Category Archives: Meaningful Moments

Time

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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

Available autographed or in large quantities from the author:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

The Kiss

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singing off keySinging Off Key

“Then he kissed me,” sang Nikki out loud and a little off-key.  My high school senior students were cutting, gluing, coloring and assembling learning games for preschoolers.  It wasn’t one of those times the classroom needed to be quiet.  No one responded to Nikki’s short impromptu song.  Some were having conversations of their own as they worked.

“Then he kissed me,” chimed Nikki again.  I was working on something at my desk.  No comment came from me either.

“Then he kissed me,” sang Nikki a third time as she continued to work.  Finally she turned to her classmates.   “I can’t get that song out of my head.  How does the rest of it go?”  A few classmates looked interested but no correct answers came forth.

Someone said, “I think it’s from a movie.”

Another one offered, “Was it in Pretty Woman?”

Silently I chuckled to myself.  That song was from my era, way, way back. Of course, a teenager who heard it in a movie today might think it was more recent.  A brief conversation among my students followed.  No one asked my opinion.  Several students suggested movies they thought featured the song. I made a quick internal decision.

Be Ready

Teachable Moments = Reachable Moments

Act Quickly

singing off keyWithout looking up from my work, giving absolutely no eye contact, I started to sing slowly.

“Each time I saw him I couldn’t wait to see him again.”

I stopped singing, but I continued working.  I still had not looked up.  From the periphery of my vision I could see them glancing at one another.  Are we hearing things?  Was the teacher singing?  No way.  I waited a long pause.  Eyes down, still looking intent on my work, I sang another line with feeling.

“I wanted to let him know that he was more than a friend.”

Oh good grief the teacher was singing.  How embarrassing was this?  You could feel the discomfort in the room.  Had Mrs. Easley gone mad?  But not one person spoke.  All eyes were glued to me.  Finally I looked up as I sang the next line.  I made slow and deliberate eye contact with each of them.

“I didn’t know just what to do”

(Pause)

“And so I whispered ‘I love you’.”

I waited even a longer pause.  They were frozen.  No one even breathed.  They had almost forgotten how embarrassed they were.  They were totally hooked into the story of the song.  When I knew I “had” them all I sang on slowly and deliberately.

He said that he loved me too…

And then he kissed me.”

The kiss

You could feel the sigh in the room.  Not one person said a word.  Nobody wanted to break the spell. Finally I spoke.

“Ladies, a kiss well done, I mean really well done is the sexiest experience in the world.  That’s because a totally great kiss carries so much emotion in it.  If you don’t think so, you’ve been kissing the wrong toads.  Take your time…and enjoy the kisses, ladies.”

A couple of the girls nodded.  I happened to be teaching in what we call an at-risk environment. This senior class had several young mothers and a couple of pregnant students too.  Clearly some toads had already arrived.

toads had arrived

But you could see that they agreed with me.  I wanted to remind them that they truly deserved some great kisses.  Slowly and only gradually they went back to work.  There was a hush, a closeness, in the room.  “The Kiss Lesson” wasn’t anywhere in my lesson plans or daily objectives.  If I had been with another group of students it might never have happened.  But it was the best and most memorable thing that happened that day…for all of us.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

Or autographed or in large quantities from the author dauna@cinci.rr.com

Classroom Activities that are Memorable

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get out of townGet Out of Town

One of the tough things about teaching is that you are so strictly tied into the school calendar.  In the middle of winter, when I’d like to be heading for the sunshine state, I’m stuck in the classroom.  Truth is, ten months a year classroom educators are just about as tied to a static location as anyone possibly can be.

Early in my career I discovered an effective way to get out-of-town when bad weather or boredom set in.  I plan an imaginary jet trip.  Don’t scoff until you’ve tried it.  The first time I attempted it, I admit I was young and green and would try anything.  My third graders were learning about New York City. In an attempt to make the experience more creative than simply reading from a textbook, I dreamed up taking an imaginary jet trip to the Big Apple.  I really talked it up to the children. In fact, I made it so real several of my students just mentally cancelled out the word “imaginary.”  Parents were calling the school to tell the principal or me that their children were afraid to get on the plane.  I had a lot of explaining to do.

Taking Off

imaginary jet trip

On the day of the “flight” the children arrived with their suitcases packed and their dads’ belts in tow.  We were going to use those dads’ belts as seat belts on the plane. Beforehand the children were given a weather report of the intended destination and some advice on what they might want to pack.  We always pretended we were going to spend the night so pajamas and favorite sleep items came along.  One of the most interesting activities we did while flying’was to unpack each child’s suitcase and examine what they had chosen to bring along.

For our flight the classroom chairs were arranged as seats might be on the inside of a jet.  We used tickets, now generated by a computer which made them very realistic and provided a great souvenir.  Students acted the parts of all the airline personnel.  We had a pilot and co-pilot complete with earphones and hats for realism.  We had ticket takers who stamped the tickets and baggage claim agents who tagged the luggage and took it away to the rear of the plane.  We usually used a wagon for a baggage cart.  Flight attendants welcomed the passengers aboard as they walked over a couple of steps we had arranged next to the plane.  Attendants then instructed the passengers to stow items under their seats and checked to make sure seatbelts were securely fastened.  They also served a snack while en route.  Personnel in the front office of the school used the intercom to welcome the passengers aboard the flight and invited them to sit back and relax as they flew.

We never had a plane crash, but we did one time encounter quite a bit of turbulance. 

turbulance

We were comfortably belted into our seats and watching a slide show of  New York tourist attractions when the school fire alarm went off.  I silently cursed the office personnel who I assumed were doing this as a prank.  The alarm had sounded shortly after they had come over the PA system to welcome us aboard.  They knew all my students were belted into their seats.  But in front of the students there was nothing to do but struggle along with them to help them unfasten their dads’ belts one by one.

We were by far the last class to arrive outside.  Finally we received the “all clear” signal to reenter the building.  I was doing my best to recreate the imaginary mood of the flight and had everyone buckled back in and almost calm when the fire alarm went off again.  I couldn’t believe it.  The first time might have been funny, but his was downright irritating.  It took us even longer this time to make it to our designated safe location.  I later learned that the fire inspector had indeed paid an unexpected visit to our school.  Because of my class we had flunked the inspection.  The fire official had waited a short time to give us a second chance, but we flunked again, royally.  Oops!  Apparently creativity has its price.

While I first used this activity in the elementary grades, I admit I have used it successfully for just about every age group.  It has become a yearly tradition in my classroom.  My senior early childhood education students get very involved with setting up the plans and activities for our laboratory preschool.  If I’m not teaching in an inflexible social studies curriculum, I allow my student a lot of freedom to choose the destination.  Two popular trips during the winter months are Hawaii and Disney World.  The students have fun pulling out their summer clothes to pack in the middle of winter, along with sunglasses, bathing suits, suntan lotion, and beach towels.  Some even come to school in shorts, a feat in Ohio in the winter months.  One of my seniors, wore a grass skirt and strategically placed half coconuts over her blouse.  That picture made the school yearbook. If we travel to Hawaii, we make grass skirts from green plastic trash bags and learn to dance the Hula to Hawaiian music.  We get out our beach towels and “sunbathe” during preschool story time.  We play beach blanket bingo, during which students pretend to sunbathe on a towel until the music stops and then run to a new towel.  We cut open a fresh pineapple for snack.  We make leis to wear home. Since camcorders and video cams have become popular, we can usually watch a video of our destination and parents love making their own recordings of our trip.  We always reboard our plane and fly home just in time to meet them.

coming home

Coming Home Again

The variations are as endless as your imagination, and so are the opportunities for learning.  When I taught in the primary grades, if we were traveling to China, I had a parent bring in Chinese food for lunch and we ate with chopsticks.  Going to Mexico?  Learn the Mexican Hat Dance, eat Mexican food and break a pinata.  Take a look at your curriculum.  What do you need to teach that you could make more realistic and more fun by imaginatively traveling to that destination?  Invite in a guest speaker with appropriate costumes.  If you’re studying a particular era in history, turn your classroom into a time machine and travel backwards in time.  Bring your classroom alive.  The sky is the limit.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives
Available at Amazon.com

Or autographed or in large quantities from the author dauna@cinci.rr.com

Gifts from the Classroom

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1770209_sWhat is the best holiday gift you have ever received? From my childhood I remember a much wished for and cherished bike that sat in front of the Christmas tree, the only new one I ever owned.  This was a stunning event in the household where I grew up, because we usually didn’t receive what we most wanted.  However the elves must have been extremely busy that year because they didn’t do a good job of assembling this bike and it never actually worked just right.  Oh, it looked very pretty, but sometimes when you turned the handle bars, the front wheel didn’t turn – not a reliable characteristic for a bike.  I probably jumped more miles on my on my beloved pogo stick than I ever rode on that bike.  Oh, could this gal pogo!  I bounced everywhere.  Yep, I’d have to say that my pogo stick was my all time favorite gift from childhood.

What I Admire About You

What I admire about youBut as we mature we come to realize the truth of that adage, “The best things in life aren’t  things.”  They truly aren’t.  The best thing in life is making others feel good about themselves.  We all long to feel valued and appreciated.   About two-thirds of the way through my teaching career I discovered an activity that helped accomplish this goal.  I always planned this activity for sometime during the holidays.

As my students entered the classroom they received a stack of blank index cards…one for each of their classmates and one for the teacher.  Silently I had them write the name of a classmate at the top of each card and then write one thing they admired about that student.  I encouraged them to be as specific as possible.  General statements like, “You are a great gal” are not as powerful as “I admire the way you always have something encouraging to say when someone in our class is down in the dumps.”  They were required to write one about me (the teacher) also.  Let me tell you high school teachers need their encouragement too.  There were a few cautions and guidelines I voiced ahead of time.  Absolutely no ‘put downs” would be tolerated, only positive comments were permitted.

A Confession

I admit that occasionally I had a group of students so at odds with one another before we began this activity, that I didn’t require that they write a compliment to every classmate.  I might limit it to 10 or 12 compliments written using time parameters as an excuse.  I wanted to make certain no one was ever hurt by this activity.  But when you set limits like these, you always risk the omission of someone being complimented.  I only used these limits a time or two.  Here’s the real beauty of the activity.  Each time I limited the number of compliments they had to provide, they always got half way through the activity and then THEY requested of ME that they be able to write something they admired about everyone in the class.  That is how great is the power of writing positive words about someone.

Then Comes the Magic

magic

At the end of our time limit, we circled our desks and orally read one card at a time.  One student would read aloud to one other student a single comment while all others listened.  Then the next person in the circle would read a comment about someone else.  I encouraged them to keep changing the people who were being complimented.  “Try and choose someone no one has yet read about,” was my occasional  reminder.  When it was my turn to read I always started by complimenting someone I felt was considered just a little outside the inner circle…the kids not quickly accepted by their peers.  As we listened around and around that circle twenty or thirty revolutions, you could feel the climate of our classroom change. They smiled more easily, eyes moistened, shoulders relaxed, heads nodded as everyone agreed with a compliment being shared orally, and teens relaxed their armor.  Kindness settled softly over our circle like a cashmere blanket. Friends became closer and former adversaries demonstrated tolerance.  When others validate us, we are more likely to notice and appreciate positive traits in others.  The students in my classroom became a family.  There is no greater gift for a student who will be walking into your classroom every day for an entire school year.

Just before our time together ended, I instructed them to pass their cards out to one another.  By taking the time to distribute their compliments in written form, everyone could carry the compliments away and read them again whenever they might need a morale boost. As dozens of students stood to distribute their cards to others, I anticipated it to be quite a noisy time.  It never was.  Why?  The moment they received a card from someone, their eyes were magnetically drawn to the compliments written on those cards. They hungered for that validation from their peers.

Our class was always changed from that day forward.  We became a community working together, a unit.  As a side (but not unimportant) benefit, a bully has a hard time finding a foot hold in a community where everyone has your back.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

Teacher for a Lifetime

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Not A Runner

I’m not a runner, so using running analogies in my writing is a dangerous proposition for me.  But a few parallels between teaching and running strike me.  The National Education Association has been collecting data on teachers for years.  What they reveal is that 50% of teachers quit within their first five years of the profession.  And they never teach again.  That means half of the people who enter the profession spend less time IN the profession than they did preparing for the profession.

Those are staggering and disappointing numbers, but I’d have to also confess, that they don’t surprise me.  I threw so much of myself into my job that I became sick in only my second year of teaching.  I had never been sick before.  My illness baffled and scared me. The doctors couldn’t explain it to satisfy me.  I was desperate to get better and considered quitting the profession at that time.  But I hung in there and realized that teaching, if you wanted to make it a career, was more like a marathon than a sprint.  You simply can’t finish a marathon if you try to maintain a sprinter’s pace.  No, I’m not in favor of half-way teaching.  I’m a teacher who threw herself whole heartedly into the profession.  BUT if you don’t find your own pace, your comfort zone that will somehow sustain you to hang in to make it to the end of the marathon, you will never survive in this career.

After more than two decades of teaching, I moved from the elementary grades into high school.  High school?!  If you had told me at any time during my first half of my career that I would eventually teach high school, I would have laughed in your face and then run out of the school building…in a sprint.   In my 24th year of teaching I taught high school for the first time.

I didn’t just move from elementary to high school, I also moved into an entirely new student demographic at the same time. Most of my students were tough and oppositional, living in at-risk situations.  Many of my students didn’t know their fathers and some even had mothers in prison or unemployed parents on drugs. I have no idea what kept me from quitting that year.  Professionally it was the hardest year of my life.  I almost quit in the first week of school. I only made it until 11:00 am on the second day before I was crying.  I spent the rest of the year questioning my judgement for staying.  That first group of teens chewed me up and spit me out on the pavement. Then they walked over me and left me for dead.  And they enjoyed it.

I continued to teach in that challenging environment for 12 years.  Do you know what I learned?  When I made a positive difference in a student’s life in that environment, I was usually the only person turning that kid’s life around.  I learned that those kids challenged me until they trusted me.  Life had dealt them some serious blows and they weren’t going to let anyone hurt them again.  Once they finally trusted and accepted me then they became my greatest allies.  It was in that school that I accomplished some of my most meaningful teaching.  It was, in a strange way, kind of intoxicating.  I was making a difference.  Isn’t that why most of us enter this profession?  To make a difference?

It was also during this era that I began speaking and writing about teaching.  I wanted to encourage and inspire other teachers.  Day in and day out I saw a lot of teachers who looked defeated.  I wanted them to feel supported and realize the positive difference they were making.   Speaking and writing helped build my self esteem back up a little while the students continued to pummel me like a tether ball dangling from a pole in a prison yard.   Yes, making a positive difference in a tough environment feels good, but it also had its down side.  I began to feel pessimistic about the future of our country.  If the students I was teaching were the future of our world, what was our world going to become?

Fortunately for me my teaching career took another unexpected detour.  Someone heard me speak and offered me a job in a more traditional academic high school teaching in a Teacher Academy program.  The students who enrolled in that program already knew they wanted to teach.  For the most part they were wonderful role models, great students, caring and encouraging to others and even their teacher.  The last seven years of my full-time teaching career were blissful.  I maintain long-term professional friendships with many students and I watch them finish college and enter their own classrooms.  Once again I feel quite optimistic about the future of our schools and our country.

Today I continue to write and speak about teaching while I supervise college level student teachers part time.  I love this role.  In this capacity I am able to be in and out of schools interacting with top quality mentor teachers, while calming the fears and encouraging beginning teachers.  After twice considering walking away from the profession, it turns out I am a teacher for life.

Tips for Running a Teaching Marathon

  •  Find your own pace.  When you discover your energy flagging, turn your attention to the other parts of your life.  Are you socializing enough?  Are you having any fun in the rest of your life? Have you given up an activity you enjoy? If teaching consumes your whole life, you won’t be able to stick with it long-term.
  • Find a coworker with a positive attitude and good sense of humor.  You can encourage one another and laugh about the occasional lunacies of the profession.
  • Focus on the students.  Try not to focus on the frustrations of the profession.  There will always be a new program, new curriculum, a new computer system, data collection, testing pressure, politicians who complain  about schools during campaigns,  or a change in policy or administration.  None of that is as important as building a rapport with students and helping them learn and grow into positive adults.  Laugh about the rest and focus on the kids.
  • Don’t eat lunch with the crab apples.  Every school (or business) has crab apples.  Spend your time with the positive staff members.  Avoid staffers who complain about the quality of the students, the community or the administration.  Seek out professionals who genuinely care about the students and have the ability to keep the rest of the job in perspective.
  • Never quit after a frustrating year.  There’s an old saying, “Never cut a dead tree in the winter time.”  Wait until spring.  It may just appear dead and will flourish in the spring.  In teaching, each school year  is a clean slate.  I’ve had some of my best teaching years just following some of my most challenging.  Those sweet years can rejuvenate you.
    In my life I play many roles.  I’m a daughter of aging parents, wife, friend, mom, grammy, speaker and writer.  But in addition to all those roles, I know that in my soul I am a lifetime teacher.  I hope somehow you will be able to obtain the satisfaction from teaching that I have.  The world needs committed teachers more than any other profession.  If you agree, you are probably one of us.  I teach to change lives.

             TEACH…To Change Lives

             Available at Amazon.com

Never Say These Words

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What Does A Great Teacher Do?

Never Say these words

A teacher builds bridges between dreams and accomplishments.

                                                                                                                   –Dauna Easley

But Never Say the Following Words

shhhhhThere’s a three word phrase that seems harmless but is, in fact, poison to our profession and is also detrimental to our students’ ears. Too often we use the phrase, “I’m just a teacher.”  No celebrity thinks of themselves as ‘just a star.’  No professional athlete puts the word ‘just’ in front of their athleticism.  And yet day in and day out we directly touch and mold more young lives than celebrities or athletes.  When our students struggle we are there to help.  When they face what they feel are insurmountable problems, we listen.  We care and we counsel. What is more important: shaping lives or creating a game score?  What is more important, encouraging a young human through a  personal challenge or the gross profits of a movie?

Setting the Record Straight

I must admit there is another profession equally as guilty of underestimating their value and importance.  That is the nursing profession.  Nurses are the front lines as are we teachers.  Teachers and nurses are the privates who do the work.  Having a daughter who battled a terminal illness I can tell you that every time her treatment improved and became more humane, it came in the form of a suggestion from a nurse.  Why?  Like teachers they were there on the front lines.  They cared, they listened and they sought solutions.

Words Matter

never say these wordsWe need to bite our tongues every time we hear ourselves say, “I’m just a teacher.”  We need to object when others use those words either orally or through their actions.  We are not just anything.  The only thing ‘just’ about us is the fairness we demonstrate when we value and advocate for all our students.  We just refuse to give up when we notice a child struggling with learning problems, social rejection, or family  issues

Our current students are the future of our country.  Statistics confirm that more of them will model their lives around the works and words of a positive teacher than any political figure, celebrity or sports figure.  We should be just plain tired of being thought of as just a teacher.  We’d tackle anyone who called one of our students ‘just’ a kid.  The parents of my students trust me with their most valuable possession.  Their child matters more to them than their house, their automobile, their investment portfolio or their job. I’m pleased to say that I doubt any of the parents of my former students will ever speak of me as just as teacher.

Nor Will I

My name is Dauna Easley.  I am proud to be a teacher.

TEACH…To Change Lives

Availble at Amazon.com

Teaching…What They Don’t Teach You in College

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Surprises for New Teachers

Teaching Duties 101Kelly, a young teacher whom I have trained, emailed me recently and said, “You’re never going to believe this, Mrs. E. Our whole district has switched to a new reading program that is 100% online.  And guess what? We are a full week into the school year and not one computer in the whole school is working.”

I believed it.  Why?  Because in some form or another while teaching I’ve lived it over and over again.

Another young teacher said recently, “I’m supposed to be ready for students the minute they walk into my classroom, but I spend half an hour before school standing hall duty!  How can I be preparing for teaching while I’m in the hall watching for fights that might break out?”

Another teacher was spending too much of her first year salary at Kinkos running off papers for her students because she spent all of her planning time fulfilling her assigned duties or waiting at the end of a long line at the copy machine.

Teacher Duties 101

teaching secretsDo  you know what would be an excellent college course for future teachers?  Duties 101.  I’d love to have the opportunity to teach that class.  Here is the truth taken from someone who has taught preschool through high school seniors.

Though it may seem like overkill to write elaborate three page, creative lesson plans while you are in college, you might as well enjoy the process.  Because once you are really teaching in your own classroom, you will never again have time for three page lesson plans.  Why?  Because you will be “on duty.”  I’m not talking patriotic duty here.  No bands will play.  No flags will furl.  We are talking low-down-and-dirty teacher duties that they never describe to you in college.  The variety is endless.

  • In elementary school there is the adventurous playground duty.  I once had a hairpiece knocked clear off my head standing playground duty!  It was my own fault.  I walked too close to the tether ball game.  Amazingly we had NO playground equipment in the first school where I taught.  Something about liability.  Hundreds of kids would pour out onto the black top for recess with nothing to do but play our one tether ball game and chase each other.  What was our job?  To keep them from chasing each other, of course. “No running on the black top!” was our constant mantra.  Our tether ball game became as vicious and competitive as ice hockey, just ask my chignon (hair piece) that flew 20 yards.  I’m lucky it was only my fake hair. Just a few inches more and I would have had to say good-bye to some of my IQ points.
  • What’s worse?  Indoor recess.  Sounds tame but don’t let it fool you.  Ask any experienced teacher.  You’ll know who they are because they are wearing hearing aids and they sport a nervous twitch.
  • Then there is the ever-to-be-avoided cafeteria duty.   In elementary school this involves using your fingers to open 213 cardboard milk cartons and poking a pointed straw through 303 drink containers in an hour.  Correct dress code for cafeteria duty?  Hand-me-down duds that ketchup and food fight stains won’t bother, skid proof shoes that keep you from falling on your tush while sliding on spills, and ear plugs to protect your hearing from the animated lunch room ‘conversations’.  Your only protection will be the whistle around your neck.  We give teachers whistles when they really need fire hoses.  It builds their resourcefulness.
  • Bus duty is another thriller.  In my first life as an elementary teacher I thought this was the bottom of the barrel.  I was wrong (more on that later).  Elementary bus duty involved hundreds of kids swinging book bags larger than their bodies, darting this way and that between cars and buses as they scream comments to their friends.  Our local voters turned down 4 school tax levies in a row.  I feel so sorry for the kindergarten teachers who give up not only their lunch time but their before and after school planning time to carry umbrellas as they herd scores of five-year-olds through the rain  to their cars four times each day.
  • Teenagers take duties to a whole new depth.  There is restroom duty.  I fondly call this one ‘smoker’s duty.’  What happens?  A previously healthy teacher stands in a restroom full of adolescent hormones breathing more smoke than someone at a happy hour held in a tobacco barn.  Smoke flows from over and under every stall door.  Each and every time you approach a smoker they question your right to accuse them of anything.  Their attorney dad is already on their cell phone before they exit the stall.
  • Once I was assigned morning hall duty in a high school.   On this sacred duty a teacher spends every  minute of their class preparation time, not preparing.  I stood at an unlocked door asking students to show me their ID badges.  One hundred percent of the time they told me their ID badges were in their lockers.  At that time I was to direct them to the cafeteria door where there were other teachers stationed “on duty’ to supervise them.  One hundred percent of the time they claimed they were on their way to the cafeteria.  But my assignment issued from school administrators as a hall duty monitor is to NOT allow them in that doorway.  During those before school hours teens called me everything but a teacher.  By the time school would begin for the day I had the self-esteem of a roach.  I wonder why that door couldn’t have been locked?

shy?

  • Bottom of the barrel?  I swear I’ve done the research and this one is it.  High school parking lot duty!  Picture this.  During the last class of the day you have a six-foot-four 300 pound varsity football player mad at you because he doesn’t like the midterm grade he earned in your class.  Five minutes later the bell rings and you have to run outside in the sleet to stand in the center of the main driveway though which all students exit.  The same dude drives his two thousand-pound car right up to you.  He honks his horn for you to move.  You jump a foot high but stand your ground. You are, after all, ‘on duty’. You tell him lamely that you are not permitted to allow any students’ cars to leave until the buses pull out.  He revs his motor and inches his automobile right up against your thigh.  You can read his lips through his windshield.  You know in detail every expletive he is screaming at you, and you’re tying to remember if he wore his weapon-disguising trench coat to school that day.  Moments like these make me dream about the days when I taught preschool.
  • In preschool the only duties that are distasteful are wiping snot and hearing the proud little voice ring out from the potty area.   “Teeeeacher, I pooped.  Come and wipe my butt.”  The polite ones even say, “please.”  High school parking lot duty makes me remember preschool poop-wiping fondly.

I swear I’m not making any of this up.  Not… one… word.  But in writing it out, I’ve just come to a revelation about why we don’t teach these important details in college.  We don’t want to drive great people away from an already challenging profession.  We have to keep future teachers in the dark until we reel them in and they fall in love with the profession.  And the right ones will.

We have only one defense strategy, but it is powerful.  We have to laugh.  We somehow have to focus on the difference we can make in students’ lives and just laugh about the rest of the madness.   Find a fellow teacher with a positive attitude who is committed to students and laugh together.  If we let the insanity of the duties consume us, we will forget the real reasons we were drawn to this meaningful profession.   We are in the classroom to change lives.  Not one other profession in the world has the day-to-day power we have to improve lives.  Laugh at the nonsense and focus all of your efforts  on making a positive change in the lives of  your students.  Take it from a very experienced teacher looking back on a long career.  You will be forever grateful that you did.

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available at Amazon.com

Teaching Strategies

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teaching strategiesThe Lesson

We were going to make a memory.  I mentally pictured one of those warm and fuzzy moments between my students and me.  Planning all the little details was giving me a great deal of pleasure.  On our high school career campus where I taught at the time,  all the buildings surrounded a courtyard.  The landscaping in this opening was minimal, especially at this time of year.  It was autumn and most of the trees had shed their leaves, but one spectacular tree was left.  Its leaves shone a brilliant crimson in the sunshine.  I decided to take my class outdoors under this single beautiful tree to make the moment memorable.  I knew they would enjoy the break from our windowless classroom. this would alert them to the importance of the occasion and help cement the memory.

Why?

Something positive and significant had happened.  It was an event of great importance to me; I had just had my first article published.  Admittedly, it was published in a small local newspaper.  Technically, I hadn’t sold the article.  No money was offered or expected.  Yet still I felt high on success.  An article I had written had been published with my own byline. They even spelled my name correctly… a rare event. This had been a long-term personal goal and a sense of pride was flowing through me. I wanted to mark this milestone with my class.

the lesson

Goal setting is something I try to model for my students.  I didn’t realize until I started teaching teenagers how lucky I had been in my life.  Setting goals was something my mother taught me at home.  I was surprised and sorry to note that this skill was particularly lacking in many of my adolescent students.  How fortunate for me that my mother had taught me all the steps.  First dream. Then visualize your dream.  Begin to make it real by finding a picture of what you want and displaying it. In my mother’s home, this meant the kitchen refrigerator.  List the steps toward accomplishing this dream and take the first step.  As soon as possible, take another step.

Role models are the best teachers, I believe.  Sharing my dreams, my accomplishments, and my setbacks with my students is one of the most powerful things I bring to the classroom.  My students knew that I wanted to be a published writer.  My frequent failures and rejections I shared with them too.  How better to make them capable of facing failures in their future than to admit my own and let them watch me continue working the steps toward a dream, even after a failure?  They teased me about my dreams, but they humored me too.  Naively, I visualized how excited they were going to be for me…how this tiny but significant event in my life would motivate them to set new goals and give them the courage to dream a little larger.  I could mentally hear the song ‘I believe I can Fly’ serenading my soul.  I looked forward to the last class of the day when this tremendous bonding moment would take place.

I Had Forgotten One Thing

goal settingTeenagers sometimes use automatic weapons to burst your bubble when a pin would do the job nicely.  Oh, but it was a humbling experience.  When I told them we were holding our class outside under a beautiful tree, amazingly but immediately the complaining began…

Why do we have to go outside?

It’s freezing out here!

Where are we supposed to sit?

There’s not enough room on this bench!

I’m not sitting on the concrete!

Why are we doing this?

This is soooo dumb!

And my personal favorite….

                                              Do we get a grade for this?

Disappointed and through clenched teeth, I growled.  I mean I really growled.  (Clench your teeth and snarl when you read this).  We…are…making…a…memory!

mad teacher

Though it wasn’t audible, you could feel the expletive at the end of that sentence.  Some of the students quieted down, but several continued to grumble throughout the whole activity.  I told them the about the significance of the occasion.  I showed them my byline in the newspaper with my name on it.  They were not impressed.  I read the story aloud to them.  It was a touching story about planting tulips with my daughter and about how the reappearance of those tulips each spring signaled that she had survived another year cancer free.  They were not touched.  I talked briefly about the importance of having meaningful goals and celebrating successes when they occurred.  The exact moment I paused in my speaking someone said,

Can we go in now?

Totally deflated, I nodded.  A few of them actually sprinted for the door.  I had never before seen them run.  They sure didn’t run when they were coming to my class.  I walked back to the building slowly, feeling completely rejected.  I made a mental note never to try anything which even remotely resembled this activity ever again.  My self-esteem couldn’t survive it.  My wonderful lesson felt like it had been ground through the garbage disposal.

The Revelation

the lesson

About a year and a half later, Edie, one of my new graduates came to school to visit me.  While we were catching up I shared some of my current good news with her.  I had just received a book that contained an article I had written for A Fourth Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul.  I showed her the book autographed by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.  She gave me the most startled look and said something quite odd as she extended her arm in my direction.

Mrs. Easley, feel my arm.

I was puzzled but I wrapped my hand around her arm as she went on…

I have goosebumps.  Can you feel them?  You’ve given me goosebumps.

Then she said something even more surprising…

“I can remember the day you took our class outside into the courtyard to read us your article that was in the newspaper.”  Her voice was full of awe as she continued.  “You told us on that day that you wanted to have a story published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.  I can’t believe you have accomplished this!  I’m so proud of you.”  She gave me a big hug and then sat down to read the story.  I watched her read as I blinked back tears.

How different were our memories of that day.  I was certain that I had reached no one.  Frankly, it was a horrible memory for me.  And yet here was proof that my message had been heard.  I have no recollection of telling my students that one of my goals was to be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul.  I’m certain I did, but only because Edie shared her memory with me. What an incredible lesson she taught me on that day.

In even our bleakest moments as teachers,

we may truly be accomplishing so much more than is apparent.

Edie taught me that. I will try and remember this forever.  Quite by accident, I learned about the positive impact I had made on an afternoon I felt was a total failure.  I had literally seen and felt the evidence.  Goosebumps are not to be taken lightly.

teacher

A Celebration!

TEACH...To Change Lives

Just this week my second book for teachers,   TEACH…To Change Lives has become available on Amazon.com.  Woo-hoo!  Purchase a copy to thank or encourage a teacher or future teacher.

It is full of classroom ideas and inspiring true stories.

Each MONDAY in August and up through September 10th, I will post an inspiring true story about teaching.  Please pass the word along to all your teacher friends.

Thank you for reading my blog! 

Taking the Leap

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Making the LeapCan I Do It?

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

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

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

The Good News

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

The Bad News

good news/ bad news

Most people are like this cow.

So who are you?

The cow or the surfer?

Only you can make the choice.

Father’s Day

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An Everyday Father’s Day

Kelsey and DadIt didn’t happen on Father’s Day, but it defined a father’s love better than any other small moment in my life.

From a very young age our daughter, Kelsey had to endure a significant number of hospital stays. She was very brave about these hospital interludes and accepted them with a calm far beyond her years.  However following that trying period in her life, she was left with one residual inconvenient trait.  Every time someone left and said good-by to her, she would cry.  It was quite emotional and baffling to her, but I think in a subconscious way she connected the experience of someone ‘leaving’ for any reason, back to those scary hospital times. She talked to me privately about it.  I comforted her and reassured her she would eventually outgrow it.

During this time my husband had to go to Atlanta for business for a week.  We decided to make it into a family mini vacation by flying to Atlanta with him and spending the weekend together.  But when the weekend was over it meant that Kelsey and I had to fly back home for work and school, leaving Dad in Atlanta.

The Good-by Wave

Father's DayThe airport good-by was emotional, but Kelsey tried her best to maintain her composure.  She didn’t want to cry in public.  To help her through the transition her dad promised to wave from the terminal building when the plane left. However, once she and I were seated on the plane we couldn’t see him. Kelsey quickly figured out the plane would need to move forward for us to see him wave.   But that plane wouldn’t budge.  It was one of those inexplicable Atlanta delays.My daughter started to cry quietly. We sat on the plane for probably thirty minutes not moving forward an inch.  Then finally and without explanation, the plane started to move slowly….backwards.  Kelsey was never one to make scenes but her quiet crying escalated to sobs.  She simply couldn’t choke back her emotions any longer. Over and over again she sobbed, “I want to wave to my dad.”

The atmosphere in that jet was already tense from the delay.  We continued to sit in our new location as the day turned from light to darkness for another agonizing forty-five minutes.  No one knew why.   My daughter  continued to sob repeating her plea to wave to her dad again and again. She and I, of course, both knew he was long gone by now. This was in the days before cell phones so there was no way to call him.  I tried to comfort her or distract her in every way I knew how. The already tense passengers struggled to politely endure the sound of this heart wrenching scene.

Finally, finally, the plane started to taxi forward.  I dreaded when she wouldn’t  see her dad at the  window.  As the concourse came into view it was totally lit, while we were in complete darkness.  It was a sight I will never forget.  There was only one person in the entire illuminated concourse and he was standing right at the window and waving at a dark plane.

That’s when tears also formed in my eyes.  Dad knew and understood the importance of that wave. When that solitary waving dad came into view the passengers surrounding us gasped and broke into spontaneous applause.  Before long the whole plane was applauding.  I like to think the ovation was in tribute to a dad’s love.  I’m not certain that is the only reason everyone on that plane applauded, but it’s the reason I choose to remember.

good-by wave

Happy Father’s Day to Dads Who Remember to Wave