Tag Archives: classroom

National Education Week

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National Education WeekCelebrate National Education Week now!  November 18-22 is National Education Week.   I personally have many reasons to celebrate.  I think it is particularly appropriate that this week is so close to the Thanksgiving holiday.  This educator has many things for which to be grateful.  How about you?

  • I’m grateful that a wonderful teacher, Esther Waggoner taught with so much enthusiasm when I was in the third grade, that she made me want to grow up and join the teaching profession.  Thank you Mrs. Waggoner from the Mason, Ohio school district.
  • I’m grateful that at age eight I chose the right profession for myself.  What are the chances of that happening?
  • I’m grateful that so many of my former students honor my relationships that I built with them by staying in touch with me.  What joy that adds to my life.
  • I’m grateful that my teaching path had its twists and turns that gave me such rich experiences.  I never dreamed at the outset of my career that I would teach preschool, every elementary grade, high school and now work with college students.  What a blessing this rich variety has been.
  • I’m grateful for the creativity a teacher can bring to the classroom.  Great teaching is an art form and the classroom can be enriched by it.
  • I’m grateful that a favorite high school band, the Lakota West Marching Firebirds of West Chester, Ohio, will be marching in the Macy’s Day parade on television this Thanksgiving Day.  Watch for them!  They are not pictured above.  All the photos on their website seemed to be copyrighted.  However, watch for their red and white uniforms and their great sound.

Teachers March Together

However there are some things about the teaching profession that currently sadden me.

  • It saddens me that it seems to be so accepted to widely criticize the teaching profession in today’s media.
  • It saddens me that it seems so acceptable to vote against levies for education and our kids’ needs.
  • It is my dream that all the great teachers in the profession (and there hundreds of thousands of them) will work hard to reestablish the reputation of professionalism in this teaching profession that I love so much.
  • We do this by focusing on the students’ needs and their families.
  • We do this with commitment to our profession. Through our thorough preparation and creativity in our daily lessons we can re-create a respect for teachers.
  • We can’t capitulate to the single-minded obsession about test scores.  We need to speak calmly and with reason until our voices are heard.  Great teaching is so much more than testing.  Yes, you heard me.  Great teaching > test scores.  Some of our hardest working and most committed teachers are being maligned because they are committed to working with a student population who are at-risk learners.  That makes no sense.
  • We need to teach our students lessons about living life successfully in addition to the academics we teach.  They need to learn about the value of risk taking, recovering from failures, thinking outside the box and the power of persistence.  Some of our country’s greatest success stories were the brainchild of former students who didn’t test well.
  • We became teachers 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

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

The Whisper

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whisperI was sitting in a meeting recently surrounded by several people I didn’t know.  One woman had to leave early.  But before she left she leaned close to me and whispered, “I’m glad you came.  It is so nice to put a name with a face.  I want you to know that my students talk about you all the time when they are in my class.  Of all of the (people who do my job), you are their favorite.

I don’t even know the woman’s name, but what a difference she made in my day.  More than a day.  From time to time throughout my days, I’ve been thinking about those whispered words ever since.  The truth is I work hard to go beyond expectations for my students.  But without those whispered words from a stranger, I wouldn’t know that my efforts were having such a positive impact. I’m grateful to her.  It would have been so much easier for her to make a subtle exit from that meeting without taking the time to pass along a private compliment.

When I taught in the elementary grades I didn’t have to practice the art of whispered words so much.  In the primary grades we’d compliment students more publicly.  Young children crave a teacher’s admiration.  Primary teachers say things like, “Oh I like the way Betsy looked back in her reading text to find that information.”  “Look at Scott’s illustration he added to his writing.  Isn’t his art work wonderful?”  Elementary students love being praised publicly.  They smile and feel validated and everyone else in the class works harder and hopes a future compliment will flow their way.  A great teacher finds a way to compliment everyone.  That isn’t fake.  Every student has strengths.  The talent is in the noticing and then giving voice to those observations.

It’s when I moved into the high school setting that I had to rethink that strategy.  Older students yearn for more private praise.  Public praise sometimes embarrasses them.  It seems manipulative or can even make their peers jealous.  You can best encourage older students when you sit down next to them and point out something that they have done that you admire.  It’s the whispered words when you are having a one-on-one conversation that stay with them.  It’s the quiet words when they seek you out before or after class that can become a lifetime memory.  They pull those words out and hit replay in their mind for years.  Most of the time you’ll never know what power your words have had.  But occasionally you’ll get a letter or a compliment years later, and you will know for sure.

Here’s what I’d like to whisper back to the lady whose name I don’t even know.  Thank you.  You’ve made my day.  You have no idea how much those words mean to me.

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

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

Standard

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.