Monthly Archives: February 2013

What is Important?


School Rules

What is important?Today more than ever, our schools are filled with rules.  Like it or not rules are necessary to keep students safe.   We can’t tolerate guns or drugs in school buildings or their surroundings.  We want bullies to know they are not in charge of our students.  We have rules against discrimination and rules that demand modifications for students with learning challenges.  In some schools you can’t wear hats, hoods or head-gear or even carry large book bags in the hallways.  In other schools you have to walk up one stairway and down another in order to help students get to class on time.  Most school rules are important.  Some we just tolerate.  And let’s be honest, some we ignore until they are taken off the rule list completely.

Life Rules Matter

what is importantBeyond the school rules, though, I believe it is most important to teach our students LIFE rules.  This is not so easy, but vital for their future success.  I like to start with the rule of 10-10-10.  When I see students getting frustrated or overwhelmed I like to refer to it in the classroom.  The 10-10-10 rule is simple.  Look into the future, stop and think:

  • Is what I’m doing or worrying about right now going to matter ten days from now?  Well is it?
  • Is what I’m doing or worrying about right now going to matter in ten months?
  • Is what I’m doing right now going to matter ten years from now?

Some teens stress out over something that isn’t even going to matter in ten minutes“Look at this text message!  What do you think he means by that?!”  In ten minutes the bell will ring and you can ask him.

These three questions really help our students understand how to evaluate the ways they spend their time.  They are also questions that need to guide our own lives.  Isn’t that why we chose teaching after all?  We chose a profession that would impact our student’ lives for more than ten years.  (If we do it well).

When I take a break from my writing to pick up a grandchild from gymnastics or attend a baseball game to watch my grandson play ball, I’m doing something that will matter even ten years from now.  I want my grandchildren to know they matter to me.  I must do that now.  In ten years, four of my grandchildren will be living away from home.  This is the time I must build a permanent relationship with them.  I am very aware of that.  THIS is when they look forward to seeing me.  I want them to remember that I was an important person in their lives  I want them to know that they are important people in MY life.

However, when I’m writing I don’t answer the phone for a number I don’t recognize.  I’ll finish my task and then listen to my messages.

Both of those responses honor the 10-10-10 rule.  Recently while shopping I saw a little plaque that read:

I always have time to talk about how busy I am

  Ouch.  Aren’t we all a little guilty of that?

Using these three questions can make us and our students just a little bit more aware of how much time we spend on useless drivel.  Teachers spend hours and hours doing things that will not matter one whit in ten days.  So much minutia is thrust upon us.  We have to learn to just say no to time wasters if we want to accomplish our bigger dream of helping our students become all that they can be.

Likewise students are completely inundated with electronics.

What is important?

Technology has turned our teens and far younger children into electronic junkies.  They stop any important project…driving, making eye contact with a parent or friend, or especially listening to a teacher, to respond to an endless barrage of text messages.  Screening these interruptions and prioritizing what is really important is a skill that must be taught.  What is our ultimate goal?  Focus on what will still be important in ten years.  Are our students working toward long-term goals or becoming a slave to trivial interruptions?

Making them aware of the ten-ten-ten rule will help them sort it out for themselves.  Maybe they won’t even “get it” right now.  But ten years from now, when they are trying to reprioritize their lives, they may understand the wisdom we were trying to share.

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TEACH…To Change Lives

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The Power of Optimism


Ask the Students

ask the studentsOptimism is a quality that flavors everything all day long.  We can expect the best in our lives and therefore give the universe an opportuntity to attract good things our way.  Or we can worry and grumble about the bad things that always seem to invade our space.  It is a choice we make every day.

Every year I ask students to identify great teachers from their lives.  Then we write letters to them.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that they describe the teacher’s personal qualities more often than they talk about the academic material that they learned.

Again and again I hear these comments…

She’s fun.

He likes to make jokes when he teaches.

He is so enthusiastic.

She doesn’t treat us like we are kids.

She is interested when we have problems.

We want to spend time with people who make us feel good.  Our students do too.  They are attracted to adults, parent, grandparents and teachers who are optimistic.

The Money Jar

The money jar

One of the differences I noticed between elementary aged children and teens is the lack of optimism that seems to prevail in the adolescent species.  Sometimes it seems like being optimistic isn’t cool.  When young children walk into your classroom, they are excited to see you and be in school.  They ask right away, “What do we get to do today?”

However, when teens walk in and I say, “Hi Tyler!  How are you this morning?”  One hundred percent of the time they say, “Tired,” or  “I don’t feel good.”  It can be downright depressing if you let it get to you.  I finally told my teens they had to give me a quarter for my reward jar every time they told me they were tired.  Did it stop them?  No.  But it made them think.  Now when I ask them how they are, they say things like, “I’d tell you, but it would cost me money.”

When I worked with teens on a daily basis, I had to listen to upbeat music on the way to school.  I used motivational or inspirational CDs in the car.  Do whatever it takes to remain optimistic for our students.  They need it from us.

On a Personal Note

 optimismEvery activity I write about is part of my personal teaching life.  Every story I tell is true.  On a rare occasion I talk about an experience with one of my children or grandchildren and explain lessons that they have taught me and ways they have changed me as a teacher.

Other than that I don’t mention my personal life very often.  Today I’m going to break that silence  just a little.  In December my husband suffered a heart attack and a stroke. I was absent on my Christmas Eve post because we spent 12 days in the hospital including all of the holidays.  This past Friday he had his second stroke.  We came home from the hospital yesterday afternoon.   Yes, it is a bit stressful and emotional.  But there is always a choice in how we react.  I’m focusing on the progress he is making every day as his language gradually returns to him.  I’m feeling grateful that this stroke revealed a new heart issue that we didn’t know he had.  I’m believing his situation is temporary.  If I adopt a gloom and doom attitude, will it make anything better?  No.  It will rob us of the small joys we have everyday.

It is how we live our lives everyday that impacts our students (and children) the most.

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TEACH…To Change Lives

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Conversations About our Schools


conversations about our schoolsTrue Stories from My Past Week

Story # 1

I was visiting an elementary school this past week observing a college senior who is student teaching this semester.  As I left her classroom I was walking through the school hallway alone.  A kindergarten boy came running down the hallway on his way to the bathroom.  He was close to me before he noticed me.

He stopped running when he saw me, looked me up and down and said, “What school did YOU go to last year?”

I laughed all the way home about his comment.

moving teachersMoving Teachers

Story #2

On Saturday I visited a school district 45 minutes away to watch my granddaughter perform in a competition.  There was a lady I had never met before sitting behind me.  She began talking about her past week as a kindergarten teacher. Once I realized she was a kindergarten teacher, I turned around to tell her my story about the little boy in the hallway.  She listened and laughed.  When she realized I was also in the teaching profession she then said, “Let me tell you about my week at school.

“On Thursday of this week the administrators called a previously unannounced teachers’ meeting.  We found out at that meeting almost all of the third through sixth grade teachers will be leaving our urban school.  They are getting rid of all but two teachers in those grades because the students’ test scores came back too low.  The only reason we kindergarten through second grade teachers still have jobs is because our students don’t yet take the standardized tests.”

I was stunned.  “Are they firing all those teachers?” I asked.

She continued her tale, “No, they are moving them to another school in our district.  The other school is in a completely different neighborhood with an entirely different clientele.  Guess what?  Not so surprisingly their tests scores are higher.  Therefore the administrators (or somebody) believes those teachers are more effective.  They are bringing those ‘effective’ teachers to our school to boost our students’ test scores.  They are moving what they consider our ineffective teachers to the other school to learn from the ‘effective’ teachers still there.”

We smiled at each other and shook our heads.

I thought to myself, “Who is making these decisions?  Did they visit in both those schools?  What are educators even thinking? Or are educators even involved in any of these decisions?”  Like the kindergarten boy I met in the hallway I wondered, “What school did THEY go to last year?”

Value Added

Story #3


On Sunday I was in another school watching yet another grandchild participate in a function.  Next to me sat a wonderful, committed first year teacher.  I have known this young lady for years and am very aware of her standard of excellence.  I told her the story the kindergarten teacher shared with me.  She was disappointed, but not surprised.

She described a similar circumstance she had encountered.  School districts have become so reactionary to test scores that it seems like learning takes a back seat to the almighty score.  Everyone is talking about value added.

Note from me:  When schools talk about ‘value added’ these days they only mean how did you raise test Dauna Easleyscores?  They don’t mean how well do you communicate with parents, differentiate instruction, tutor or counsel students.  Value added means only, “What did you do to raise test scores on the standardized tests?”  I’m sad about that.  A valuable teacher is so much more than one number on a page.  Ask any student what constitutes a valuable teacher.  They will describe one accurately. But students’ opinions don’t factor into the equation either.  Only standardized test scores matter anymore.

This young teacher pointed out that her subject (foreign language) isn’t covered on the state standardized test.  But the teachers still have to prove ‘value added’.  Essentially all they have to do is make up a pre-test, then teach the skill and administer their own post test.  If the scores go up, they can prove value has been added.  She is professional enough and committed enough to recognize the irony in this scenario and she is only a first year teacher.

Isn’t this just a little like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop?

value added

It makes me sad to see educators running in circles like this.  The cry for higher test scores from politicians and the media….higher test scores,  no matter what the method… is causing otherwise intelligent people to make some pretty desperate decisions.  When we don’t know what to do, we just get forced into doing something whether it is worthwhile or not.

I want to ask the politicians, government officials and reporters who are complaining about our schools…in the words of a kindergarten boy…

What schools did you go to last year?

What teachers did you interview? Did you ask them how to raise test scores?

What did students suggest about how to identify effective teachers and raise test scores?

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two dadsTime Matters

Unfortunately children and students spell the word love  T-I-M-E.  Nothing is more valuable to them than your time. Though it may seem that the only thing they crave is the latest electronic device, what they really want most is your attention.  Remember: ninety percent of the time they spend on electronic devices connects them to people.  Simple translation?  The more time you spend with them, the more they believe you care about them.  This can be good and bad news.  Time seems to be what busy teachers and parents possess least.  Unfortunately there is no substitute.  We have to be diligent and creative about finding that time to spend with them.

robe dayA Special Request

My daughter, Kelsey, used to request a “robe day”.  Usually when we cleaned the house we’d turn up the music really loudly, stay in our robes and clean together.  When the music served up an especially favorite song we might boogie together.  But in Kelsey’s world “robe day” meant that mom wasn’t going anywhere…no work or errands… (you don’t leave the house in your robe)…just time together.  I learned that when she requested a robe day she needed my presence and that’s what I gave her.

parentingMy teacher friend, Barb, went through an especially busy time helping her husband while he was president of a national professional organization.  At the end of a busy year she thanked her children for their patience and asked the two of them what special things they would like to do.  Her son came up with a list of specific outings that he desired, but her younger daughter, Aimee, simply said,  “Mom, remember when we used to water the flowers together?  That’s what I want to do, just you and I watering flowers together.”  I’ve never forgotten that one simple request.  While we race around in our career trying to provide material items we think our children crave, what they really want most is simply our time.

How Can Teachers Find Time?

teachersFor teachers, finding this one-on-one time can be especially challenging.  Greeting each student as they enter the classroom is a start, but real connections require so much more.  In a high school setting I’ve learned that invariably certain students will figure out when my plan period or lunch time is and somehow just start showing up.  It’s hard not to think, “I need this time to answer emails or run to the copy machine.”  Because, in fact, it seems like these days the pressure we face to post each grade and syllabus online promptly, robs us of one-on-one time with our students.  As much as possible I fight the urge to spend my planning time serving the computer instead of providing a listening ear to my students.

taking a closer look at schools

Rapport, especially a trusting one, unfortunately takes time.  A student will show up unannounced with seemingly no agenda several times before s/he trusts you enough to talk to you about what is really on his/her mind.  Field trips are another good way to connect.  I’ve had some of my best discussions with students on a long bus ride or in a hotel room spending the night at a competition.  Outside the classroom the teacher seems more like a mentor and less like someone who averages grades.

baseball is lifeOther Ways to Connect

Speaking of outside the classroom, I try to attend sports events, drama productions and graduation parties to which I am invited.  I’ve gone to dance recitals, sign language concerts, gymnastics meets, winter guard showcases, bar mitzvahs, reunions, movies, showers and weddings.  Why?  A relationship doesn’t start and stop at the classroom door.  The time within the classroom walls just isn’t enough to develop the ongoing relationships I want to have with my students.  We can’t put more hours into a day, but we can think in creative ways to use that time well.

A few years ago our high school was in the state baseball championship.  I took my grandson (who was a young baseball player) and drove two hours to the state capital to see it.  In that way I spent quality time with my grandson while also supporting the efforts of my students.  My young granddaughters and husband go with me to drama productions and color guard showcases.  I get to see my students excelling in a non academic arena and spend time showing my grandchildren an extra curricular activity in which they may want to participate when they are older.  Guess what?  My grandson is now a varsity baseball player making plans to play college baseball.  My oldest granddaughter is in high school color guard and winter guard and another granddaughter is on the school gymnastics team.

Unfortunately we can’t put more hours in a day, but we can think outside the clock and look for winning ways to make time for all whom we love and want to encourage.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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