Monthly Archives: November 2012

Dear Teacher,


A Letter from a Student

Image credit: <a href=''>madmaxer / 123RF Stock Photo</a>When I taught young children I used to receive short love notes from them all the time.  They’d tell me that they loved me and insert a picture they had drawn just for me.  Little kids would bring me an apple or a flower from their garden.  I felt valued and appreciated.

I didn’t believe that would happen when I moved into the high school to teach.  But I was wrong.  I have 3 ring notebooks full of notes and letters teens wrote to me.  There were, of course, some differences.  Teens usually dropped a note on my desk quickly when no one else was in the room and then they’d make an exit through the classroom door as fast as they could.  Once they believed I truly cared about them, they would pour their hearts out to me. They would write about a crisis in their lives. Or sometimes they’d write to tell me about something I had said or read to them during class and admit how it touched them or encouraged them.

I’m going to share (with the writer’s permission) one of those letters with you. This letter was written by Sarah.  Sarah had become a single mom at age sixteen.  She was 17 when she wrote this and had been in my classroom for only about 3 months.  She was intelligent and caring, but she didn’t trust people very much. She dressed with a flair that usually resulted in her peers categorizing her as someone outside their circle. She might wear a black leather studded collar or bracelet along with a pink tutu on the same day.  She had gorgeous strawberry blonde hair that women would pay hundreds of dollars to have created at a salon, but Sarah was apt to have a purple or pink stripe running through hers.

I share this letter humbly, not to boast about my relationship with students, but to help teachers understand what it is that our students really need.  Read between the lines and listen to what Sarah desperately wanted.

Dear Mrs. Easley,

“I would truly like to thank you.  You are a great inspiration to me and a great role model as well. You have done everything in your life that I would hope to do in mine. You have become an amazing teacher, one who truly touches the lives of many she comes in contact with.  You have opened your own school and most importantly you are a dedicated mother to your own children even after they are gone.

Through life I have learned many lessons.  I have learned that there are people who will enjoy hurting you, who will enjoy beating you down, who enjoy seeing you cry. But I have also learned you can’t let them stop you.  You are your own person, you can do what you wish, you can be who you want and no one can stop you. Your classroom lets me be the person I want to be. You do not judge me. You see my intelligence, not my clothing, you see me. I have never had a teacher say they admire me before, when you did, I felt strong. I have never felt strong.

I’m sorry for the struggles you have had to face. Losing a child is hard. I hope I never have to learn how that feels first hand. But Kelsey would be proud of you.  You have become so much to children of all ages. I know I am proud of you. I do not have a mother to fall back on. I don’t have parents that support me, I have ones that push. You encourage me; you know what I am capable of and expect me to show it and know myself.

I love to be myself, but sometimes it’s hard to do. You have let me know that you should never be afraid to be yourself. I hope I can instill that in my daughter.  She has helped me to grow so much.  How much she has helped me makes me realize why you are such a good teacher; you had your children to help you learn.

I truly hope that one day I can be like you.  Just this short time with you has opened my eyes. At first I was not sure about teaching; now I know it is what I have to do. You are an inspiration to your students, Mrs. Easley whether they realize this now or not. You have instilled lessons in us that at this time may seem pointless but later will show such immense value. Thanks to your class.  Thanks to your stories, I really know I can make a difference, like the one you have made with me.

I cannot entirely describe my gratitude through a letter so attached is a poem, one that I have written just for you, describing the feelings I hold toward you now.

Thank you,


A mother never wanted me

A family threw me away

I was lost in apathy

Not wanting to survive each day.

School became the home I wanted

Books my seclusion

Writing as my outlet

Loving the illusion

I may not fully thrive at this

But nor do I fail

I only use it to find myself

And with that I do prevail.

A classroom like this

Makes me feel unharmed

A place where I feel welcomed

Where I need not feel alarmed.

People welcome me everyday

Faces painted up with smiles

Giving me encouragement

Helping me through painful miles.

They do not know all my struggles,

But they have let me know

That they are here for me

To help me all the way I have to go.

You have helped me the most

Showing me encouragement and light,

Giving me a warming smile

To let me know what’s right.

Learning from your experiences

As I have learned from mine

Mothers and teachers alike

We are two of a kind.

I feel like I connect with you

We express ourselves the same

To others school is work

To me it is a game.

Nothing compared to the outside world

It is easy within these walls

You either succeed or you fail

Outside few hear your calls.

You have made me realize

I should learn as I go

Teaching me of both school and reality

I now know what I need to know.

Thank you…

Teens take writing notes to their teacher to a whole new powerful level. If you let them know that they matter to you, they will, sooner or later, make you aware of how much they appreciate your commitment to them. I didn’t read Sarah’s note without tears. Can you imagine how many times I’ve read it?  On those tough days, it became a beacon to me. It touched me so much, that when I wrote my book TEACH…To Change Lives I included her letter in my book (after receiving her permission, of course).  Using Sarah’s words helps me encourage teachers.  It reminds them of the important role they play in their students’ lives.  You see I honestly do believe that we teach to change lives.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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Ten Great Things About Teens


What I Love About Teens

First a confession.  I taught elementary students for more than twenty years before I moved into the high school setting.  At that point in my life, teens scared me to death.  They seemed to have raging hormones, defiant attitudes, piercings, tattoos, too-tight clothes or pants falling off them.  And worse, they didn’t like their teachers.  My elementary kids loved me.  I felt sorry for high school teachers.  Then I became one. I was scared to death.  Yeah, there were some rough moments.  But here are the qualities I learned to love and admire about teens.

  1. They laugh easily.  They can laugh about absolutely nothing and then laugh at the fact that they are laughing about nothing.  Being around young people who joke and laugh is refreshing.  It makes me remember the joy of silliness simply for the sake of silliness.  Laughing feels good.
  2. They are young enough to question what is right and wrong.  As we get older we tend to accept things that are unjust.  We’ve seen unfair situations and have grown to tolerate them.  Young people are looking at these situations with newer eyes.  They help us question the status quo. They change things because they still believe they can.  They help me believe I too can change situations that are unjust.
  3. Teens are hopeful.  Their whole life is before them.  They are excited about all the possibilities.  They help me become more courageous and optimistic about the future.  Their hope is contagious.
  4. Teens understand technology.  Boy do they!  They’ve been immersed in technology for their whole short lives.  But here is the really wonderful part.  They will share that expertise with you.  My favorite teens, of course, were the ones who would assist me with technology issues without teasing me about my slight ineptitude in that area.  I’ve learned so much from them as I taught them.  It was a symbiotic relationship. It was teens who encouraged me to blog.  They believed I had something of value to share with others.
  5. Teens have great passion.  They are ‘all hands on deck’ when they take on a project of their choice.  They volunteer to take on huge tasks without even questioning the magnitude of it.  As we get older, we tend to stop and think, “Do I really have time for this?”  Teens can often accomplish amazing feats because they just go forth and do.
  6. I love their resiliency.  I’ve watched teens who lived in some very challenging situations accept adult responsibilities and handle them better than a lot of adults.  Usually no one knows their circumstances.  They raise younger siblings, pay household bills, moderate difficult situations at home, or deal with a parent fighting an addiction.  Some have an absent or unknown parent (or parents) and they accept the parent role long before their chronological age identifies them as such.
  7. Teens are generous.  They will take in a friend, buy someone’s lunch, care about the homeless, volunteer in a soup kitchen or rake leaves for the elderly.  Unfortunately you won’t see these stories in the media.  But I’ve been on the front lines and have witnessed it again and again.
  8. When I taught young children they used to write me little notes.  Dear Mrs.  Easley,    I love you.  Do you love me?  Check yes ___ or no___. They’d draw me a picture or bring me a flower or an apple.  I knew I would miss those notes when I moved to high school.   I was wrong.  I have a giant 3 ring notebook full of notes, cards and some pretty lengthy letters teens have written to me.  I have many more letters and notes that won’t fit into that notebook.  There are, however, a few differences in high schooler’s written communication.  They usually drop them on your desk privately on their way out the door when no one is looking.  But if they trust you, many will pour their hearts out on paper in great detail.  They will share their worries and also tell you how much you mean to them.
  9. They will remember you.  There is a fast turn around with teens.  Almost immediately after they leave high school (or your home), they value you.  They send you emails, call you, and will meet you for lunch.  I taught so many preschoolers, kindergarteners and first graders.  Do they remember me?  I’m not sure.  I know I remember them. The moment teens toss their graduation hats into the air, they begin to remember you fondly and seek out your advice.  Some realize this even sooner.
  10. Teens are loyal beyond belief.  If you care about them they will care about you.  Your age doesn’t matter.  They will shun your enemies and fight battles for you whether you want them to or not.  Teens may test you a little initially, but once they know you truly care about them, they will challenge anyone who seeks to harm you.

My best advice for working with teens?  Ignore the sagging pants, the sometimes surly early morning attitudes, and the crazy styles of the day.  Look beneath the pink hair and beyond the melt down of the moment.  Focus on the best qualities you find in the teens you love.  What we focus on will grow.  Visualize the success that you can see in their future and describe it to them.  Young people often first recognize their talents and visualize their future success when it is pointed out to them by someone they love and respect.  Are you that person?

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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Teachers Create the Classroom


                        The Teacher Makes the Choice

Image credit: <a href=''>lisann / 123RF Stock Photo</a>One of my all time favorite quotes for teachers was written by Dr. Haim Ginott and comes from his book Between Teacher and Child.

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom.  It is my personal approach that creates the climate.  It is my daily mood that makes the weather.  As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s like miserable or joyous.  I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.  I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.  In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

Oh, how I wish I had written that myself.  I am so grateful that someone did.  The book, Between Teacher and Child is around forty years old and yet contains advice that is timeless.

Image credit: <a href=''>iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

A Great Measuring Stick

It IS our personal approach that creates the climate in the classroom.  Do we provide a welcoming presence.  Are we pleasant and approachable?  Can students trust our moods?  Or are we the grinch that only smiles twice a year.  We honestly do have the power to make a student’s life joyous or miserable.  We teachers have had teachers too.  We all can remember a teacher who was a tool of torture.  We’ve all had a teacher who honestly was an instrument of inspiration.

A word of caution here:  A teacher cannot truly be an instrument of inspiration if they are a tool of torture to only one or two students.  Students are always watching.  I believe they judge teachers on the way they treat the most challenging child in the class.

I’ve been sitting in high school teacher cafeterias and listened to something a teacher said to a student that made me wonder who was the adult in the classroom.  Trying to “one up” a student who has just made an inappropriate comment in class is a losing proposition for any teacher.  Professionalism goes out the window.  Sometimes it is tough to listen, absorb, and under-react but retaliating an inappropriate comment with a sarcastic one, only escalates the negative.  It may feel like a win in the short term, but it is a long term loss.

I chose a lighthouse to illustrate this point for a reason.  Lighthouses demonstrate their real worth during inclement times.  So do teachers.  It’s easy to be a good teacher when everything is going smoothly. But great teachers reveal themselves during the tough times.

A teenager stands up and yells profanities at you in class, then stomps out slamming the door on their way out of the room.  (Yes, this has happened in my classroom).  What do you do?  The choice is yours.  Do you escalate the situation or attempt to de-escalate it?  Before you make your choice, take a deep breath and then pause.  Every student will be watching your reaction. You are the beacon in this moment.  Will you dehumanize the student?  A teen is a child with longer legs, raging hormones and often tumultuous emotions.  You are the adult.   What you do next defines you as a teacher.


TEACH…To Change Lives

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How to Stop a School Bully


When They Don’t Want to Go to School

bullyingTwenty-five years ago my oldest daughter was in junior high school.  I sensed something wasn’t just right because she didn’t want to go to school.  The school nurse also frequently called me telling me that my daughter was in the clinic claiming to be ill.  I’d turn my schedule upside down in my own classroom where I was teaching to go and pick her up only to realize with a mother’s instinct that she really wasn’t sick at all.  She just wanted to come home.

Finally one day, even though she tried to continue to mask her situation, her secrets exploded at home and the truth came out.  Some girls were targeting her at school.  On the day that she couldn’t take it anymore the bullies had gotten her locker combination out of the counselor’s file drawer where they worked as ‘aides’ to the counselors instead of being assigned to study hall.  They used the confidential combination to open my daughter’s locker, and then dumped all her books and belongings in the restroom sink.  Then they turned on the water and left them there for others to discover as the sink overflowed.  Someone came to find my daughter and asked her why all her belongings were being flooded in the girl’s restroom.  They assumed she caused the flood.  That’s when she broke down at home.  She was afraid she would get in trouble for the restroom flood.  She was afraid if she revealed who really did it, they would pick on her more.

She sobbed as she told me this story.  But at the very same time she pleaded harder for my silence and made me promise not to go to school and talk to anyone about it.  She swore that administrators and teachers loved these girls.  They had everyone fooled.  She was sure no one would believe her.  If I went to school and “told on them” they’d know my daughter had told someone their identity and that would only escalate what they would do to her. Unfortunately I knew that this was (at that time) probably true.

These tormentors were the original ‘mean girls.’ They preceded the internet by fifteen years.  Imagine the trouble they could cause cyber-bullying today.   Clearly they showed one personality to adults or they wouldn’t have had access to the counselor’s files. (Of course, this isn’t at all professional and they were probably sneaking to do this).   But their true identity was revealed to their peers, especially to those who felt powerless to stand up to them.  To the masses they were the ‘popular’ girls.

What Did I Do About It?

losing cleepThe first thing I did was toss and turn all night.  I lost quite a bit of sleep trying to figure out how to handle this situation.  She’d made me promise her I wouldn’t go to school or tell anyone.  If I did, would the situation escalate?  She was certain it would. Would my daughter ever trust me again if I broke my promise?  Would she be willing to share her problems with me in the future?

What did I do?  I went to school, of course.  To my credit I didn’t take a weapon.  As I tossed and turned I remembered that I had formerly taught with the assistant principal’s mother in another school district.  She and I were no longer in touch, but it was at least an opening.  I sneaked into that assistant principal’s office when I knew my daughter would be in class.  I told him I knew his mother and how I knew her.  (That shouldn’t have made any difference, but somehow it made me feel better). I then told him that my daughter had made me promise that I would not come to school and let anyone know what she was experiencing.  I demanded his promise that she would never find out I had come.  He said he would honor that request.

Then I described what was happening.  I told him I couldn’t figure out how to handle it.  If I called these girls’ parents, would that make it worse?  Probably.  The girls would deny all of it to their parents.  I’ve known of parents who do this, but it never felt comfortable to me.  I told him I saw it as a school problem and I asked him what he was going to do to solve it without my daughter knowing I had come in.  But I let him know in no uncertain terms that I expected it to be solved quickly and discreetly.

Guess What?

We brainstormed together.  I wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to do something that would put my daughter in a more uncomfortable situation.  He came up with a wonderful idea which became the perfect solution.

What did he do?  He sought my daughter out in the cafeteria.  He told her one of her teachers had told him what a great gal she was.  He asked her if she could help him with a project.  In his role as assistant principal in this school he also served as athletic director. That put him in charge of all athletic functions.  He immediately put her in charge of a concession stand.  She was surprised to be sought out and valued by the assistant principal.  He would talk to her frequently in the halls and the cafeteria just being friendly.  She began going to all the games and functions.  She had a talent for this and wanted to live up to his confidence in her.  Soon she took on more and more responsibilities.  He had other students report to her putting her in a leadership role.

What happened to the bullies?  They saw the assistant principal talking to her frequently.  He was well liked by the students.  When they saw that he valued her, they stopped making her a target.  It was a subtle but perfect solution.  She stopped hating school.  She felt accepted and valued at school both during the day and at after school functions.

Did she ever find out that I went to school?  Eventually.  But let me tell you how it happened.  When my daughter (yes, the same one) had her own preteen daughter attending the same junior high school, she talked to me on the phone one day.  This is what she said.  “The school nurse is always calling me telling me that my daughter is sick.  I know she has been having headaches, but I think something else is going on.  I just don’t think she feels comfortable in this junior high setting.  Every morning she pretends to be sick and tries to stay home from school.  I just don’t know what to do about it.”

I paused a long time and then I said, “Do you want to know what I did about it when I had that same problem?”  There was a long silence on the phone.  She didn’t know what I was talking about.  I reminded her of the situation she encountered in junior high and confessed to the promise I had broken.  She was astonished, but by then, of course, not annoyed at all.  The next day she marched right into that junior high, asked to see a guidance counselor and said, “My daughter doesn’t want to come to school.  She just can’t seem to find a place to fit in here.  How can you and I help her?  Before she left the school, the guidance counselor had promised to seek her out and make her a photographer for the year book committee.

My granddaughter called me that night.  She was all excited about this new responsibility.  We bought her a digital camera and she was off to all the games and school functions.  This time there wasn’t a specific bully that we knew of.  I think we solved the problem more proactively before she became the target her mom had become.

When kids feel connected and valued, it goes a long way toward taking the power away from a bully.  I’m glad for all today’s bully hot lines. and the anti-bullying workshops and strategies taught currently.  These are long overdue.

But I am still continually amazed at the power of one teacher, one peer, one administrator, or one role model.  When I approached that administrator he knew exactly what to do.  He had the sensitivity and the influence to turn it all around very quickly.  Adults within our schools have a lot more influence than they would ever believe.  I’ve built wonderful friendships with students in the schools where I’ve taught who were never assigned to my class.  You can build positive relationships with kids in the hallways, standing duty, at athletic functions or walking through the cafeteria.

you can do it

I challenge every teacher to pick at least a dozen kids in the school building that you don’t have in class and focus positive attention on them.  Don’t seek out a ‘star.’  Choose a kid who appears to be on the sidelines. Choose someone who looks like they need a friend.  Choose someone dressed differently.  Smile and speak to them consistently.  Can you imagine what a positive difference we would make in our buildings if we all committed to this strategy?  Why not try it?  What do we have to lose?  A bully? 


TEACH…To Change Lives

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