.  To hear her true story made them squirm in their seats.

When I spoke at teacher conferences, I used to give out my essay to other teachers.  I’ve received letters and emails from teachers all over the country who have used this essay in their classrooms.  The title?  ‘Nobody Wants to Have a Disability, But I Have One.”  I made each of them start their essay with the words, “My name is (and they had to use their own names) and I have (name a disability).  Then they had to write about a full day of school with that disability.  I made them focus on their feelings, not just the facts of the disability.  How did it feel to walk through a day of school with that disability.

As they read these essays orally one after another, I could feel a shift in my classroom.   They hated the activity but they won’t ever forget it.

Then I had my Teacher Academy kids (high school juniors and seniors who wanted to become teachers) start a Friendship Club with the high school kids in our school with disabilities.  We planned monthly shared activities with them.  I watched true friendships form.  No matter what subject they planned to teach in their futures I wanted them to understand how it feels to be excluded.  I wanted all of them to become teachers who included everyone.  I wanted them to change the culture within their future school buildings.  I believe once we actually have to face the feeling of being excluded, once we can link a personality and an actual person to a disability it can’t help but change us inside.

Often I am invited to give speeches to special educators and I enjoy those invitations.  But I MOST like to talk to what we call “regular educators.”  I like to share stories with teachers who haven’t been specifically trained to work with kids with special needs.  Those are the teachers who most need the messages Kelsey shared with me.  I’m a “regular educator” myself and Kelsey experiences first had to change me.

A strange and unexpected thing happened as I shared Kelsey’s message.  This is something I didn’t plan at all.  As a direct result of hearing about Kelsey’s experiences, an amazing number of my students became special educators themselves.  (Today we call them intervention specialists).  Let me repeat, this wasn’t at all my goal, it just happened.  Without even trying I dumped buckets of ice all over them.  Just putting a person’s name and face to the experience drenched them with new understanding.  They now wanted to become change agents themselves.

Kelsey's lessonsSadly Kelsey didn’t live to fill my shoes and become a teacher herself.  She died at age 16 after an eleven year on-and-off battle with brain cancer.  Today I still attempt to fill her shoes as I share her story one student at a time.  We teachers sometimes have more power than a celebrity.  One day at a time, one student at a time, one story at a time, we change the world.  We have the power of a thousand buckets of ice if we just recognze it and use it for a positive purpose.

One day while teaching some aspect of child development in the classroom, I told another story about Kelsey.  A student asked with impatience in her voice, “Why do you talk about Kelsey so much?”

Now you know.  I have big shoes to fill.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the authordauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Schedule Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Those Little Moments

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teach with passionJust before this new school year begins I was reminded of something important.  Something I need to share with my readers…especially teachers getting ready to return to the classroom or those ready to enter the classroom for the first time.

This important reminder happened at a wedding.  I was honored to be invited and was there to witness a beautiful bride and her groom beginning their new life together.  The bride was a former student of mine, Kaitlyn.  I taught this young lady in high school in a Teacher Academy program.  She was a gal who was always fun to have in the classroom.  She was friendly, upbeat and creative.  Today she has just finished her second year of teaching and is half way through her Masters program.  She is an intervention specialist in an elementary school who also wants to become a school administrator.   Last Saturday she was a bride.

At her gorgeous wedding reception her dad walked past me.  I recognized him easily because he was one of those great “go-t0” fathers you could count on whenever you were up to your ear lobes with a project that needed a father’s touch.  He once helped the kids turn a grocery cart into a  fabulous float “they” had designed for the Homecoming Parade.  As he passed me at the wedding reception I put my hand on his arm and joked, “Hey, I have another school project I could use some help with.”

His face broke into a wonderful smile.  We talked about how beautiful his daughter looked as a bride.  Then he delivered the message I want to share with you.  This is what he said.

You are the lady who changed my daughter’s life.  My wife and I have talked about it for years. We are so grateful to you for changing her into the wonderful confident young woman she has become.  And you did it with one phone call.  Did I ever tell you that?  One single phone call from you and she became a completely different person.  We can never thank you enough.

One Phone Call ??

One Phone Call ??

Here’s the important point teachers.  Listen carefully.  I have no memory of that phone call.  NONE!  Not… one… word.   That is the way it is in the teaching profession.  This has happened to me enough times that I swear to you that this fact is true.

Frequently you will be making your greatest impact when you are completely unaware of it.

The first time this happened to me it was mind-boggling.  I couldn’t believe it.  But by now, after decades of teaching, I know to trust those words and their sincerity.  I cherish and appreciate the moment when it occurs.  We teachers frequently never know about the ways we change lives.  But if you are passionate about teaching and making students feel valued, it will happen to you.  I hope you are committed enough to the field of teaching to stay with the profession long enough to allow this to happen in your life.  The satisfaction it will bring you defies description.

Later on during this special wedding evening, the mother of the bride approached me and repeated the words her husband had shared.  The bride even stopped by and told me in person while her groom verified her words.

While I still have no recollection of that phone call the dad gave me just enough details that I can imagine it.  He said something about she didn’t show up for an event and I called her.

Perhaps she registered for Teacher Academy and then got cold feet about it.  I often invited students into my classroom during the summer months to meet me.  I’d have snacks and let them come in and help me put up bulletin boards or we’d just sit around and talk.

Building a classroom community

It was just a casual event when they could meet some of the other students who wanted to be future teachers.  If she didn’t show up, I know I would have called her to reassure her.  She may have thought she needed a 4.0 GPA to be a teacher.  I would have listened to her fears and reassured her that many students profit the most from teachers who had their own challenges in school. All of us feel like we don’t fit in somewhere from time to time.  I would have stayed on the phone until she and I had built a rapport.   I know I would have done anything possible to make it easier for her to enter my classroom for the first time.  And so Kaitlyn joined my class.

In her second year of Teacher Academy Kaitlyn wrote, filmed and created a video about a program we had in our school called Firebird Link.  This was an initiative that planned activities throughout the school to help all students feel valued.  I wish you could see how creative this film was.  She started her film by showing just the feet of all the students (thousands of them) walking in the hallways of our school.  Her words were poignant.  “Where do I fit in?”  Kaitlyn won the national first place award from Future Educators of America for making an effective video to promote the teaching profession.  I was so proud to see her and her film shared up on that national stage.

Would she have been just as valuable a student if she hadn’t won an award?  Of course!  My classroom was an eclectic mix of brains, athletes, band members, theatre kids and students without any identifying labels at all.  We built a community in our classroom and supported one another.  We had one thing in common.  We wanted to help other students learn.

Some of my best “teaching”, my “change-your-life” moments didn’t happen in front of the classroom.  They happened in those private moments when I had one-on-one conversations with students.  One might show up before school just needing to talk, or hang back before leaving my classroom at the end of a bell.  Some dropped me notes as they left class.  They’d find me at lunch time or come up and chat with me after I went to see a game or a play they were in.  In Kaitlyn’s case it was one phone call that gave her the courage to walk toward a profession she was meant to pursue.  One single phone call.

My hope is that this story will help you start your school year with the goal of making the most of those small moments you have to make a student feel valued.

More Good News!

  • The boomerang kid got a job!  If you haven’t “met” the boomerang kid, scroll back a couple of entries and read the blog post about Michael.
  • Congratulations to all my former students who have landed their first teaching jobs this year!  You make me so proud.
  • I have been booked by several school districts to speak to their teachers and administrators during this school year.  I love to inspire educators face to face and this excites me.
  • A couple of districts are considering my latest book for educators TEACH…To Change Lives as a year-long book club project for their teachers to discuss and reflect on throughout the year.  What a great idea.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Contact Dauna Easley to speak to your groupdauna@cinci.rr.com

What Do Great Teachers Do?

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Krista Ramsey

I belong to a Writers’ Group at my local, Midpointe Library in West Chester, Ohio.  This past week I was especially excited to attend because we were going to have a guest speaker – a lady I have admired for quite some time.  Our guest was Krista Ramsey from the Cincinnati Enquirer.   Not only does she write beautiful thought provoking articles, but she frequently writes about issues involving education which is a subject near and dear to my heart.  (As all my readers of this blog are aware).

During Krista’s talk about her writing she shared with us how her writing dream began.  She was in elementary school when a teacher, Mrs. Moomaw, required all the students in her class to write a poem.  She chose Krista’s poem and asked her to read it aloud in front of an auditorium full of people.  It was as simple and yet as significant as that…a vote of confidence from her teacher.  It was that very day that Krista began to think of herself as a writer.  “If my teacher thinks I am a writer, then I must be good at it,” she shared her childhood rationale with us.

“I believe a good teacher wills you into your gifts.”

                                                                                        Krista Ramsey

I couldn’t agree more.  Ms. Ramsey worked on her writing craft for many years but she confessed she didn’t always have the confidence to call herself a writer aloud.  She became an English teacher first.  And yet that one day with Mrs. Moomaw and one act of recognition by a teacher influenced her life in such a way that the writing dream never went away.  She steered herself as directly as possible toward that target that her teacher had revealed to her.  Now all her readers and fans can enjoy her written insights regularly.  As a fan of Ms. Ramsey’s writing, I personally want to thank Mrs. Moomaw.

I was struck by the life experiences that I shared with Ms. Ramsey. It was a similar event in my life that fueled my dream of writing.  I always knew I wanted to teach, but I also harbored a secret dream of becoming a writer.   That dream was not encouraged by anyone for many years.  In fact all evidence pointed to the foolishness of harboring such a dream. But just as in Krista’s case it was one teacher and one particular day in a classroom that gave me the courage to continue to allow my dream of writing to percolate until its time.  Without that one particular day and classroom experience, I doubt if I ever would have written the books that I have authored.

As Ms. Ramsey continued to talk with us about writing, an audience member posed the question, “How do I ever get the courage to call myself a writer?  When am I a writer?”

I loved Ms. Ramsey’s response.

If we told ourselves we have the gifts we want to have, how much more of an impact could we have on the world?

BINGO.  That, in a nutshell is the premise of my entire second book, TEACH…To Change Lives.  A great teacher does reveal talents to their students, but they do so much more.  They teach students how to discover, nurture, and have the courage to develop their own talents.  Ultimately that is the foundation on which to build long term success in life…not just inside the classroom….but in life.

In today’s world we change, not just jobs, but frequently entire professions, multiple times if we want to continue to grow and succeed.  Careers will exist within the next decade that are not even on the horizon today.  We can’t possibly train our students for those careers currently.  They aren’t in our textbooks or even measured on current standardized tests.  But we can train students to recognize their talents and give them the courage to pursue those new careers as they emerge.  THAT is precisely the most important job of an effective teacher.

I consider myself a teacher first.  But that is not my entire identity.  Sometime during my life path I became a professional speaker and then a writer.  In truth, my ability to speak to and encourage a group of people is probably my greatest talent and yet I didn’t recognize that until I was in my forties.  Thank goodness I had the courage to embrace that skill rather than deny it as something for which I didn’t have a college degree..  At the time I entered college I had never heard of a professional speaker.  I didn’t know they existed.  My books happened because audience members asked for them. They willed me to write my first book.

Back at the library someone asked Krista if she had written a book.  Her reply?  “Not yet.”

Whether or not a book exists, there are some things I know for certain after being in Ms. Ramsey’s presence for only about an hour.  Krista Ramsey is an author.  Her non-fiction books are already written, she just hasn’t put a book cover on them…yet.  She could write marvelous fiction if she so desires.  She is also an effective speaker and something of a philosopher.  She could be a counselor if she made that her choice.  The teaching profession lost a great teacher when she moved into journalism. I’m sorry for the students who didn’t get to have her daily influence.  She certainly would have been a gal who would have taught in such a way that she would have changed lives in the process.  She would have been just the kind of teacher who discovered multiple talents within her students and willed them toward those gifts.

Sometimes you feel a kinship with a person from across a room.  I felt myself nodding in agreement at every statement she made.  When I mustered the courage to speak she was nodding my way too.

And so it is with great teachers and their students.  We learn from one another.

Show Your Work: Austin Kleon on the Art of Getting NoticedTEACH...To Change Lives

 TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Invite Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

 

 

 

 

Ankles and Elbows

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JodiI’m embarrassed to admit this in a blog for teachers, but I once had to hire a tutor to help my daughter, Jodi, with geometry.  She was struggling with this subject in her sophomore year of high school.  I understood her frustration.  I only had to think back to my own first encounter with geometry.  Eventually I managed to squeak out a decent grade, but if the teacher had graded me on long-term comprehension, I would have earned an F.

I asked Jodi’s geometry teacher for suggestions and she gave me the name of a tutor.  After Jodi’s first one-on-one lesson with her new tutor I optimistically asked her how it went.  This is an exact quote of her response.

That woman had the thickest ankles and the driest elbows of anyone I have ever met.

I swear to you that is exactly what my daughter said to me.  She gave me a report on the status of the woman’s ankles and elbows. I was stunned into momentary silence.  Then I responded to her in the same tone and manner she had just used with me.

You know Jodi, I thank God every day that I teach young kids and not teens. Please God, don’t ever make me work with teens.  I didn’t ask you about her ankles or elbows. Did she help you understand anything about your geometry?

Her response?  She just looked at me.  Apparently I didn’t deserve a response.

Do you know what I learned from this?  Don’t ever make your fears public, because the heavens will hear you and set you up for a great joke.  Within a year and a half of this conversation I was hired to teach seniors.  Yep.  I started teaching seniors the same year that my daughter was a senior, thankfully not in the same building.  (The photo above is Jodi’s senior picture).

This new job “opportunity” came about pretty suddenly.  I told Jodi about my job change, but she didn’t listen very closely.  Listening to what her mom was actually saying wasn’t high on her priority list during that phase in her life.  I was terrified and frankly reluctant to take this position, but my youngest daughter needed better medical insurance to battle cancer and the new job provided that, so I signed a contract and took a leap of faith.  On my first day I said to Jodi

Well, today is my first day of teaching seniors.  Wish me luck.

She was completely stunned with this news.  Ah-ha.  I knew she didn’t listen to me.

WHAT?  You’re going to be teaching seniors?  Are you serious?

Her tone and body language told me I didn’t stand a chance of success.  And furthermore, I didn’t have anything of merit to teach a senior.

My response to her?

Well, look at it this way, Jodi.  My job should be easy.  Seniors already know everything.

I hate to admit it, but she was right about one thing.  It was a really shaky start.  In my 42 years of full-time teaching, I thought about quitting the profession only twice.  Once was in my second year of teaching when I ran into some serious health problems.  The second time was in my 24th year, when I began teaching seniors.  They came close to doing me in…maybe even killing me off.

But you know what?  I ended up loving teens.  I liked their humor.  I liked their optimism.  I loved their passion about what they believed in.  I learned to overlook their moods and found ways to joke them out of their occasional surliness.  I got used to telling the boys to pull up their pants and telling the girls to cover their cleavage.  My life is now full of former teen students who are now my friends.  When you teach a senior it takes them only one year to begin to appreciate you.  It is a fast turn around.  As soon as they leave for college, they immediately understand how much you really taught them.

I think I had another advantage.  I actually lived with a senior when I began teaching seniors. I absolutely knew how much they didn’t know about life.  I knew I had only one year to teach them all the important stuff.  I knew I had to teach them more than the academics of my field and I did.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t teach them academics.  I did.  But I knew I had one short year to teach them so much more.

Once I was in the middle of a very ticklish conference with a teen girl who was on a bad path.  The guidance counselor was with me.  When the mother of this girl arrived it explained quite a bit about the poor choices the kid was making.  The girl had no role model for success.  We did everything in our power to explain our point of view, but unfortunately we didn’t feel like we made much headway during this conference.  After the teen and her mom left the conference area, the guidance counselor looked at me and said something very wise.

The world will teach them what we cannot.

world will teach them

I never forgot that statement.  The truth of it rocks me.  The world is going to teach them things that we cannot.  And many of those lessons will hurt.  It made me try harder to teach them any life lessons I could while they were still in a somewhat safe environment, inside the classroom walls.

Maybe Jodi even had a point about focusing on ankles and elbows.  Both of those joints are pivotal points in our bodies.  That’s what the teen years are all about, pivotal points.  Our role as teachers is to help students make their best choices during those pivotal points in their lives, not just memorize facts from a textbook.  Some of those pivotal points come while they are with us.  But many will come after they are gone from our classrooms.  What can we do now to help them maneuver those pivotal moments later?

Just for the record, my teaching life took me in such a circuitous route that more than a decade later, I actually ended up teaching in the same building as the woman who had tutored my daughter.  Her name was Nancy.  She was a petite woman, of normal weight whose ankles appeared to be in perfect proportion to her body.  I didn’t do any close checking, but her elbows seemed fine to me also.  Believe me,  I never once told her what my daughter had said about her.  It was my gift to her as a fellow teacher.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Invite Dauna Easley to speak to your group.  dauna@cinci.rr.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Boomerang Kid

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boomerangOne of the unexpected joys of my teaching career is that I have had the opportunity to teach students of all age levels.  I have taught preschool through high school seniors, and now even supervise college level students doing their intern teaching.

Mikey is a boy I taught in preschool when he was three and four years old.  He was the biggest boy in class even though some others were a year older than he.  He was also friendly, affectionate and funny.  You just had to love Mikey and everyone did.

Fast forward about twelve years.  I was teaching high school juniors and seniors in a Teacher Academy program when I noticed a name just like Mikey’s on my class list.  Could this possibly be the same boy?  No way.  I was in a different district than where I first met Mikey and I was teaching high school, not preschool.  But sure enough on the first day of school in he walked with a big grin on his face.  I didn’t recognize him at first.  But then he spoke.

“Hey, Mrs. Easley, remember me?  It’s Mikey from preschool!’

And just like a boomerang, Mikey was back in my life.  It was evident pretty quickly that Mikey had become Michael.  He was 6’4″ inches tall and weighed between 275 and 300 pounds depending on whether or not it was football or wrestling season.  But his basic personality had not changed at all.  He was friendly, easy-going and kinder than the average teen.

I remember one time I was lamenting about my students falling into a habit of arriving late to class.  In walked Michael a couple of minutes late.  I gave him my “teacher look” of disapproval.  He didn’t say anything.  He just came up to me later privately and apologized and told me every once in a while he might be a little late to class because he helped his friend Greg get from class to class in his wheel chair every day.  I felt like a heel.  For the two years Michael was in my class I watched him wheel Greg from class to class all day long.  He shared lunch with him in the cafeteria too.  This was not a task that was assigned to him.  He wasn’t doing it to accumulate volunteer hours.  Greg was his friend.  Period.

Michael was kind to everyone, no exceptions.  He was a behemoth on the football field and someone you wouldn’t want to meet on a wrestling mat or in a dark alley; but I always thought of him as my gentle giant.  About a month before high school graduation Michael pointed out to me that I was the first teacher he had ever had when he walked into preschool when he was three.  And then he mentioned that I would be the last teacher he would have in high school for the last bell of the last day as he finished his high school career.  It choked me up when he shared that observation with me.  I hadn’t thought of it, but he had. What a privileged teaching career I have had, to be able to influence this remarkable young man at both the beginning and closing of his school career.

But even that is not where the story ends. Mike went on to college to become an intervention specialist (special educator).  I can’t think of anyone more suited for such a career.  He won’t have to learn how to value all students; he always has.  A couple of weeks ago,  his name popped up on my email.  He has graduated from college now.  He is beginning his job search.  He asked me if I would do some practice job interviews with him.  So there we were last week, Mike and I, now a young man in his twenties meeting at the public library where I put him through a series of mock job interviews for a future teaching position.  We worked together again for a couple of hours.  At the end of that time we shared a hug and I told him to let me know when he had landed a teaching position or to call me with any tough interview questions and we would discuss possible responses.

Michael and I have been passing in and out of each other’s lives now for two decades.  He doesn’t just make other students feel valued, he makes his teacher feel valued too.  How gratifying it is to have a young man still believe that I have something of worth to teach him.  I hope this wonderful relationship continues for decades more. When you’ve been hugged by Mikey these days, you KNOW you’ve been hugged.  He can lift you right up off the floor, both physically and emotionally.

At the risk of repeating myself, I ask this question again.  Where, but in the profession of teaching, can you influence lives so positively and for such a length of time?  The rewards I reap from this career go on and on.  So does my gratitude for all the students who have touched my life in such a wonderful way.

What a teacher writes

on the blackboard of life

can never be erased.

blackboard of life

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives 

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Book Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Do You Want Fries with That?

Standard

classroom funIt was the month of May and I had a classroom full of seniors.  I was still trying to push forward with a lesson plan, but most of my students were dreaming about the big moment when they would toss their hats into the air.  In the midst of an assignment Kyle asked to be excused to use the restroom.  Without giving it much thought I gave him my standard response, “Be back in three minutes.”

Just for the record I have to admit that in our large high school building it is impossible to reach the location of the restroom, complete your task there and return to the classroom in three minutes.  But I always warned students to be back in three minutes to try to keep the trip from expanding into 8 or even 10 minutes away from class time.

french friesBut on this particular day Kyle returned within the three-minute time limit.  He entered the classroom door behind me while I was still teaching away.  By reading the amazed looks on my students faces, I rather quickly became aware that something unusual was happening behind my back.  I turned to see what was going on.  There was Kyle walking into my classroom eating a hamburger still in a wrapper from a local restaurant.  For a few seconds I was speechless.  Kyle broke the silence as he munched on his burger.  He reached his hand out to me with a package of fries in it.

Here Mrs. E.  I brought you some fries.  They’re hot.  You better eat them now while they’re still hot.

He put them down on my desk in front of me as my students laughed tentatively and watched warily for my reaction.  I was stunned and wondering how he had accomplished this stunt in less than three minutes.

Really, Ms. E.  I made it back in three minutes.  See?  Look at the clock.  (He pointed).  I promise they’re hot.  Go ahead and take a bite;  the fries are for you.

I made a quick internal decision.  I paused several seconds…for comic effect actually…and then picked up a fry and put it in my mouth.

Ummm, they are hot.”

The class totally collapsed in laughter.  After a few minutes of mirth I continued my teaching, pausing every couple of minutes to eat another fry.  Each time I did this the giggles started again.

I never asked Kyle how he had accomplished this stunt.  It was a point of honor with me.  I like my students to think that I know what they are doing every moment, even when I’m not around.  Teacher telepathy.  It’s a part of my teacher arsenal.  I did quite a bit of internal conjecturing though.

A couple of weeks later I was invited to Kyle’s graduation party.  I had a chance to talk to Kyle’s mother while he was greeting other guests.  His mom was active in our school’s PTA.  I asked her if she had brought the hamburger and fries to school while she was in the building for a volunteer task.  She said,

He did WHAT?

It was clear from the look on her face that she was hearing this story for the first time.

Another student clued me in.  Kyle’s friend with an early dismissal pass from school had texted Kyle from the drive through line.  Kyle put in his order and then synchronized his friend’s delivery time at the back door of the school building with his own request to use the restroom.  Mission accomplished.

Given another teacher Kyle would probably have gobbled his goody in the hallway.  But this young man always enjoyed sharing a good joke with an audience.  He took a chance on my reaction.

The test data purists would probably criticize my reaction by arguing that classroom learning time was wasted.  But in May with a room full of seniors I believe I chose the appropriate response.  True, my students will never remember what I was teaching that day.  But would they have remembered that particular lesson anyway?  But this I guarantee.  If they live to be 100, they will always remember the day Kyle came walking into my classroom in the middle of the class eating a hamburger and had the audacity to give the teacher some hot fries. They will also remember me eating those fries.

That day we made a lifetime memory.  You’ve gotta’ enjoy the fun… spontaneously.  Humor always comes from an unexpected twist.

My advice?  Enjoy the fun when it comes.  Those are the moments that will stay with you AND your students forever.  For the test data collectors?   I also believe students learn best from a teacher with a sense of humor.  When we are relaxed we are receptive to new concepts.  Tension closes the brain down.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

TEACH...To Change Lives

 TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Contact Dauna Easley to speak to your group.  dauna@cinci.rr.com