Great Teaching Strategies

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YouIn my current job I supervise college students in their final semester of college doing their student (practice) teaching.  They are assigned to current classroom teachers who are their mentors.  While visiting one of my college interns this last month I heard a great mini speech a mentor teacher gave to his students.  I loved his speech so much it made me want to re-enter the classroom just so I could use it with my own students.  See if his speech will help you.  In my teacher’s soul I call this the YOU speech. It went like this

“Ladies and gentlemen, in 10 days it will be the end of the quarter.  The grades you will receive then will become a permanent part of your school record.  Your grades are listed online.  You and your parents can check on them any time you want.  When you check on your grades, If you don’t like what you see, NOW is the time to fix them.  Here’s what I suggest.  Check on your grade today.  Then fix the YOU problems.  Then come see me and I will do everything possible to help you raise your grade.

What is a YOU problem?  If YOU don’t hand in your homework and your grade is low because of the zeros you get for homework, that is a YOU problem only YOU can fix.  If you need to make up a quiz and you haven’t come in to make up that quiz, that is a YOU problem.  If you turn in a rough draft and I make suggestions for things that will make your final draft better, and YOU don’t make any improvements, but just hit “print” on your computer and turn in the rough draft as your final draft, that is a YOU problem.  When YOU fix all the YOU problems, then come see me and we will talk.  I will do everything in my power to help you improve your grade.  Unfortunately I can’t do anything to fix the YOU problems.” Only YOU can do that.”

I wanted to stand up on my chair and cheer at the end of this speech!

Great speech

But I figured that wouldn’t be very professional.  As an observer I am only supposed to blend into the background and observe.  But I must confess to my blog followers:

  •  I thought of all those essays I had covered with suggestions only to be ignored. Many times I felt like I had spent longer on the essay making suggestions than the student had spent writing it!
  • I thought of all the parents who had emailed me to check on a student’s grade.  How could that grade possibly be true?  Hint:  The zeros indicate the paper wasn’t turned in…by your kid.
  • I thought of all the students who turned in three weeks worth of work on Friday at 2:30 and said, “Can you grade those papers and enter them right now so I won’t be grounded from going to the prom this weekend?”

You can’t blame me for wanting to cheer.

It is time to give credit where credit is due.  THANK YOU Mr. Broxterman for that wonderful speech.  I’m sharing it with all my blog’s teacher readers.  In the spirit of the month of Thanksgiving, I’m certain they will be grateful for your words forever.  The YOU speech will be heard around the world in classrooms everywhere.  On that I’m not even kidding.  My blog is read in more than 30 countries. OK readers, link this speech to your teacher friends everywhere.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed on in large quantities from the authordauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

This Really Happened in School

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happened in schoolI Once Had a Student Who….

… was copying the work from the paper of a second grade girl sitting next to him.  I walked back to him and reminded him quietly that he was supposed to do his own work.  He didn’t need to copy from Amber.  He vehemently denied copying her work.  Then I pointed to the top of his paper.  Not only had he copied her work, he even copied her name and had writtten AMBER instead of his own at the top of his paper.

No, I’m not making this up.

I Once Had a Student Who…

This happened in school

…was doing something to get himself in trouble.  I can’t remember the exact infraction.  I had him write a letter to his parents and tell them what he had done.  I told him he had to get his parents’ signature on the letter and return it to me.  On the school bus on the way home, he enlisted the help of a third grader who was learning to write in cursive and asked him to sign his mother’s name.

He returned it to me the next day with the giant cursive signature looking so much like a third grader’s handwriting.  The signature touched all the lines perfectly and had the big loops done correctly…just like the ones in our writing guide.  When I saw it, it was so hard to keep a straight face.  I called his mother later in the day and we had a great laugh about it.   I kept the paper for her to include in his keepsake papers.  He never could figure out how I knew it wasn’t her signature.

I Once Had a Student Who

…was a senior in my class.  She had such an inexhaustible need to be the center of attention, she would do absolutely anything to achieve that goal.  Once she made a huge scene grabbing her abdomen, screaming and rolling around on the floor.  It was so over-the-top (and I was so accustomed to watching her dramas) that I felt certain she was faking.  However, given the circumstances I had to play it safe and call in the our school medical emergency team.  They were just a group of teachers with first aid training.  They were most impressed by her hysteria and called an ambulance who rushed her to the hospital.

This really happened in school

Later in that same morning when my administrator questioned me about having an ambulance come to take a student away, I confessed to him that I really believed the student was faking the illness.  The next morning he revealed that the hospital had done an emergency appendectomy on the student.  He was relieved that we had reacted appropriately.

But that is not the end of the story.  Our guidance counselor went to visit her in the hospital (later I also visited her).  He overheard two doctors talking outside her room.  They were confessing to each other that she had not had an inflamed appendix at all and they had operated unnecessarily.  So much for Hippa privacy.  Unfortunately this young lady’s brother had died of blood clots following dental work and she had the same propensity.  She ended up having two heart attacks from blood clots going to her heart following surgery.  She was left with some temporary paralysis in her legs which put her in a wheel chair for a couple of months and on crutches for the remainder of the school year.  She did finally make a full recovery.

When I claimed she would do absolutely anything to be the center of attention, I wasn’t exaggerating in the slightest.  She never once admitted to anyone that she was faking the whole episode.  To her the heart attacks, and paralysis were all worth it to fulfill her need to be center stage.

No, I’m not making this up.

And then there was the time…

I'm not making this up

…a senior girl began coming in tardy too frequently for my first bell class.  Our high school had a great team of people who called home about any absences or suspicious tardy notes.  If a call from a parent sounded suspiciously young, they would do a follow up phone call to verify that it was really a parent calling.

But I had some kind of gut instinct about this particular situation.  I called the parents directly and told them I was concerned about all their daughter’s tardies to my morning class.   I cared for this young lady and was wondering if there was anything I could do to help her with the health problems that were making her late to my class.

You guessed it.  There were no health problems. The parents said, “What?” in disbelief.  She was leaving home promptly each day.  Her boyfriend was calling in to school a couple of times a week impersonating her dad and apparently doing a good job of it.  This gave the young couple some alone time together before she came to school.

The parents went a little momentarily nuts as you might imagine.  But this was a particularly mature young lady.  She actually told her peers aloud in class what she had been doing and also what I had done about it.  She even thanked me for intervening.  No, I’m not even making this up.  She thanked me more than once that year.  She said she had gotten herself into a situation and didn’t know how to get out of it.

However, just like those weight reduction commercials on television that have to include a disclaimer:  “These results are not typical;”  I have to confess that over the years I have uncovered some other teen detours  when they have not been so appreciative of my diligence.  A couple of them have stayed mad at me for the rest of the school year.  But once they live a little longer and become a parent themselves, I think they’ll grow into a different perspective.

One teen girl even said to me, “You better hope I never run into you on the streets.”  No, I’m not making that up either.

Life in front of the classroom has its ups and downs.  No matter how great a teacher you are, you will have your wins and losses.  The losses (even the temporary ones) hurt teachers a little more because we don’t go into this profession unless we care deeply about kids.  It is no small job creating caring, responsible adults with enough confidence and courage to succeed.  But I can’t think of any other more worthy endeavor. Can you?

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

Contact Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Encouragement

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Encouragement

In the rush to enter quarterly grades, hold parent teacher conferences and analyze the data from last year’s test scores, one of the most important strategies a teacher can share is too often forgotten.

What do students need MOST from us?  Encouragement.  Some of them come from homes in which encouragement is never offered to them.  Too many come from homes where discouragement is the main course of the day.

Even those who do hear encouraging words in their homes may turn a deaf ear on the words from a loved one. One time I was offering some words of encouragement to my own daughter, Kelsey.  She looked at me and said, “You have to say that.  You’re my parent.  But other people don’t think that about me.”  She shot down my words just like that.  And sadly she was right.  Much of the world failed to see all the great qualities she possessed.

The Challenge

Stop right now.  Think.  Reflect.  How many times can you offer words of encouragement to students today?  Make it a personal challenge.  Keep track of it if you have to.  Give yourself a point every time you say something encouraging to a student or a co-worker.

Good news!  I bet each of us can think about encouraging words that were offered to us years ago.  Kind and encouraging words have the power to inspire us forever.  I have some that I heard decades ago that I can pull out and replay whenever I need them now.  Why do we forget this?  Because it is rare that we get the opportunity to hear how our words have inspired someone else.  However…remember this because it is important… just because we don’t get to hear their power doesn’t mean their power is diminished.  Encouraging words matter!

Bad news! Unfortuantely the only comments more powerful than encouraging words are negative remarks.  It is sad but true that it takes exponentially more positive words to erase negative comments that we also hear.  It’s a big job, but the kind of people who enter the profession of teaching are exactly the kind of people who are worthy of that challenge.

What Really Matters?

Believe me I know how easy it is to get caught up in the frustrations of the new software that won’t work.  I know how much it hurts when your students’ test scores are compared negatively with the kids from a neighboring community with an entirely different demographic.  The hall duties, test score paranoia, and scripted programs can wear down even the most optimistic teacher among us.

Let me be your zoom lens today.  If you took dozens of  digital photos of your classroom today, how many snapshots would include you encouraging a student?  When the frustrations of the profession start to get you out of focus, zoom in on the kids.  Let the other distractions fade into the background.  Zoom in on the students.  Encourage them.  That is what drew us into the teaching profession to begin with.

Looking Back

looking back

Remember when you were in college and all people talked about was their GPA?  It defined you.  Your grade point average determined if you could get into the college you wanted within your university.  Everyone told you your GPA would get you a job offer.  And to some degree that was true…for your FIRST job.  But once you got your first teaching job, how many people have asked you what your college GPA was?  In real life those numbers fade into the background.

Real life is about persevering during tough times.  Real life is about setting goals and pursuing your dreams.  Living successfully is about overcoming obstacles and pushing through fears.  Life is about taking risks in the face of failure.  It is about choosing the crooked road to live out your dreams. What helps a person do all those things?  It is not test scores.  It is the encouraging words that someone (hopefully a teacher) shared with us along the way.  It is the belief in ourselves that someone planted within us…using encouraging words during our discouraging moments.  Those words are what will follow students forever and help determine their success in life.  At the risk of being tarred and feathered by politicians and the authors of standardized tests, the words you say to your students to encourage them have more power to impact their lives in a positive way than anything else. Period.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available at Amazon.com

Invite Dauna Easley to speak to your group dauna@cinci.rr.com

The Power of Waiting

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WaitToday teachers are feeling the push to cover more material faster.  More and more schools that I enter are using scripted education.  Districts are purchasing programs which require the teacher to follow an exact script.   In that way they feel like every student will have the same opportunity to learn valuable concepts.  No student will be penalized on the test because the material wasn’t covered in class.

In our race to raise test scores we seem to be sprinting all the time. Teachers tell me “I have to cover the material from pages 75-79 today.  I can’t get behind.  Every student in the grade level needs to be on the same page at the same time.”  No detours allowed.

But real life seems to be all about the detours. Or maybe that’s just my life. This rush…this cookie-cutter formulated approach to education makes me sad.  Why?  My years in the classroom have revealed to me that students learn best when we engage both their minds and their emotions.  If you have to cover pages 75-79, do you even have time for a great story from “real life” that illustrates the concept in a way that they will remember for the rest of their lives?

Sometimes slowing down is the only way to build better understanding.  Activities take more time than merely covering pages in a book or program.  Learning games and discussions that engage students and build comprehension can be time-consuming.  But they are worthwhile.   Do you know what a teacher does when he needs to cover ground quickly?  He calls on only the students with their hands up.  They are tempted to overlook the student who isn’t making eye contact.  We have to keep moving.

When we call on a student who looks confused, one who doesn’t have her hand up, we have to wait and let her think about her answer.  When I’m confused and people rush me I become more confused, don’t you?  When we have the courtesy to wait we are really saying, “I believe in you.  I know you can get this concept.  Your understanding is important.  You are worth my time.”  When a student is confused they need that extra beat.

Great teaching is about allowing the extra beat.  It is about engaging our students with a true story or a lively discussion.  It is about having time to notice when they are hurting about something personal.  Their pain and the timing of their understanding doesn’t always happen between pages 75 and 79.  No matter how great a script writer you are, it is often the detours that include the teachable moments.  A great teacher knows the power of watching and yes,  waiting for those breakthrough moments.

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

Contact Dauna Easley to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

I Love Tony Danza’s Mother

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I’ve never met Tony Danza’s mother, but I can tell you I admire her.  Why?  I once read an article in a magazine about Tony in which he described his mother’s philosophy.  I can’t remember or even find the exact wording of the  quote, but like all thoughts worth remembering, it has stuck with me for years without having to memorize the exact words. She said, in essence…

Every child deserves at least one adult in their lives who is passionately and even irrationally committed to their success.

Isn’t that a perfect thought?  Isn’t that what every child really needs and deserves?  The truth is my own mom believes I’m smarter and more capable than I am.  Her belief has gone a long way to build my confidence and create any courage that I have.  It encouraged me to personally push toward success.  She is the first person I want to tell about any of my triumphs.  She is also the person I go to when I feel deflated by the world.  When the world hurts me she is mad at the world and she hurts too.  She believes the world is wrong because she is committed to seeing the best in me.

I even like Mrs. Danza’s son.  He values education and teachers.  He is infectiously enthusiastic in every role he plays.  I credit her.

But I’ve taught long enough to face other realities.  Many, many of our country’s schools are filled with students who do NOT have even one adult who is passionately and or irrationally committed to their success.  Not a parent, nor a relative, coach or even an adult friend.  No one.

This leaves teachers with a tough and tall order to fill.  But we must step up to the challenge especially when no one else does.  Somehow every student needs to feel like we are committed to their success, yes even irrationally committed… even if all the sign posts point in the opposite direction.  That is when our commitment is most important, most needed.  Every one of our actions needs to demonstrate, “I’m on your side.  I see your talents even when you haven’t yet discovered them.  I know you have the ability and/or persistence to succeed.  Whatever the evidence I am committed (irrationally if need be) to your success.

Tony Danza’s mom would expect no less of us.  We shouldn’t either.

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

Dauna Easley available to speak to your group:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

The Teacher Who Made ME Want to Teach

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The Teacher Who Made ME Want to Teach I wish I had a photo of her, but unfortunately I don’t.  Her name was Esther Waggoner and her third grade classroom pointed me in the direction of my life’s work: teaching.  I feel certain she taught me multiplication tables, cursive writing, reading and  many other academic subjects.  Plenty of exciting learning takes place in third grade.

I remember another thrill that school year.  Our old school building added a new wing while I was in third grade.  In the middle of the school year we got to pick up our belongings in our arms and carry them to our new classroom.  But none of these reasons are why I mention her here.  It wasn’t the academics or the surroundings that made that year special for me.  It was the enthusiasm of the woman in front of the classroom.

don't ever do this

Mrs. Waggoner just simply taught with Joy.  Messes didn’t seem to bother her.  Noise didn’t freak her out.  She loved children and she loved teaching.  She honestly was having so much fun in her classroom that she made me want to grow up and enter a profession in which I could go to work and have that much fun.

At home my parents belonged to the “Go Play” philosophy of child rearing. “Don’t make a mess or too much noise.  Do your chores and then go play.”  I was fine with that.  I never questioned it.  I loved to play outside from the time my chores were done to the time the lightning bugs came out at night. I honestly had no complaints.  I hadn’t experienced any other way.

Play with us Then Mrs. Waggoner appeared in my life.  She actually played with her students.  I studied her like she was some kind of personal science experiment.  What was this?  An adult who enjoyed playing with children? I had never met another adult like her.  During the winter months when we had a long season of indoor recesses she let us push all our chairs back against the wall and set up bowling pins.  We’d roll the ball knocking those wood pins down over and over again.  She never flinched.

DSC_0390_x2_Iván_Melenchón_Serrano_MorgueFileI remember one month when she even taught us how to square dance at recess time indoors.  She’d  clap her hands to the music and yell out those square dance calls with enthusiasm while we swung our partners and learned to do-si-do. She even danced with us when there was an odd number of students so no one would be left out.

I was hooked.  From third grade on I wanted to grow up and enter a profession that allowed an adult to experience that much joy.  Mrs. Waggoner is the reason I became a teacher.  Of course I taught academics.  Yes!  Students won’t respect a teacher who doesn’t challenge them academically.  But I first considered teaching because of the way that Mrs. Waggoner made me feel.  I wanted to connect with young people in the same way she connected with me.  It was Mrs. Waggoner’s joy that first sent me into teaching.  But it was the connections I made with young people that kept me there.  I’m proud to say that I enjoyed the profession as much as Mrs. Waggoner did.

When I finished college, can you guess where I began my teaching career?  In third grade, of course.

I went to a small town parade this past weekend.  I noticed that when military people and firefighters passed by, the crowd applauded.  I was proud of everyone.  It was exactly the right thing to do.  I was applauding right along with them.

But somehow I wish that teachers were the recipients of some applause and not just the targets of the media and politicians running for office.  It has become fashionable to criticize teachers just the way too many citizens dishonored our veterans when they returned from Viet Nam.

Great teachers deserve applause.  We’ve even seen too many teachers protect their students with their own lives in the past decade.  Today I applaud Mrs. Waggoner, the woman who taught with such enthusiasm that she pulled me toward this important profession.  I hope I have made her proud.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

Available autographed or in large quantities from the authordauna@cinci.rr.com

Also available at Amazon.com

Dauna Easley is a speaker who has been invited to speak in 37 states.

Contact:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

How to Encourage Teachers

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spread a compliment

In every school (or business or neighborhood) there are people who spread gossip.  We all know who they are.  But of more significance and greater impact are the people who spread compliments.  Those are the people to whom professionals are most attracted.  They make us feel good.  They make the day seem more positive no matter what the challenges may be.  Here is the great news.  You don’t have to be a supervisor to encourage fellow teachers.  In fact in my career I have been most encouraged by other teachers who I admire who notice and mention to me something that I do well.   Who have you complimented lately?  Why not set a goal of complimenting two teachers per day for every day this week?  Take the challenge.

What can make this a little easier?  I’ve been in a couple of teaching environments where there was a small stack of notes in the mailroom near teacher mailboxes.  These might be Pat-on-the-Back notes, Applause cards, or have a smiley face theme…whatever suits your school theme.  When you see them lying there, you can just write a quick note and slip  it in someone’s mailbox.  When we make it handy we eliminate having to search for a note card or hiking it down to the mailbox area.  Any teacher in the building can start the ball rolling.  Why not you?

thumbs upI’ve also heard of building supervisors or district administrative staff members who carry thumbs up sticky notes.  They leave these anywhere they see a nice bulletin board or a creative display within the school.  It can be a post it note with their name on it or imprinted with a positive theme of any kind.  What about a thumbs up sticky note.  I currently supervise student teachers at the university level.  I like to carry a camera into buildings and take photos (with permission) of wonderful bulletin boards and displays.  I take the time  to find and compliment the teacher and ask her if I may photograph the board.  Teachers are always very complimented that someone noticed and took the time to stop and comment.

listen to parentsDon’t forget to help a young teacher.  I had already been a teacher for seven years when my principal asked me to move into a first grade position that became available.  I had been teaching third grade since I graduated from college.  First grade scared me, but I didn’t really want to mention that to my principal.  At that time in my career, teaching very beginning reading seemed like a mystery to me.  How did you start from scratch and create a child who could read?

There was a wonderful lady in my building named June Hutzelman who became my mentor.  It wasn’t any kind of “official” assignment.  My principal thought I could handle this job and didn’t think I needed anyone to help me.  Ha!  I didn’t want to admit otherwise.  June guided me through the first two months.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit this now, but what she taught on day one, I taught on day two.  Her day two assignments became my day three classroom work.  By about mid October, I had the swing of things and I could maneuver on my own.  I will be forever indebted to June for taking me under her wing.   As a wonderful side benefit, first grade became my favorite grade to teach.  I’ve taught preschool through high school seniors and like them all.  But that thrill of teaching very beginning reading is matched by no other thrill in teaching in my opinion.

When I left full time teaching to become a college field supervisor of student teachers I gave away all of my collected materials to young future teachers or beginning teachers.  I mean I gave away absolutely every plaque, poster, desk item, magnet, bulletin board fabric or border, worksheet, EVERYTHING!  At first I thought I couldn’t do it.  But as the time neared, It felt better and better to give it all away.  They carried away car loads full of items for their classrooms.  Two unexpected side benefits came from this.  I brought no additional clutter into my house; and when I visit them in their classroom, I can see my stuff still being used with students.  It feels just right.

blue ribbonHere’s my favorite idea that I’ve seen in the past couple of years.  A former student of mine, Erin Hunkemoeller,  who teaches Spanish in the Northmont School District in Clayton Ohio, sent me a copy  of a sheet that they call Inspirations.  Two or three teachers create this one page sheet together.  Every school is full of great teachers with creative ideas.  Why not share them?  Inspirations is one sheet with three creative ideas that come right out of their classrooms.  They describe them briefly and include photos.  This strategy affirms great efforts, shares and spreads wonderful ideas and encourages the entire staff.  Northmont receives my blue ribbon award for this great idea that is well implemented.  They are working together to TEACH…To Change Lives.

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

Dauna Easley is available to speak.  Contact:  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Building a Relationship with the Parents of Your Students

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Students are backThe students are back.  Your bulletin boards are up.  You are beginning to feel like you are in the swing of things.  Though the general public claims that teachers have three months of vacation every year, I know very few teachers who aren’t teaching in August and June.   And my experience is that the Labor Day holiday in America is really a weekend when most teachers are still laboring away in their classrooms or getting caught up at home from the long hours they have put into starting back to school.

Building a Positive Relationship with Parents

stepsBut there are still more steps to the process.  If you are going to be successful with students, you also need to have a positive relationship with their parents. Often that starts even before you meet them face to face with a summer letter.  Open Houses and Curriculum Nights also tend to be scheduled at the beginning of the school year.  In this post I’m going to talk about making the most of curriculum nights.  Those are the times when the parents come to school to walk through their child’s school day.  In the early grades this can sometimes be handled in one classroom, but as children grow older, often the parents move from room to room following their child’s schedule for the school day.

What Teachers Tell Themselves

Sometimes the messages that administrators and teachers tell themselves aren’t the whole truth.  We tell ourselves that parents come to Curriculum Night to learn about classroom policies, supplies needed, and how much time their child should spend on homework.  We believe parents want to learn about classroom projects and the expectations of the teacher.

Wrong!

When parents come to Curriculum Night they really have only four (or five) burning questions in mind.  They care very little about your preplanned presentation or your beautifully prepared class syllabus.  Here is what they are really thinking.

  1. Will my child like this teacher?
  2. Will this teacher like my child?  Will s/he be fair to my kid?
  3. In this classroom will my child learn?  Will s/he have the opportunity to succeed?
  4. I wish I had the chance to ask or tell the teacher about this burning issue on my mind…
  5. In the junior and senior year of high school there is a fifth burning question.  What are you going to do to help my kid get into college?  This is unique to these two years.  If you don’t address that on curriculum night, the parent will leave frustrated.  Think about it ahead of time and address it on curriculum night.

I promise you those four (or five) questions are what is really on the parent’s mind.  And they’ve already made a preliminary decision on questions number one and two.

The Real Truth

Like it or not…

Fair or not…

Accurate or not…

This is how the conversation goes when a child gets home from school on the first day…

Parent:  “Hi honey.  Did you have a great first day of school?”

Possible answers.

“No.  My teacher is mean.  She doesn’t like me.  And school is boring.”

“Yeah, It was great.  My teacher is funny.  She  likes me.”

Whether we like it or not, it is the child’s first perception of school on the very first day that most influences a parent’s point of view about the teacher and the school year. Smart teachers figure that out quickly and are very careful about the first days of school.  Fearful teachers say, “Don’t smile until Thanksgiving. That way the students will know who’s boss.”

Teacher Fears about Curriculum Night

On Curriculum Night teachers are afraid that one or two parents will tie them up asking personal questions about their child.  “Do you think Nikki has ADHD?”  Answers to these questions are confidential and it would be inappropriate to address when other parents could overhear a private response.  And, let’s me honest, the teacher is probably still trying to figure out if Nikki is the one with the curly brown hair or the glasses.  Those kind of conversations should best be left to parent teacher conference conversations.

Tips for Curriculum Night

smile

  • Smile!  Even if you’re nervous, smile and joke a little.  The parents will think, “Yes this teacher is friendly. My child will be able to approach this teacher with questions.”
  • Be wise and have a sheet listing conference times for which a parent may sign up.  This will help you greatly when you begin to schedule conferences.  ALSO it lets the parents know that coming up they will have a chance to discuss private issues with you.
  • Tell the parents how much you enjoy this class.  The parents aren’t particularly interested in how busy or stressed you are.  They want to believe you enjoy this class which includes their kid.
  • Don’t just spew off rules and deadlines.  Describe the strategies you will use to help all students succeed.  One of my own daughters had special needs.  I left too many Curriculum Nights almost in tears.  Teachers were quick to talk about how they wouldn’t bend the rules or make modifications in front of a room full of parents.  Many of them did make wonderful and necessary modifications for my daughter.  But on curriculum night I often felt like my child had no chance to succeed.  (This was especially true in the upper grades).  Think about every parent who might be sitting in your room.
  • Have the parents pick up an index card as they enter your room.  In the front of the room have 3 questions on display.  Invite the parents to write responses to these three questions.

1. What is your child saying about my class so far.

2. How can I help your child succeed in my classroom this year?

3. Do you have any questions or concerns you’d like to share about your child?

Collect the cards as they leave.

Don’t have them pass the cards to other parents.  The contents may be private.

Follow Up

Don’t just have parents fill out the cards, read those cards as soon as possible.  I read through them on Curriculum Night or at the latest, the next day.  I put the most pressing concerns on top.  For the next few days I called parents or emailed them and let them know I had read their comments.  I would ask for further input in some cases.  In other cases I would tell them what I was going to do to help them with their concern.  My follow-up usually stunned and impressed parents, especially at the high school level.

This follow-up will help you enormously as a teacher.  You will avoid inadvertent mistakes when you find out what is on the parents’ minds at the very beginning of the school year. The first weeks of school are crucial in developing a positive reputation in your school and community.  Parents talk to other parents.  The word will spread quickly that you are a caring professional, or the opposite.  Do yourself a favor.  Every interaction with the parent for the remainder of the school year will be easier if you make a positive impression from the beginning.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available at Amazon.com

Dauna Easley available to speak to teacher audiences.

 

My Toughest Year in the Classroom

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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

rejection

  • 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

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

Also available at Amazon.com

Book Dauna Easley to speak to your group.  dauna@cinci.rr.com

Happy New (School) Year!

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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

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

Also available at Amazon.com