Tag Archives: challenges

Advice for New Teachers

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Advice for New TeachersWhere I live it is spring, finally.  Over the past couple of days I have had a bird (the same bird) fly into my window over and over again.  I’m not exaggerating when I say this bird has flung itself against my window hundreds of times.  I thought certain it would die from its efforts yesterday.  This morning it started again.  I sought the advice of friends and one told me to place paper over the window.   I’m hoping that helps.  I suppose the bird sees the reflection of a tree or himself  in the window.  But seriously, you’d think after maybe fifty slams the bird would learn.

However, the teacher in me noticed a parallel between that battering bird and the young college students I observe as they do their practice teaching in a real classrooms for the first time.  Again and again I hear them say the same things.

When I notice that a few of these fledgling teachers call on the same students to answer all the questions they pose in front of the classroom, I ask them why they don’t ever call on students who don’t have their hands raised.  They pause and say, “Oh, I don’t want to put them on the spot if they don’t know. I don’t want them to think I’m picking on them.”

My answer is always the same.

If you use a more random way to ask for answers, no one will believe you are putting them on the spot.  Pull names from out of a jar or use a  computer program that mixes the names randomly.   Whoever’s name appears will need to be ready to answer.  Using that strategy you will automatically engage more students.  They know before you even begin teaching that they will need to listen. 

You also are saying, “I know you can learn the material.  I believe in your ability to learn.”  More students will listen.  More students will learn.  More students will be engaged in the learning process.  You aren’t putting anyone on the spot.  You are saying “I believe that everyone in this classroom has the ability and the right to learn this material.”  If they are slow to answer, give them the time to think it through.  Experienced teachers call this “wait time.”  Encourage and assist them.  You only put students on the spot when you ridicule them if they don’t know the answer.  Teach them.  Walk them through the steps with no condescension.   Allow no other students to make impolite comments.  If you do this routinely they won’t automatically disengage when you begin to teach.

And while I’m still perched up here on the side of my nest looking down on my fledglings, let me address another common error in thinking.  (Lest you think I’m lecturing, remember I speak from experience.  I happened to have made ALL these same mistakes myself.  I have the stories to prove it and I share them openly).

If you have a behavior management system in place, use it.  If you don’t have a behavior management system in place, get one!

“Oh, but I feel bad making them switch their green light to red, or have them put a check next to their name, or worse,  serve a detention!”  I hear my baby birdie teachers say all the time.

Guess what?  Even preschool-age students can quickly size up a teacher who is fearful of enforcing consequences.  And when they do, you… are… toast.  They then will do anything and everything to force you to set limits.  They will push and push and push until you blow a gasket or collapse.  The faster you enforce a consequence, the faster your entire class will come under control.  Students will be learning instead of inventing ways to stir the pot just to get you to react.  Your classroom will be safer and more learning will occur.  Enforce the consequences early, fairly and without anger,  and the situation won’t ever spiral out of control.   

Side note:  Since I taped paper over my windows this morning the bird has stopped ramming them.

Negative Action + Consequence = New Result

Sorry.  I’m a teacher.  I see a lesson in every event.  It’s a disease of the profession.

I wonder what my neighbors think of my new window treatments?  I’m a recent widow and they probably think I’m afraid of peeping toms.  🙂  Only my blogger friends will know the truth.

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

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

No Experience is Ever Wasted

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no experience is everl wastedNo experience is EVER wasted.  In no other profession is this more true than in teaching.  But there are two caveats to that statement.

First, we have to be willing to learn from the experience.  No matter how frustrating or unfair the circumstances seem to be at the time, our challenges will help us grow only if we are willing to learn from them.  Sometimes we learn things we never even wanted to know.  But in every experience there is something to learn.

Second, we have to be willing to share our failures with others.  Why let our personal setbacks teach only a personal lesson?  In no other profession can a setback be such an opportunity for learning. Being a teacher puts you in the perfect setting for helping others as a result of your past challenges.  But you have to be willing to share.  You have to show your students your vulnerabilities.

My experience has taught me that most young people think their parents have never made a mistake. That’s too often what we want them to think.  But we teach our children the most when we allow them to know that we have made mistakes.  We have survived those mistakes.  We have learned from them.

When I taught urban kids, they believed that a teacher knew nothing about real life.  Ha!  I have not lived a charmed life…far from it.   Parts of my life have been embarrassing.  I’ve failed plenty.  I’ve faced challenges and painful experiences that no one would choose.  In fact, my past six weeks would provide material for a dramatic documentary.  No vampires were involved, but this time period has supplied me with just about every other beast of a problem you could imagine.

Here’s my challenge for you for this week.  Help someone who needs it, by sharing one of your failures or painful experiences from your own life.  If you are a teacher, you won’t have to look far.  One of your students is right now walking in shoes you have filled at one time in your life.  Most times they won’t reveal their challenge to you until you have been brave enough to share your own with them.

Mission Possible:  Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to change someone’s life by revealing your own human experience.  (If you are old enough, you will hear the Mission Impossible theme music playing in your head right now.  If I were just a little younger, I could probably figure out a way to insert it into this blog post).  No matter what your age, I hope you are brave enough to accept this challenge.

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

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

Change that Hurts

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changeIn the last week my husband of 32 years has died.  Two days later the pipes in my house froze, burst and flooded my home.  Part of me is in great sorrow.  Another part of me is numb, but going through the motions of planning a funeral and a eulogy.  My blog posts have been missing for the past two Mondays because I needed to regain some equilibrium.

I’m living the truth of this quote in front of you right now.  Change IS the only constant we can count on.  The status quo is non-existent.

In anyone’s life there are two different kinds of change. 

1.  There is the change we want to make for ourselves.  Frequently these changes of choice occur at this time of year.  We evaluate our lives and decide to lose weight, or exercise more frequently.  We decide to do a better job of saving money.  We may step up to a dream we’ve had or a risk we have been afraid to take.

2.  The second kind of change is forced upon us.  It is outside our control, but change we must.  It may be as simple as new software at work or more challenging… a new boss or business owner.  Or it may be even more dramatic and sudden. Bam!  Your job is gone.  Yikes, someone walks out of your life.  Or one day you may be packing away the Christmas decorations, pause to take your husband a cup of hot chocolate and find that he has passed away.  That is what happened to me last week.  My hubby has had a heart attack and two strokes this past year, but still the finality of this stunned me.

Fourteen years ago I had to say good-by to my sixteen year old daughter, Kelsey, who died of brain cancer.  How did I recover from that?  Slowly.  And frankly you never fully recover from the loss of a child.  However, only a couple of years before she died I  read a magazine article that was quite a help to me after her death.  I have since searched for this article to share it with others because it made such a difference in my life.  (Oh, the power of writing our inner thoughts down).  Unfortunately I don’t remember the title, the author or the magazine.  I’m embarrassed to admit that.  I only remember the message because it was so powerful.  Maybe you read it too.  Maybe you can help me find and thank that author.  I know I read it before 1999.

The author was a woman.  She had an older brother who was outstanding in every way.  He was outgoing and popular.  He was president of his high school class and an accomplished athlete.  Everyone in town adored this young man.  The author of the article was his younger sister.  She lived in his shadow but she adored him also.

This star of a brother went off across the country to college.  He fell in the shower and died suddenly.  When the call came in to his parents his sister was also home.  She watched her parents react to this phone call.  She knew in that instant that she not only had lost her brother, but she had also lost her parents.  She knew they would never recover from his death and they didn’t.  She essentially lost her whole family on that day.

When I read this article my youngest daughter had already had one battle with a very serious kind of cancer.  I always knew there was a chance that cancer would come back.  I made a decision right then, that if the worst happened my remaining daughter may have to lose her only sibling, but she would not lose her mother at the same time.  It was a choice I made right then.  Some changes you don’t choose, but you always have the power to choose your reaction to those changes.

When the cancer came back and we lost our daughter, Kelsey, I had to live that choice.  It wasn’t an easy choice.  It took quite a bit of effort.  But I  I refused to be less of a mother to my remaining daughter,  Jodi.  I would also not be less of a teacher to my students.  This was another difficult choice because Kelsey was a sophomore when she died.  I taught juniors and seniors then.  I had to live through all their proms, senior pictures, and graduations at the same time that Kelsey should have been sharing those experiences.

Almost everything about my life has changed.  My immediate family included a husband and two daughters.  Now two of these four are gone.  What remains is the choice I made 14 years ago when we lost Kelsey.  I will NOT be less of a mother to Jodi.  I now also have a son-in-law and five grandchildren who need the full me, not a shell of my former self.  And that is what they are going to get.

I also will continue to visit college level student teachers, my current role. I will encourage as many people as I can to enter the teaching profession because this role was so fulfilling in my own life.   If I were teaching full-time right now, I would share this story and my commitment with my students.  It is the way I always taught.  Life lessons are as important as the lessons in the textbook…frequently more important if you ask me.  When I have to face a difficult  life lesson, it is the time I miss my full-time classroom most.  My students and I have weathered many things together.  Daily contact with young people can keep you optimistic and looking forward during the worst of times.

Please remember my husband, Wayne and our daughter Kelsey in your prayers.  This is a photo taken of the two of them a long time ago.  I can tell by how little hair Kelsey has that it was taken just following her first battle with cancer.  Kelsey must be about 7 in this photo.  She died when she was 16.  I adore this picture because it shows the love between them.

Wayne and Kelsey

Remembering Wayne and Kelsey Easley

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

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

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

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