Monthly Archives: March 2013

Teaching Celebrations and Frustrations



What I learned from bloggingRecently while navigating through the pages that support my blog site, I stumbled upon a page full of statistics where I learned that…

…during the past 90 days my teacher blog


has been read by people in 35 different countries! 

                                   I was amazed and humbled.

A person writing a teacher blog should probably never admit this; but some of those countries I had never even heard of.  (Thankfully I didn’t teach high school geography).

Sometimes it is a lonely commitment, to sit down at my desk in my home and type my heart out about the teaching profession I love.  You wonder if anyone will ever value (or even read) the words that you write.  Thank you loyal followers.  You make my efforts feel so worthwhile.  At 3:00 am (yes that is the current time when I’m writing this), it helps to know that my words are welcome in places around the world I will never have the opportunity to visit.  I am in awe.

Teaching Frustrations

frustrationsRecently while watching a young student teacher assign homework to a group of middle school students, I heard all the young teens groan.  What was their frustration?  Their homework was being assigned out of the textbook.  Their texts were huge and they didn’t want to carry the book home in their backpacks along with all their other texts.  The teacher gave a brief apology.  “We don’t have paper to use.  The budget is low.  We have to use our textbooks for homework. Sorry.”

I know when I start to describe this dilemma there will be people who won’t understand.  They’ll tell me that no child in Africa has a textbook and they would be honored to have one to use.  Other people will tell me about classrooms around the world where the entire class must share a pencil or scratch their calculations out with a stick in the sand.  Maybe, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have even brought this up when I have just bragged about 35 countries reading this blog.  Awkward moment.

However, can you imagine corporations in America telling their employees to market, design, and produce a product without using paper?  It is a ludicrous notion.  And yet it happens in our classrooms all the time.  Teachers are routinely asked to teach without supplies as basic as paper.  For decades I have listened to administrators beg and then threaten teachers not to use paper or copy machines.  School budgets simply can’t absorb the cost of paper or copy machine repair.  Taxpayers will vote for building a new school.  But they will not vote money for a school operating levy.

broken political promises

Before every election, politicians make hefty promises to support education.  After every election they promise taxpayers to make hefty budget cuts.  The first to be deserted?  The schools…more correctly…the students.

I once wrote a humorous piece on copy machines in schools that I will share here.  If you’ve never worked in a school, you won’t believe it.  But every single situation is something I have experienced while teaching in schools in America.


I’m not talking about kids who don’t want to study and look on classmates’ papers during a test.  I’m talking about machines that copy worksheets, newsletters to parents and homework assignments.  Here is  the reality within schools.

school frustrations

  • The only safe and accurate assumption to make is that no school in America will ever have a copier for teachers to use.  Don’t set your standards too high.  The reality will hurt too much.
  • I don’t mean that there won’t be one on the premises.  Usually if you know where to look you can spot one.  In my job before my last teaching job, I could spot one near my classroom.  It was in a small room with glass windows, but the door was locked.  You could see it and salivate, but that was all. I struggled for five years to get a key to that door.  Remember this is a true story.
  • If you ever actually spot a copy machine on school premises don’t get too excited.  Some copy machines are never allowed to be used by teachers.  Only administrators and secretaries have the authority to use them.  Intelligence and advanced degrees won’t buy you the right to touch them.
  • If the copy machine assigned to teachers is on, it will ask for a password.  But the password you’ve been assigned will never work when you need it most.  In some instances it will never work at all.  You will have to exchange other school supplies (like staplers, and 3 hole punches) to use the password of another teacher.  But they will never let you know their password, they will only tap it in quickly with their hand covering the little window on the machine.  They are not fools.  Teachers with working passwords are like English royalty.  No working password?  Learn to curtsy.
  • If you report to your administrator that your password is not working they will tell you to fill out a form…these days online…and send a request to technology.  You will never be able to find the name of the form. It will probably be named nwpw#3256.  That stands for non-working passwordThey throw in the numbers because they are afraid you might figure out the name of the form and consequently use paper and toner.
  • If you ever get a password and see a copy machine with no line next to it, trust me it isn’t working. Go ahead.  Don’t believe me.  It may appear to be working. Unfortunately you will only believe this after it eats your master copy.
  • No matter how early you arrive at school or how late you stay, the copy machine will always have a long line next to it.
  • If you arrive at 5:00 am and there is no line next to it, you will be in charge of turning it on.  It will take forever to warm up.  If you stand there and wait, forty-five minutes later you will finally figure out that it isn’t working.
  • If you turn it on to warm up and come back twenty minutes later to run your copies, there will be one person in front of you at 5:20.  They will be running 30 page packets.
  • No plan bell is ever long enough to work your way to the front of the copy line.  You will make it to the front of the line at the exact moment you have to be back in class teaching.
  • If you finally do get to the front of the copy line and are excited, you are only moments away from discovering that the person in line in front of you jammed the machine.  They will never admit this and you will be left trying to unjam his jam and everyone behind you will believe you broke the machine.  They will be complaining about you all over the building that day.
  • If you find that the machine does not have a line, your password actually works, and it doesn’t show a jam, there is only one possible explanation.  There is no paper left in the cabinet.
  • If you report to the administrator (or more probably someone he has designated) that there is not paper in the cabinet, she will tell you that you must order copy paper from your budget.
  • You have no budget for ordering paper.
  • Kinkos (is that still their name?), Staples and Office Depot know all these facts and love them.  Their stock is buffered by the long line of teachers who use their take home salaries to buy copy paper and run off work for their students.

Thus I return to and stand by my original premise.  No school in America will have a copier for a teacher’s use.  We can replace  chalkboards with wipe off boards and sometimes even smart boards.  Every kid can carry a cell phone and an electronic notebook.  Those that can’t, will soon have to walk to the public library to submit their work online, because no school in the Land of the Free can afford copy paper.

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Kindness in the Classroom


Let’s Talk About Kindness

kindnessKindness helps everything.  It can smooth over advice for improvements.  Sincere empathy during a difficult time can make that adversity seem a little more bearable.   An unexpected kindness can build a positive rapport between people.  That rapport can then be used to give a young person the courage to discuss their challenges and dreams with you.  There is always a choice to bring kindness into a situation…especially the classroom.  Kindness can make even devastating news more palatable.  Kindness can be as simple as saying nothing when a young person has really made a poor choice.  We all need kindness the most when we deserve it least.

Be Kind to Yourself

kindness in the classroomAs a rule teachers are pretty tough on themselves.  We accept assignments late and jeopardize our own free time to show kindness to students.  We give up our lunch breaks, planning bells and spend countless hours before and after school tutoring, running clubs, or just talking with students.  We answer emails, call parents, serve on committees, mentor a new teacher and then end up taking all our grading home.  Most teachers are “yes” people.  It seems the last person we are kind to is ourselves.

A few summers ago I enrolled in a couple of one week workshops for teachers. One of the teachers had us do an activity I will never forget.  She asked us to write a letter to ourselves about any area or aspect of our life that concerned us.  The letters were going to be mailed back to our homes in a self-addressed stamped envelope at a specified later date.  But here is the twist that made this activity to powerful.  She asked us to write that letter using the same type of kind and encouraging words that we would use with a student.  Whoa! I learned very quickly that I talk to and criticize myself in a very different way than I would talk to students.  Writing to myself using the tact and care I use with my students was a very emotional experience.  I could tell it had the same impact on every teacher in that room. It revealed to me that on a daily basis I am probably my own worst enemy.

Helping Students Learn Kind Self-Talk

teach kindness to students

The following year I used this activity with my seniors shortly before they graduated.  It was a classroom full of future teachers.  They were going to be writing encouraging notes and letters to students.  I had them practice on themselves.  I gave them the same instructions my workshop teacher had given me.  They asked if I was going to read them or not.  I gave them the same answer as my workshop teacher.  “If you seal them, I won’t read them.”  As they wrote silently, you could feel the intensity in the classroom.  Rachael began to cry quietly as she wrote encouraging words to herself.  She wasn’t the only student who reacted with emotion.  She later said, “Well, Mrs. Easley, you made me cry in school.  I have managed to get through kindergarten and twelve years of school without ever crying in class.  But just before I graduate, you make me cry in class!”  Ouch.

While my goal certainly wasn’t to make her cry,  (truthfully she made herself cry with what she wrote), I could see the experience had made a lasting impact on her and many others in class.  When that much emotion is attached to an activity, you know that they have experienced something memorable.  To be honest I knew there were a few in the room who found the activity too emotional, and then just wrote something meaningless in the envelope and sealed it.  But I suppose that is true of any endeavor.  We get out of it what we are willing to put into it.  That is also true of life.

Hurdle Roadblocks with Kindness

roadblocks in lifeI’ve also learned that kindness works for me when I come across a roadblock in my life. I try to teach students about this technique.  The kindness doesn’t even have to be directed at the situation that is presenting a roadblock.  In fact it works better if it is completely unrelated.  Small kindnesses make us feel as good as the person to whom we direct the kindness.  When we feel better about ourselves, we are more effective on many fronts. Unselfish kindnesses do have a way of coming back to us with unexpected rewards, but that cannot and should not be our original goal.  Spreading kindness has a domino effect.  Except unlike dominoes kindness doesn’t knock people over, it builds them up.  And isn’t that the best definition of teaching?

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TEACH…To Change Lives

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A Parent Teacher Conference I’ll Never Forget


Meaningful Moments

parent teacher conferenceI taught for more decades than I care to admit. During that time I’ve probably conducted thousands of parent teacher conferences.  Many of those memories run together.  However possibly a dozen parent conferences stand out in my mind because of what they taught me.

One time while teaching future teachers in a Teacher Academy program at high school level, I had the opportunity to talk with Jack’s mom.  Jack was a junior in my class and an all around great guy.  Everyone loved Jack. This particular class happened to be dominated by girls which meant that sometimes there was female drama percolating just below the surface within the classroom. But somehow Jack could stay above it and even maintain a friendship with every single female in the class.  Watching him I knew he had the diplomacy, humor and kindness to be a great teacher.  He instinctively knew how to make people feel valued.

Early in the year I asked the students in my Teacher Academy to give a speech on any topic of their own choosing.   I wanted them to use the Smart Board, make slides, practice speaking comfortably in front of the class so I allowed the topic to be a topic of their choice.  Jack’s topic surprised all of us.

How NOT to Get a Girlfriend

As speeches go it was terrific.  He had the attention of every person in the classroom.  He had made wonderful slides.  His premise was that girls aren’t really attracted to the thoughtful, nice guys.

  • Drive them to school and carry their books from class to class….THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.
  • Listen to them talk about their boyfriend’s bad habits and build up their self esteem…THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.
  • Bring them a flower or buy them a dessert in the cafeteria…THAT won’t get you a girlfriend.

He went through several such examples accompanied by humorous slides.  Every person in the class was laughing and attentive.  They could hear the truth in his comments.  When he had his audience primed and ready,  Jack showed his final slide titled…

The Only Way to REALLY Get a Girlfriend

  • Reach into your pockets filled with lots of money, pull the money out and say, “I have all this money to spend and I don’t know what to do with it.  Do you want to go to the mall?”  THEN you’ll have a girlfriend.

Needless to say it was a very effective speech for a room full of high school students.  Everyone was laughing and recognizing the uncomfortable truth in some of what Jack was saying.  Why do high school girls overlook some of the best guys?

The Parent Teacher Conference Continues

I love telling parents cute stories about their kids.  I thought perhaps Jack had told his family about his speech at home, maybe even practiced it in front of them, but he hadn’t.  As I told his mom this story I could see that she was hearing it for the first time.  I was laughing but she had tears in her eyes.  I was confused.  I paused to let her tell me why she was upset.  She was too emotional to speak so she motioned for me to continue.

I started to understand that she had bad news to share, but I went on to tell her another story about Jack.  He knew even as a junior in high school that he wanted to teach junior high level.  Part of my job was to procure placements within the district for my students to shadow current professional teachers.  I had Jack placed in a junior high classroom.  It is daunting for even adults to get up in front of junior high students and maintain control of the class.  Jack was only a junior in high school, just a couple of years older than these young teens, and yet he had an instinct for handling this age group using just the right combination of firmness and humor.  He impressed even this seasoned teacher. I described to his mom a class I saw him teach successfully in a junior high health class.

By now Jack’s mom had tears running down her cheeks.  She was openly crying. I knew that she was going to reveal that she had a life threatening illness.  I braced myself for the bad news and was thinking of encouraging things I might say in response.  I waited a few beats and asked, “So why the tears?”

Here’s what she said while trying hard to control her emotions.

Mrs. Easley, Jack has two older sisters, both of whom knew exactly what they wanted to do in life. They knew what their career path would be from a young age and then went straight toward their goals.  Jack has been so different from them.  He didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do.  In Junior High he just seemed to get off course.  His grades started to slip.  Things he cared about previously he just kind of gave up on.  His friends changed.  We have just been so worried about him.  We just wanted him to find something he loved.  We’ve had so many conversations about what was going to happen to Jack.

She paused.

When he signed up for the Teacher Academy program we were surprised…pleased, but maybe just a little skeptical.  But right now, in the past ten minutes, listening to you, I realize that Jack has found his niche.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the stories you shared with me.  Jack has found his niche. It is the biggest relief to know that he has found something he loves and then to know he is good at it…it is the best possible news.

It took a lot of kleenex for her to get her story out.  Her gratitude and relief was so great that she just let the tears flow.

It is one of the conferences I will never forget.  I had completely blindsided her with good news.  Isn’t it wonderful when a teacher can play that role?  It gave me a renewed resolve to take time to share stories with parents.  Conferences aren’t just about rattling off test scores and homework expectations.  The very best parent teacher conferences are about listening to parents and then blindsiding them with great news and stories about their kid.

Guess What?

A couple of weeks ago I heard from Jack.  I think of him frequently and even made an attempt to find him last summer, but failed.  But only a couple of weeks ago his name popped up on my Facebook page.  He now has his Masters Degree in Education from The Ohio State University.  I’m impressed but not surprised. He has a long-term substitute teaching job, with a full-time teaching job possibility on the horizon.  Oh, and also he coaches a junior high girls’ basketball team.

I know he is going to be great with this age group, even the ones who get a little off course…maybe especially those kids.  I know he is just the kind of guy who will blindside their parents with good news at conference time.

On the days when my life has too many challenges, I think about all the wonderful kids I knew when they were aspiring future teachers.  Most of them are in the classroom now or only a year or two away from it.  It makes me optimistic about our schools’ future and optimistic about the teachers in front of today’s students.

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TEACH…To Change Lives

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Great Classroom Activity


Which Words Rule Our Lives?

Words that Rule Our LivesIt’s important for us that we know the words that rule our lives. This is a great activity I learned from my own high school students, Taylor and Cody.  The assignment was for each of my students who aspired to be future teachers, to teach a lesson in front of their classmates.  At the time of this assignment the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are had just been made into a movie and was being shown in theaters.  Taylor and Cody began their lesson by having the students watch the movie trailer.  In a very effective style the trailer pointed out that each of us has three words within us.  We all possess a little fear.  We all crave a little adventure.  And we all need a little hope.

movie trailerHow clever Taylor and Cody were to get Hollywood to create the hook for their lesson!  The movie trailer was quite effective and had every student’s attention.  The “teachers” then asked the class to focus on those three words:  fear, adventure and hope.

Decide which one of those words rules your life.

Think about it and then share it with your peers.

After a few minutes of thought they brought the class together into a cozy circle.

teens in a circle

Each student truthfully described which of these three words currently seemed to dominate their lives.  They were very honest and revealing.  (I believe students truly want to share what is on their minds.  I’ve seen it too many times to be wrong about this).  It is the challenge of an insightful teacher to find a vehicle that will encourage that sharing.

After everyone had shared their thoughts, the teaching partners posed a second question…

Are you satisfied with the word that seems to drive your life right now?

Once again the students took turns sharing their answers.  This kind of activity will only be successful if a teacher has previously created a safe, accepting environment in which all students feel free to share.  Once again the answers were candid and insightful.  This activity forced each of us to assess our lives.  It forced us to evaluate our motives, to really think about the choices we were making and whether those choices served us well.  It also built tremendous understanding and empathy among class members.  It deepened our sense of community.  As a side benefit it is important to recognize…bullies can’t thrive when you build a sense of acceptance within a classroom community.  How proud I was of my students for creating such an effective experience for our class.

dream big

Is there one word that seems to drive your life?  Fear?  Adventure? Hope?  Which one is it?  I always participate fully in any revealing activity like this in my classroom.  It bonds the teacher with the class.  It builds understanding across generations and defines the classroom as a safe place.  Even more important it shows the students the teacher is willing to talk about feelings.  It gives them the courage to approach the teacher when something really important is on their minds.  It puts a welcome mat in front of the door to your classroom and your heart.

Thank you Taylor and Cody, for creating this wonderful lesson for me to share with others!

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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