Monthly Archives: August 2013

My Toughest Year in the Classroom


toughest year in the classroom

Something happened this week.  One young lady I know and love experienced her first week in front of a classroom full of students.  She was hired on Sunday evening and drove two hours out-of-town for her first teachers’ meeting which was to take place at 8:00 on Monday morning, the very next day.  Her new students arrived Wednesday.  She had never even seen the school before her first day.  How did this happen?  Who knows?  But embarrassingly it happens all the time in our profession.  My young friend was tired of the endless interviews for teaching positions.  It was the last week in August and she was determined to take any job offered.  The good news is…she has her start.  Even better news…she’ll be a good teacher.

What was her email comment on Friday after her first week of school?

I used to think I looked forward to and appreciated Fridays.  Turns out I was way under appreciating them all these years.

I laughed when I read her comment.  It took me back to the toughest year I ever had as a teacher.  It was a year I’ll never forget, like a bad nightmare that stays in your psyche and haunts you forever.  I was luckier than my young fledgling teacher.  My toughest year came after I had already been teaching for more than 20 years.  By then I was a confident and experienced professional who didn’t think anything a student could conjure would knock me off my game.  I was competent.  I was prepared.  I was wrong.

Picture This

picture this

In one week I went from teaching primary aged students to high school seniors!  I went from teaching in a private school that I owned to a high school with students considered “at risk.”  I had teen moms, many pregnant students, and kids with parents in jail.  On the first day of school when I asked them to introduce themselves with 3 descriptive words, several of them announced they had “an attitude.”  They saw this as a positive attribute.  They were proud of their attitudes.  I went from suburban type students to predominantly urban kids who came from different neighborhoods who didn’t like each other.  The only thing that united them was their dislike for me.  They all agreed on one thing.  I had to go. Those kids reared up and took a bite right out of my backside when I wasn’t looking.

teacher challenges

I only made it to the second day of school at 11:00 am when I knew I was going to cry in front of the class.  They were passing a basket around the classroom and asking their peers to contribute money to buy me a ticket out-of-town.  No, I’m not making this up.  I was used to children who loved me.  I knew I was going to cry and worse…I knew they would love to see my tears.  Not crying in front of them became my number one goal.  But I could feel the tears just ready to spill over.  What was I going to do?

I was so new in this building I couldn’t even decipher when the bells were ringing.  All day long you would hear bings, buzzes and bells coming into your classroom.  I later learned that there were a certain numbers of bings and buzzes to call each administrator.  The kids knew when the change class tone sounded, but I didn’t.  One of those buzzes started to sound.  Maybe they were going to leave for lunch but I wasn’t certain.  I spotted the closet door.  I decided I would walk through that door and act like I was looking for something in the closet so they wouldn’t see my tears.  I tried not to run.  I tried to look like a woman who was just going to the closet to look for something.  I opened the door and walked through.  It turned out not to be a closet after all.  I was right in the middle of another classroom, not the closet, but I burst into tears anyway.

I got lucky.  It did happen to be the lunch bell.  My students vacated the room and I had a half an hour to pull myself together before the torture began anew.  At the end of my first week I called the friend who had recommended me for the position and apologized to her, but told her I was going to quit.  I called my mom and told her I was going to quit.  But I didn’t.  I hung in there.  If I told you all the things my students did to me that year, you would never believe me.  You would also stop reading my blog because I would sound like an ineffective nincompoop.  I made many mistakes that year.  But I grew more as a teacher than during any other year of my teaching career.

What My Students Taught Me


  • Hearts that have been rejected will reject others in self-defense.   They think, “I’ll reject you first so you can’t hurt me.”   It has very little to do with you.  The rejection isn’t personal, but it sure feels that way until you understand that truth.
  • Once students know you really care about them, they will be your staunchest champion.  But you have to prove you care about them first.  And in an environment like this you have to prove it every year.
  • I’ve learned you can’t talk to high school students the same way you talk to third graders.  It doesn’t work.  I was used to saying things like “Oh I like the way Megan has started her assignment.”  That is how clueless I was.  Believe me that strategy doesn’t work in a tough high school environment.
  • I learned to cuss.  I’m not saying that was a good thing.  And I never used profanity in front of my students but I was so surrounded by it, I found it peppering my personal conversation when I wasn’t on the job.  I was in my forties and had never sworn.  I still don’t use the really offensive words, but It makes some of my conversations a lot more humorous, because it astounds people who know me well.
  • Other than cussing with my friends, I stayed true to myself.  I didn’t get pulled into the drama that surrounded me.  I didn’t yell.  I didn’t meet sarcasm with sarcasm.  I stayed calm and was able to be a positive role model.  Most of these students had lives steeped in drama.  They needed positive role models more than they needed anything else.
  • That old adage, “The more you put into something, the more you get out of it,” is 100% true.  I have never worked so hard in my life, but I also never changed lives so dramatically as I did in that environment.  When kids don’t have other positive role models, you can make the most profound difference in their lives.

The worth of a teacher

Teachers measure their worth by the lives that they change.

                                            – Dauna Easley

  • That first really tough year helped me grow immensely as a teacher.  It groomed me to teach future teachers.  If you want to be an effective teacher for future teachers you need a wide variety of experiences.  It helped me begin writing books.  I had a message.  I had stories to tell.  I spent 12 years at that job I thought I would quit at the end of the first week.  I learned I could persevere through challenging circumstances.  That alone is an important life lesson.
  • Those kids groomed me, chiseled me and sometimes even sandblasted me, until I became a true teacher.

TEACH...To Change Lives

 TEACH…To Change Lives

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Book Dauna Easley to speak to your group.

Happy New (School) Year!


new school year

I confess.  As a teacher it used to annoy the summer sunshine right out of me when the stores starting stocking their shelves with school supplies on about the Fourth of July.  I had barely finished posting grades and watching the most recent class of seniors graduate and the merchandisers were trying to entice us into another school year.

Yet by August I was ready to begin the cycle once again.  I actually enjoyed decorating bulletin boards and thinking up new activities for getting acquainted with my students.  Shiny floors, new calendars, bright posters, a clean desk (which only occurred once a year), and students decked out in their favorite outfits gave a fresh exciting feel to a profession I loved.

One of my top priorities was to build a community within my classroom.  I created and “gathered” (stole) many ideas for helping students to connect with one another over the years.  We knew we had a community only when every member of the class was valued by everyone else.  The first part of becoming a community was learning facts about one another.

Bulletin Boards Created by My Students

  • Let them work on a project together.  Not everything in the classroom has to be perfect when they walk in.  Let them take ownership of their new home by designing some of their surroundings.

Building a classroom community

It Takes a Village

  • Have the students bring a photo or a baby photo on the first day of school.  Make a display.
  • Let the students bring items from home that illustrate important items or times in their lives.  Have them describe what those items stand for in front of their peers.
  • I always had a True/False Quiz about myself on the first day of school.  I wrote statements about me and had them write answers about whether they thought each statement was true or false.  I tried to fool them.  Allow some of the students who would like to participate to make up true false quizzes about themselves to try to stump their peers.
  • Type up a paper with everyone’s name on it.  Have classmates circulate around the room until they have listed two things they have in common with every other student in the room.
  • Line Up.  The first week of school have them line up in a variety of ways.  They have to get up and talk to each other to determine how to arrange themselves.  Line up youngest to oldest, Alphabetize themselves by the first letter of their middle name.  Group themselves by sports or school clubs they are involved in.  Line up by the number of siblings they have.  Line up by the grade they were in when they moved into your district.  Etc.
  • Let them write riddles about themselves that end in Who Am I? Peers use the clues to guess the student as the teacher reads the clues aloud.
  • Give out snack sized bags of M&Ms or Skittles.  Have them tell something about themselves for every piece of candy they have in the bag.
  • On the first day of school, I used to have my Teacher Academy students draw a picture using only their feet to hold the crayon.   I’d play funny music as they made these crazy drawings.  The point?  It was an icebreaker, but it also illustrated how uncomfortable students could be in our classroom when we asked them to do things that were new or difficult.
  • Give out a few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to each student. Don’t reveal the design.  Have them work together to assemble the picture.  It can be a large drawing of your school logo, but it will take them a while to figure it out.  Meanwhile they make new friends.
  • Have them bring their chairs into a circle.  Ask a question to which they must all respond.  Example: ” Describe a person who makes you feel valued?  How do they make you feel that way?:”  This helps them focus on how we can make our classmates feel valued.  There will be a positive feeling in your classroom at the end of this activity.
  • Get them excited about working on a creative project together.  In our high school we were encouraged to decorate a grocery cart (instead of a parade float) for the Homecoming Game.

homecoming cart

You can’t build a community in a day.  However, working on building positive relationships within your classroom walls, will pay dividends for all your students.  it is time well spent.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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101 Ways to Encourage Students


100 blog posts


Today marks my 100th blog post! 

I could lead a cheer, set off fireworks or send 100 helium balloons into the sky.  Writing one hundred posts is quite a commitment.  When I first began writing a blog I didn’t even know how to attach a picture.

But I have a passion for inspiring teachers to help students learn to live successfully.  I want teachers to understand the power they have to change a student’s life forever.  It is for these reasons that I’ve decided to write a post titled 101 Ways to Encourage Students.  I believe this is the best way to celebrate my 100th post.  I’m going to list 100 ideas for encouragement plus one extra idea which demonstrates my commitment to keep on blogging for teachers.

Tweak these suggestions to meet the needs of your own students, and most importantly implement these ideas in your classroom.  Print this page and refer to it often during the school year.  Make a commitment to try at least one idea each time you read through the list.  Here we go…

101 Ways to Encourage Students

  1. Brag about your students to others when the students can hear your comments.
  2. Tell them you were thinking about them over the weekend.  Be specific about what your thoughts were.  Students feel validated when they know you think about them outside school hours.
  3. Make eye contact.  Don’t just look over their heads or at a slide when you are teaching a class.  Make eye contact with individuals.
  4. When they have the courage to raise their hand to ask a question, reassure them with, “That’s a great question.”  Then explain the answer fully and patiently until you are certain they understand.
  5. Tell a student about something the two of you have in common.
  6. Talk about a failure you have faced.  Students can accept their own setbacks better if they know adults who they admire have also faced failures.
  7. Joke with them.  Never joke about them.  Assess their sense of humor and then have fun with them.
  8. When you see them in the hall, smile at them and speak.  Don’t just limit this to your own students.  Often we can encourage a student in our school who is not assigned to us by developing a relationship with them just passing in the hallways.
  9. Tell their parents how much you admire their kid.  Be specific.  These comments always get back to and encourage the student.
  10. If you see a student reading a book you’ve also read, comment on what they are reading.
  11. Never belittle or use put downs with any student.  All students judge teachers by the way they treat the most disenfranchised kid in the class.
  12. Look for ways to build a rapport with every student.  Is It music, movies, a favorite TV show, sports or video games?  How can you connect with each kid by talking about something they enjoy?
  13. Tell them about something great you heard someone else say about them.
  14. Admire a talent that they have.  Tell them you wish you could draw or ______ like they do.
  15. Make fun of yourself.  Let them see you vulnerable and laughing at yourself.  It will make them feel like they don’t have to be perfect either.
  16. Praise progress.  Don’t wait for and insist on perfection before you praise.
  17. Smile when they least expect it.
  18. Teach students how to study successful people.  Biographies, documentaries, DVDs, and online resources put successful people within reach for our students.  Success breeds success.
  19. Do anything it takes to defuse a tense situation.  Kids goof up.  Always work to de-escalate a mistake.  Never, never escalate a negative situation.
  20. Make them feel like you are the teacher who is on their side.  You don’t have to condone unacceptable behavior to make the student still feel like you are on their side.
  21. Be available for chit-chat.  If you are approachable, students will seek you out.  Be available before school, after school, during break times.
  22. Put their work on display.
  23. Focus on their strengths.  We all are too aware of our weaknesses.  Students know clearly what their deficits are.  They need to be reminded of their talents.
  24. Step up!  Intervene EVERY time you see a student being teased or bullied.  NEVER allow it to continue no matter whose student they are.
  25. Teach with enthusiasm.  If you aren’t excited about your class, they won’t be either.  (Yawn).
  26. Look for students who are not easily accepted by their peers.  Befriend them.  When other students see that you enjoy the ones they don’t engage, it will influence their opinion.
  27. Go to your students’ extra curricular functions.  Let them know you came to watch them. It will matter more than you will ever imagine.
  28. Who is your greatest challenge in the class?  Catch them doing something right and compliment them on it.  Smile at them when they glance your way.
  29. Put a positive quote on the board and discuss it each day.  Let them give examples of how they see that quote illustrated in their lives.
  30. Never, never act shocked when they share a problem from their lives.  They’ll never approach you again if you over react.  Listen, empathize and problem solve, but don’t act shocked.
  31. Ask a student for help.  Students love helping a teacher.  My high school students taught me most of what I know about technology.  As a side benefit, they felt valued. “I taught the teacher something.  Yeah.”
  32. Watch for teachable moments and try to capture them. We all learn best when we want to learn a particular skill.  Not every learning possibility can be scheduled or planned ahead of time.
  33. Bring in your favorite song.  Play it and explain what you like about it.  Invite them to share theirs. (Caution: Make them aware that songs must comply with school standards).
  34. Every once in a while bring your students a treat.  Try to make it unexpected and then they will appreciate it.
  35. Supply small items you see that some students need:  paper, pencils, poster board, pens, etc.  Most will really appreciate this.  This says “I care about your success.”
  36. Tell them about something funny or stupid you did when you were a kid.
  37. Finish this sentence for any one of them.  “You know what I admire about you?  I admire…..”
  38. Never allow students to gossip or complain about a student who isn’t there.  Shut it down.  They will notice.  They’ll know that you “have their back” when they aren’t around.
  39. Find something positive about every effort a student makes.  You can address improvements needed only after first recognizing strengths. Criticism without any praise = discouragement.
  40. Orally share inspiring stories with your students.  Yes, you CAN read to high school students.
  41. Tell them about a time you were afraid to try something and how you gathered the courage to do it.  It will help them be courageous.
  42. Put a compliment in writing and give it to them.  Written compliments have 10 times the power of spoken compliments.  They can keep them and read them whenever they feel discouraged.
  43. Stop at their desk and sit down next to them.  Comment on their work or just ask about something going on in their lives.  This will build a positive relationship even if issues arise later.
  44. Use learning games in your classroom.  When learning is fun a positive relationship builds between students and their teacher.  This encourages students to learn.
  45. Notice a talent the student has and ask them to share that talent with the class.
  46. Do everything you can to build friendships inside your classroom.  Assign partners who are welcoming and encouraging to others.
  47. Be an advisor for a club or start a club.  I once started a friendship club between my Teacher Academy kids and the students with special needs in our high school.  Many new friendships were formed.
  48. When you read an article about a student in the newspaper, bring it in and post it in your classroom.  Buy an extra paper and give a copy to them.
  49. If you have someone in your room who has artistic skills, hang one of their paintings, pictures or posters in your classroom.
  50. I’ve often complimented a student on their writing skills telling them I want an autographed copy of their first book when they become an author.  I know those books will be on my shelves someday.
  51. Call a parent to brag about something their child did in the classroom or around the school.
  52. Ask a student to speak in front of a group about one of their experiences or accomplishments.
  53. Ask a student to organize an event.  This lets them know you notice their organizational skills and trust their abilities.
  54. Notice kindnesses you see in your classroom.  Compliment the student performing the kindness privately or in front of others.  What is recognized expands.
  55. Technology can greatly enhance learning.  However, don’t update your website while ignoring the child standing next to you waiting for help.  You don’t like it when they text their friends while you are teaching.  Being attentive works both ways.
  56. Teach students to surround themselves with their own encouragers.  This is a skill they will need for life.
  57. By sharing a problem from your past you will let your students know that you have been through tough times.  They will be more apt to seek you out for encouragement when they have tough times.  Be certain to walk the lines of professionalism on this one.
  58. Recognize birthdays, yes even in high school.  I knew a teacher who kept a box of candy bars and soda pop for students with birthdays.
  59. Visualize future successes for your students and describe those visualizations to them.  Students often picture their own successes first through the eyes of someone they admire.
  60. Ask yourself the “magic question”.   “What is one thing I can do today to encourage success for this student?”  Pick a challenging, quiet or struggling student.  Ask yourself that question and act on it.
  61. Put an index card on your desk.  Give yourself a mark every time you smile at the student who is the biggest challenge in the class.  No one has to know the reason for the card.  How many points can you earn in a day?  Challenge yourself.
  62. Listen when a student speaks.  Really listen.  Listen for clues beneath the surface.  What are they really saying?
  63. Next time you see a student ask them about something they shared with you previously.
  64. Encourage a student to share their dreams with you.  Listen carefully.  Become their dream partner as you encourage them to take the steps toward their dreams.
  65. Find a positive mentor for a student in the field of their interest.
  66. Always talk positively about a student to other professionals.  I believe students sense when you’ve “got their back.”  If you hear another student or adult say something negative about a student, interject a positive comment.  Students feel it.
  67. Be consistently upbeat.  When students have to tiptoe around a teacher’s fluctuating moods, it can be very discouraging for them.  A teacher should always be the adult in the classroom.
  68. Say “I care about you.”  Sometimes say it verbally.  Sometimes say it with your actions.
  69. Write encouraging comments on their papers.  In my job I had to evaluate hundreds of essays.  Sometimes when they would write something particularly well, I would write, “Wow! I wish I had written this!”
  70. Explain to your students the power of focus.  Students can accomplish more if they zero in on their most important goal.
  71. In the classroom, call on everyone to speak.  Don’t just call on those who you know have the correct answer to keep the lesson moving swiftly.
  72. Think of dozens of ways to say “I believe in you.”  You can demonstrate your belief in a student by giving them a responsibility.  They will want to rise to the level of your belief.
  73. Laugh together.  Nothing builds a positive rapport, better than shared laughter.
  74. Give your student a “do over.”  Whether it’s a bad choice they’ve made or an assignment they’ve bombed, everyone deserves a do over once in a while.
  75. Treat every student as you would want another teacher to treat your own child. Pretend there is a little bird in the room watching you.  In these days of electronic devices, there may be.
  76. Give choices in your assignments so that every student has a chance to shine using their strengths.  Students learn material in many different ways.  Choices encourage them.
  77. Teach your students the power of the word “yet.”  I’m not good at math yet.  I can’t write well yet.  When you hear them announce something they can’t do, YOU put the word yet at the end of their sentence.
  78. Be a hope vendor.  Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  Great teachers sell hope everyday.  How can you sell hope today?
  79. Make students aware of their negative self talk.  Have them write down what they say to themselves.  Then show them how to turn those thoughts around…on purpose.
  80. Use uplifting music in your classroom.  The right music can enhance any lesson.
  81. Be relentless about looking for ways for students to shine,  Look for awards, competitions, recognitions, scholarships, and contests.  I gave my own token awards.  It is the recognition itself that encourages.
  82. Students spell the word “love” this way… T-I-M-E.  If you are always in a hurry or reading emails on your computer, you aren’t giving them the time to connect with you.  They want your time and that includes eye contact.
  83. Tell them a true story that applies to any lesson you are teaching.  People connect by sharing a story.  A story lives inside someone longer than any worksheet.
  84. Use quiet words.  Quiet words sink in.  Yelling shuts a student down.  In fact shouting shuts the whole class down. Quiet words encourage a student and helps him breakthrough to understanding.
  85. Share your goals with students.  Let them know when you have taken a step toward your goal. Share it.  It will inspire them to work toward their goals.
  86. Walk your talk.  Be a role model.  Don’t expect them to accomplish what you won’t expect of yourself.
  87. Try to add value to each student’s life.  Students need us in very different ways.  Know them well enough that you understand what they need most from you.  Then deliver.
  88. Do whatever it takes to build a community within your classroom.  If one student is estranged, you don’t yet have a community. Keep working at it.
  89. Go the extra mile to make a memory in your classroom.  Memories last a lifetime and inspire students for years.  Some will happen spontaneously.  Others need some forethought.  Use props, activities, guest speakers, projects, and field trips to build special memories.
  90. Be careful what you “see.”  If you believe a kid is a loser, he will know it and live up to that.  Find any strength you see and focus on that.  How could that one strength lead to some future success?
  91. Teach students how to mentally replay the successes they’ve had in life.  Human nature has them replaying their failures.  Show them how to interrupt and replace those negative memories with positive ones.
  92. Know your students well enough to choose partners carefully.  When pairing students for a project put diplomatic and willing encouragers with someone who may need assistance.  But insist on the contributions of all members of the group.  No slackers.
  93. Demonstrate diplomacy in everything you do.  When you teach students diplomacy you set them up for success in life.
  94. Make the most of moments.  Teachers don’t have much time; so try to make moments matter.  A student once came to me and told me at length about how much it meant to her when I passed her in the hallway and said, “Hey cutie!”  Two words.  One moment.  Huge impact.
  95. Give a student “wait time.”  When you call on them for a response, don’t expect them to answer immediately.  When you give them “wait time” it really says, “I know you can do this.”
  96. Ask a student if you can keep a paper or project that they have done well, to show to your students the following year.
  97. Teach students to build an encouragement folder or box.  Have them gather quotes, poems or stories that inspire them.  Have them keep positive notes or important keepsakes from others in this box.  Share items that have encouraged you.
  98. When a student explodes within the classroom, defuse the situation by staying calm. Talk to him later when emotions subside.  Don’t attack back.  Try this opener.  “Tell me what’s going on.”
  99. Make your classroom so safe that students are willing to push outside their comfort zone in your room.
  100. Join your students in an assignment. When I give a writing prompt, I frequently will write my thoughts as the students are writing.  If asked, I’ll share what I wrote.  Students will value your assignments more because you’ve given them importance.
  101. Teach for the “whatevers” in life.  Every day in every way. teach your students to handle future difficult situations.  Here is the message you must give them.  Whatever comes your way you can handle it. Your classroom discussions and activities must say to them, “I know that you are resilient enough.  You are creative enough.  You are intelligent enough.  You are valuable enough.  You are tenacious, worthy and strong enough to get through whatever life hands you.  Sometimes it won’t be easy but in this classroom I have given you the tools to handle whatever comes you way.”

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities the author:

Also available at

Dauna Easely available for teacher keynote addresses or in-service meetings

Great Teachers Put Compliments in Writing


put compliments in writing

As you begin your school year, I want to toss a challenge to you.  Every chance you get to compliment a student, do it.  Don’t just think good thoughts.  Voice them.  But my challenge goes further than that.  Give your compliments ten times their power by putting those positive comments in writing.

At a graduation party I attended a few years ago, I noticed a small note I had written rather spontaneously to this particular graduate.  It was framed and on display on a table among items that defined the graduate’s life.  This note meant so much to her that she wanted to share it with others.  That simple gesture humbled me.  When I saw that hastily written note, I was a little embarrassed at the old note card I had quickly selected to use when I wrote to her.  That particular note card had actually kind of yellowed a little.  It was one that had come from the bottom of a box and had clearly been sitting in that box for years.

Yet while I stood there berating myself for not choosing a fancier stationery, the bigger more important message gradually began to occur to me.   This quickly written message was so important to this young lady that it was framed.  She wanted everyone who came to her graduation party to read it.  At this writing I can’t even remember what I wrote; but it still chokes me up that she framed it and put in on display.

 What touched and frankly scared me so much was the importance that she gave to that note.  It gave me a mental reminder to always picture this note when I wrote to a student in the future.  I wanted to remember the power of even my quick notes and promise myself to only use stationery that wouldn’t shame me if a written message turned up framed and on display at a future graduation party.  I feel certain this young lady will never forget the contents of that rapidly composed note.  Written words have a way of branding our hearts.  What it said took me minutes to compose, but the message will encourage her for a lifetime.

Written words from a teacher have such power to push our students toward success.

Use that influence.  Don’t passively wait for the chance, make the opportunity.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from

Also available at