Monthly Archives: July 2012

Full Circle


Full Circle

A True Story

Dedicated to All Teachers Who are Returning to their Classrooms in August

When I began to teach about the profession of teaching with high school students, I gave my students a unique assignment. I asked them to write a thank you letter to the best or most memorable teacher they had ever experienced.  The power of this assignment was amazing.  It required my students to focus on the qualities of great teachers and describe those attributes in written words. We could never find all of the teachers my students wanted to thank, of course, but it was a triumph every time one of them received a response from one of their treasured teachers.  They would bring those letters to class and share them orally with everyone.  All the other class members would start hoping anew that they would be the next one to receive a reply.

The first time I ever tried this activity with high school students, I tried to locate Mrs. Harriet Ranson, my former high school science, biology and physiology teacher. As a teenager back in William Mason High School in Mason, Ohio I have to confess, I thought she was boring.  It wasn’t until I attended college that I discovered, too late, just what a great teacher she had been.

At Miami University in the 1960s anatomy and physiology was what we fearfully called a ‘flunk out’ class. If you are from my era, you know the kind of class I’m describing.  The students gathered in a huge auditorium.  The professor was way down in front, barely visible, giving prolific notes, never pausing to explain.  The text was as thick as an unabridged Bible.  Then on test day you’d discover that nothing in the notes or the book had anything to do with the questions you were expected to answer for a grade on the test.  Brilliant students were failing the course.

It wasn’t far into this potential nightmare that I came to an amazing realization. I was having no trouble with the material. While students much brighter than I were at their wit’s ends, I simply somehow knew the answers. It was an astonishing discovery for me, a triumph I owed completely to Mrs. Ranson.  In high school she had quite frankly taught me everything I needed to know about college level anatomy and physiology.

thank a teacher

I knew then what I didn’t have the maturity to realize in high school.  Mrs. Ranson was an incredible teacher.  I started feeling guilty.  I promised myself I would write her a thank you letter and tell her so.  My home town of Mason was small at the time.  I even knew exactly where she lived.  But weeks turned into months, then years, and too quickly even decades.  I never did write that letter. 

It wasn’t until I gave my own students this assignment that I decided to finally follow through and write Mrs. Ranson a long overdue letter of gratitude.  I wondered if she remembered me.  I thought it would be neat to bring in a letter from one of my own former teachers and read it to my students.  But I had waited too long. People can move quite a bit in twenty-five years.  I tried hard but I simply couldn’t find her.

Even more years slipped away until later at my thirty-year high school reunion, I finally received a clue that helped me locate her.  I was asked to be the speaker at our reunion. What a compliment! I was pleased but also more nervous than when I speak in front of an audience of strangers.  Though I was forty-eight years old I felt like a gawky teenager.  But once I began speaking I relaxed; my friends laughed in all the right places and we had a ball.  But it was during this speech, in a poignant moment, I decided to thank Mrs. Ranson.  She wasn’t there, of course, but at least I had the chance to express my gratitude in front of an audience who knew her and would understand.  As I talked about my college experience with the physiology class and the debt that I owed Mrs. Ranson, you could see heads nodding all around me. It was clear, we all agreeed.  Mrs. Ranson was a great teacher. And yet, how many of us actually took the time to say ‘thank you’?

class reunion

One of the big surprises of the reunion evening was that Mrs. Kathy Ross, our old English teacher, actually attended our reunion.  We couldn’t believe it.  Most of us had assumed she was dead.  But we learned that evening that while we had been seventeen and eighteen, she had been only twenty-three and twenty-four.  She had aged well too.  That night we were asking her questions like, “Were you in my chemistry class?” And she would respond, “I was your teacher!”

About a week after my reunion speech, I received a nice card and a note from Mrs. Ross.  A complete thrill.  She told me what a great speech she thought I had made.  Is there anything better than your high school English teacher complimenting you on a speech?  Nothing. Even when you are pushing fifty that still feels wonderful.  I felt like a high school kid again soaking up a teacher’s compliment.

But that card also included two challenges.  First she asked me for a copy of my speech.  I was in trouble there, because I don’t really write out my speeches. I know the stories I’m going to tell and the points I’m going to make, but I never completely write it out because I don’t want my speech to sound memorized.  But how do you tell your old English teacher you didn’t write it down?  So I quickly sat down and typed up what I could remember about what I had said.

Mrs. Ross also wrote, “If you are really sincere about thanking Mrs. Ranson, I have her address.  She moved to Florida years ago, but we still exchange Christmas cards.”

The Letters

There it was in front of me more than thirty years later –  Mrs. Ranson’s address.  Thankful for the second chance I immediately sat down and wrote Mrs. Ranson a letter.  I told her about my college course and let her know how indebted I was to her.  I even sent her a copy of my reunion speech. (Thanks to Mrs. Ross’s assignment, I now had a written version). Amazingly in only two weeks I received a reply.  The answer was handwritten on a yellow legal pad by her husband.

Dear Mrs. Easley,

Thank you so much for your letter and the speech you made at your thirty year class reunion.  They could not possibly have arrived at a better time.  Harriet is currently in the hospital…My wife has not responded to the medication and has been unable to communicate with even me for several weeks.

I took your letter and a copy of your speech to the hospital.  She was unable to read them, of course, so I read them aloud to her.  When I told her who they were from she immediately began talking… all about you.  She told me all about your science project. She remembered and told me that you were a very good student. This is the first conversation I have been able to have with her except for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ in three weeks.

I have made copies of your letter and your speech and sent them to our sons and their families.  Again thank you so much for taking the time to write. I know these are things we will keep forever.


George Ranson


A teacher and her student

Reaching out to each other

Reconnecting after thirty years,

Each validating the importance of the other.

Did you ever doubt that there is a special bond

Between teachers and their students?

I don’t…not anymore.

The Story Continues…

thank you to my teacher

Mrs. Harriet Ranson

Dauna Easley
Look at the length of cheerleading skirts back then!

For many years the story ended this way.  I had the opportunity to travel the country talking to and encouraging teachers and this was one of the stories I always shared.  It never failed to moisten a few eyes. Many amazing things happened along the way.  When I was speaking in Los Vegas a gentleman came up to me following my speech and revealed that he had been George Ranson’s business partner for years.  He thanked me for sharing such a wonderful story about Harriet and George.   Always after I spoke teachers approached me from the audience and wanted to share stories of special teachers from their past. Many promised to go home and write to them.  And they did.

When I wrote my first book for teachers, Teachers Touch Eternity, I included the Mrs. Ranson story. I tried to send the Ranson family a copy of the book.  But the Florida address was no longer current.  I had lost them again.  It took me many months to locate them once more.  I finally learned that George had passed away and Harriet came home to Mason and lived in her son’s home.  She was bed ridden and not always cognizant by then.  But I went to her son’s home and gave them a copy of the book.

book coverOnce they read the story, they were so touched, that they read the story aloud to Harriet many nights before she went to sleep.  They claimed that she loved hearing it. The family was so moved by the story which was about their mother and contained a letter from their father, that they bought several copies of my book as a memorial tribute to their parents.  They passed them out as a surprise to the extended family members on Christmas Eve that year, and read the story orally to all of them.  That scene gives me goose bumps when I think about it.

Then when Harriet passed away, the Ranson family asked me…her student…to give her eulogy. 

I was proud to do so.

Never, ever underestimate the power of the bond between a teacher and a student.  I believe teaching is a profession like no other. If you enter into it with a desire to honor and elevate not just your students’ knowledge but also their entire lives, you have chosen the right profession.

I’ve just written my second book for teachers.  TEACH…To Change Lives.

Mrs. Ranson’s story is only one of the stories and classoom activities I share in the book.

 Available at




Taking the Leap


Making the LeapCan I Do It?

Sooner or later it happens to all of us.  We’re standing on one side of a ditch, or challenge, or life situation, and trying to imagine what it would be like to make the leap to the other side.  The chasm looks too wide.  The water looks too deep.  The distance is daunting when we get up close.  It was OK to dream about it, sure.  But dreaming and doing aren’t the same.  Doing is scary.  As we flex to make the jump everything inside of us is screaming, “NO!  You will fail.”

We may be dissatisfied with where we are in life, but the risk involved in change keeps us paralyzed.  We may feel frustrated, but we feel a little bit safe also.  This life is what I know!  What if I leave this job and fail in my next job?  I don’t like my current position, but it may be better to stay put than to move to a new organization and lose all my seniority.  This marriage isn’t satisfying but what if I never find anyone else to love?  What if no one else ever loves me?  I’d like to enter a writing contest, but what makes me think I could possibly win?  Rejection may hurt too much and I’ll stop writing altogether.

“I’m afraid of failure.  I’m afraid I’ll feel humiliated.  I’m afraid I can’t support myself or my family.” We say it all.   Blah, blah, de blah, blah, blah.

The Good News

Here’s the thing you never learn until you take the leap.  Standing between two choices is incredibly hard.  You are using double the energy it would take to commit to one.  Half of your psyche is committed to one outcome.  The other half of you is pleading with yourself to make the change.  That mental dichotomy is absolutely exhausting.  Everything in your life seems twice as hard and half as satisfying.  As soon as you make the leap, even if you completely wipe out, things get easier.  You can turn your entire focus toward making your new venture a success.   Your chances of succeeding in your new choice explode forward.  You find out you CAN do it after all.  It was only your doubt holding you back.

The Bad News

good news/ bad news

Most people are like this cow.

So who are you?

The cow or the surfer?

Only you can make the choice.

The Secret Dream


Some Dreams We Share with the World

Thank a teacherFor as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to become a teacher.  This dream was conceived unintentionally by observing an enthusiastic third grade teacher named Mrs. Waggoner.  She didn’t prepare a lesson about careers.  She didn’t ask us to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up.  She simply taught with joy.

Looking back I realize that my parents’ philosophy of child rearing -had they chosen to write it down- would have read like this:  “Do your chores and then go play.”  I had no complaints about that style of parenting.  I did my chores and then ran outside to play until the lightning bugs appeared.  I loved being outdoors and enjoyed a large circle of neighborhood playmates.

But in third grade I discovered a teacher named Mrs. Waggoner.  She was unlike any other adult I had ever encountered.  What made her unique?  She actually enjoyed playing with children.  She would enter whatever game we had devised and laugh with us.  Noise didn’t bother her.  Messes didn’t annoy her.  Instead of telling us to simply sit down and draw a picture during those long winter indoor recesses, she would have us push back all the desks and she taught us how to square dance.  She’d holler out the square dance calls and dance with us, clapping as she skipped around the room.  I was mesmerized by her and studied her like she was some kind of a science experiment.


Consequently it was when I was only eight that I decided I wanted to grow up and enter a profession in which I could find as much joy and fun as Mrs. Waggoner. I began to fashion child sized classrooms on the porch, or in the garage.  That dream of becoming a teacher I made public and I rushed toward that goal as though racing along a zipline.  By age twenty I was teaching third grade myself.  Thank you, Mrs. Waggoner for revealing a career path I would love for decades.

 The Secret Dream


But I also had a secret dream.  Maybe you have one too.  I wanted to become a writer.  I can’t pinpoint when this dream was conceived within me.  It wasn’t as clear-cut as meeting Mrs. Waggoner.  I just knew I enjoyed writing stories for fun. I wrote stories for myself and sometimes shared them with my family.  As a teenager, I wrote a collection of very mediocre poems that I kept hidden away.   No one encouraged me in this dream.  In fact, I rarely revealed this interest to anyone.

Why?  Every time I wrote a story or an essay for an assignment I was given a grade of a B minus.  B minus people don’t excel.  B minus people need to look elsewhere to succeed.  So I kept this interest tucked away in a private place. This dream percolated on the back burner, just below the surface of public admission for many years.

Ironically, it was once again a teacher who finally gave me “permission” to allow my writing dream to begin to grow.  She wasn’t royalty, but her name was Miss Throne.  Really.

Miss Throne’s Threat

She was my freshman composition professor at Miami University.

She issued a threat on the first day of class.  She circumvented any effort at tact and told us that most of us would fail her class.   We glanced at each other stunned.  She pointed out that we weren’t in high school anymore.  While we may have been making an ‘A’ in high school English, that didn’t impress her one iota.  She was the Marine drill sergeant equivalent of a college English prof.

 I had never seen an A for my high school writing efforts and I felt my already sagging confidence plummet.  In fact she claimed that most of us would make an ‘F’ on our first writing assignment.  Worse.  All our writing would be done during class with the topic only provided on the day of the assignment. No opportunity to refine and improve would be granted.

It was a grim group of students who showed up for that first classroom writing assignment.  She didn’t smile nor did we.  She distributed our blank blue books and then chalked our essay title in giant letters on the blackboard.

I Am An Eccentric

Decades later I still remember that title and the fear. We wrote furiously until she ordered us to stop.   The next class day was even more sullen as, sure enough, she began to hand back those blue books.  I saw, F, F, D, D-, D- – .  I even spotted an F- !  She wrote those grades in HUGE red pencil on the covers of the booklets.  Public condemnation with no apologies.

What did my booklet say?  She didn’t even return it to me.  I said absolutely nothing.  I figured she had ripped it to shreds in frustration.  You could hear a fly sweat in that classroom.  Silently Miss Throne made a throne of the desk in the front of the room as she perched on top of it and stared at us.  No one said a word.

Then quietly she began to read to us orally.  My essay.  I slid down as far as possible in my seat.  It was several minutes before I realized with astonishment that she liked it.  I have never been more surprised or embarrassed by anything in my life…not even to this day.  My grade?  It was an A minus, minus.  Miss Throne adored minuses. But the grade was no longer of any importance.

That was the day that I realized with stunning clarity that taste in good writing is subjective.  That was the day that I knew that I would allow my writing dream to continue to percolate and grow.  That was the day that I internalized that one day I would have the courage to write and make my words public.  It didn’t happen quickly, but it did happen.  First I became a teacher.  But, now also, I had permission to write.

Teachers Touch Eternity


TEACH To Change Lives

Please understand that as a teacher myself, I do not approve of Miss Throne’s methods.  I don’t believe you get your best results from students through intimidation.  I tell this story to prove another point.  Miss Throne does not remember me.  She doesn’t remember my name.  She doesn’t remember that day.  But notice the power one teacher had in my life, in one hour of one day.  I no longer felt that I had to squelch my secret dream.  That one day gave me the courage to write my first book.  My third book Teach…To Change Lives will be available at soon.  And Miss Throne is in it.

Never give up on a secret dream too soon.

Questions from Teens


  questions from teens

Why Me?

I could have a lot of fun listing questions teens love to ask.  In fact that may be a great topic for a future post.  Teens are full of questions from the ridiculous, to the obvious and beyond the embarrassing.    But one question that would fall consistently within the top three is, “Why me?”

Why are you asking ME to do that? 

Don’t you see all these other kids doing nothing? 

googing off

Look at them goofing off!

Why aren’t you asking THEM to do anything?

Okay.  Sue me.  Life isn’t fair.  The truth is, “Yeah I see those other turkeys goofing off.”  I’m not blind.  Look at their body language.  Everything about them says, “Don’t even THINK about asking me to do something.”  The classroom unfortunately mirrors life.  Here comes a life truth I’m slinging at you.

 5% of the people breathing air are doing 95% of the work.

This isn’t a pretty thought.  Actually it is disconcerting and maddening.  It is blatantly unfair. But it is the truth.  You’ll find it in the work place.  You will find it in the home.  You will find it wherever you go.  I’m not sure if it is a universal truth; I only possess  the American experience.  Open your eyes and look around you.  You’ll be giving me a high-five for my astute observational skills.

But There is Good News

What can be the good news about you always picking on me and asking me to do all the dirty work?

What is fair about that?

Answer that question.

I dare you.

life truth

Okay I will.  Here comes another life truth you probably also don’t want to hear.  We often have to work a job before we are actually offered the job.  When you have an entry-level job your boss will always be asking you to do extra things.  He (or she) will look around and see others goofing off and then will ask YOU to do something no one else wants to do.

“What is the good news about that??!!”

You have already been identified as a leader.  Your teacher already sees it.  Your attitude has placed you in that 5% that will always be asked to do more.  While it seems like the slackers are winning momentarily, you are winning in the long run.

Why?  Whenever you do something extra… willingly, you are proving your leadership potential.   You will be the one your boss thinks of when a promotion opportunity happens.  YOU will frequently be promoted over someone with more experience, skills or seniority.  YOU will have already demonstrated your ability to work at the next level, because you will have been performing a supervisor’s responsibilities and demonstrating a management attitude.

Yep.  Short term, the slackers seem to be winning.  I’ll grant you that. But that is the attitude of the 95%.  Believe me there is a price to pay for passivity, just getting by.  The cost?  Lower self-esteem, acceptance of mediocrity, lack of pride in accomplishments.  Long term?  Regret.

When I ask you to do something no one else wants to do I’m really calling you a winner.  Congratulations!  Now say, “Thank you,” and just do what I asked you to do with a smile. 🙂

I’m Not Oprah


what I know for sureI’m Not Oprah

Clearly.  I’m not Oprah so unfortunately not too many people will care what I think.  There is no magazine or TV show with my name on it. But let’s talk about Oprah for just a second.  In her magazine on the very last page she writes a feature every month titled ‘What I Know for Sure.’  She came up with the idea because someone on TV asked her that question, and she couldn’t formulate a good answer on the spot.

She found that the question, “What do you know for sure?’ really intrigued her and she reflected on it quite a bit.  She decided she would use the last page of her magazine to answer that revealing question differently each month.  She later confessed that she lived in minor fear of not being able to come up with a new idea each month; but I’m proud of her because she has stuck with it.

In case Oprah is reading this (stop laughing, it could happen) I’d like her to know that the last page is always the first page of her magazine that I read each month.  It IS a wonderful question to answer.  So….with a nod to Oprah…here are my answers.

What I Know for Sure

what I know for sure

  • Wisdom comes only slowly.  And frequently it can only be located at all by looking in the rear view mirror.  I’m astonished…as the decades accumulate…how I can have a whole new vantage point and understanding of something that happened way in my past.  Wisdom reveals itself when you least expect it.  “Why did that have to happen?” becomes, “Oh, now I get it.  If X hadn’t happened then Y would never have been an option.”  The challenging part is waiting for the wisdom.  It can’t be forced.  Believe me I’ve tried to force it.  A new understanding will just occur when you are ready to believe it.
  • Regrets usually come from the things I didn’t do.  Over time mistakes dim. You take a risk.  You fail.  You recover and learn from it.  But not stepping up to an opportunity, not even trying, that inaction  becomes a regret.  From my vantage point regrets hurt much more than mistakes.
  • Often the way people treat you has absolutely nothing to do with you.  This is such an amazing lesson that I have to keep learning it every day.  While it is true that if we treat people well, we also hope that they will value us, it isn’t always so.  When people treat you badly, or talk behind your back, it often is a product of their own insecurities.  They don’t feel good about themselves and can’t accept your good intentions.  It frequently has nothing to do with you at all. I wish I could have understood this when I was much younger.  OK I admit it,  even today I have to continue to remind myself of this truth, even though I’ve reached the age our parents used to call “You’re old enough to know better.”

income earned

  • The amount of money a person earns does not determine their value.  This seems obvious to a young person, but in our capitalistic culture it becomes fuzzy to us as we age. Especially in America where our value system is so skewed, we have to keep our personal definition of value separate from income.  In this country we seem to worship celebrities and people who can kick, hit or dunk a ball.   America gives a thumbs down to someone who is “just” a teacher, especially recently.  Celebrities are assigned ghost writers so they can claim to be authors and plagiarize the talents of true designers to claim their own line of fashions.  Reality TV has taken the word celebrity to a new lower level.  The family most willing to publicly display their dysfunction becomes rich quickly.  Income seems completely unrelated to value anymore.  If we tie our personal worth to income, people of real value frequently lose self-respect.

  • The education you give yourself is more important than all the degrees you can accumulate. I’m a career teacher, so it is a little difficult to admit this.  Earning a degree shows perseverance and an initial thirst for knowledge.  However, if we allow learning to stop at age 22 or 35, we’ve missed the most valuable education of all.  The real goal of earning a degree should be to make us become life long learners.  I’ve learned a hundred times more from the books I’ve read than the degrees I’ve earned.  A PhD doesn’t mean you are well-educated.  Continually seeking knowledge throughout your life makes you well-educated.  Nothing else does.
  • Messages that come from your parents early in life are the hardest to change.  Even when you understand that, it is still hard to break the hold those messages have on you.  I’ve been the recipient of both the positive and negative sides of that truth.  My parents thought I was incredibly intelligent and frequently voiced this.  I was in my thirties before I realized that I wasn’t as smart as my parents believed. But by then my confidence in my intelligence already had a firm hold on me.  However, my father was hypercritical about women’s appearances and especially critical of weight.  None of his three children will ever feel attractive as a result of those early messages.
  • We are all responsible for surrounding ourselves with a circle of people who are encouragers.  To live life with some success we all need our own group of cheerleaders. We all know people who lift and people who discourage.  We know blamers, doubters, dreamers, and winners.  We have to be selective and surround ourselves with people who encourage us to take positive risks, and people who believe in our ability to soar.  In our vulnerable moments we must turn to our encouragers and away from the naysayers.  It can mean the difference between living the life we dream of or a life of mediocrity.

Thank you Oprah, for giving us your answers to this insightful question each month.  But mostly thank you for challenging me to reflect on my OWN  life.  These are the things Dauna Easley has learned for sure…so far.