Tag Archives: future teachers

Big Shoes to Fill


Kelsey big shoesI think my daughter was about 3 when I snapped this photo of her.  Look closely at her feet.  You’ll see she is trying on my high heels she found near the front door even though she isn’t even really dressed for the day yet.  Doesn’t every kid do that at one time or another?  My shoes look so big on her feet.  As it turns out, those shoes and that role became her dream.  I’m sure those are the heels I had on as a taught that day.  Kelsey attended the school where I taught, so it wasn’t such a stretch to understand why she wanted to grow up to become a teacher.

But life did a reversal on us and today I try to fill her shoes.  You see, Kelsey was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was only five.  The brain radiation required for her to survive, altered her IQ significantly.  Radiation that kills cancer cells also kills healthy brain cells.  So not only did Kelsey battle cancer she was changed from having an above average intelligence to becoming what society politely calls “special needs.”

Watching this happen to her changed me dramatically as a teacher.  I learned what it feels like to sit on the uncomfortable side (the parents’ side) of the IEP table.  I experienced how it felt to see her friends begin to turn away from her.  I helplessly watched her social loneliness during the high school years.  This changed me as a mom, a person and especially as a teacher.

So what did I do about it?  I’m not a celebrity.  I can’t challenge big stars on TV to dump buckets of ice water over their heads even though watching Kelsey’s battles felt like ice water being dumped on me daily.  Celebrities wouldn’t answer any challenge from me.  Day in and day out, what did I do?  I’m a teacher.  So I talked about Kelsey in my classroom.  I made students understand her battles.  I made them think about what it would feel like to walk in her shoes.

In one way I was very lucky.  I happened to teach high school students who wanted to become teachers.  I assigned each of them to write an essay about what it would feel like to walk through a day of high school with a disability.  I made them put into words what it would feel like to walk into a cafeteria full of typical kids if they had a disability. How would it feel to walk in the hallways or go to a dance?  I made them share those essays out loud.  They hated this assignment because it made them feel so uncomfortable, but they did it…for a grade.  Before they wrote these essays I read an essay that I had written about Kelsey.  I wrote it in Kelsey’s voice even though she didn’t actually write it.  I used exactly the words she had shared with me about the rejections she experienced.  To hear her true story made them squirm in their seats.

When I spoke at teacher conferences, I used to give out my essay to other teachers.  I’ve received letters and emails from teachers all over the country who have used this essay in their classrooms.  The title?  ‘Nobody Wants to Have a Disability, But I Have One.”  I made each of them start their essay with the words, “My name is (and they had to use their own names) and I have (name a disability).  Then they had to write about a full day of school with that disability.  I made them focus on their feelings, not just the facts of the disability.  How did it feel to walk through a day of school with that disability.

As they read these essays orally one after another, I could feel a shift in my classroom.   They hated the activity but they won’t ever forget it.

Then I had my Teacher Academy kids (high school juniors and seniors who wanted to become teachers) start a Friendship Club with the high school kids in our school with disabilities.  We planned monthly shared activities with them.  I watched true friendships form.  No matter what subject they planned to teach in their futures I wanted them to understand how it feels to be excluded.  I wanted all of them to become teachers who included everyone.  I wanted them to change the culture within their future school buildings.  I believe once we actually have to face the feeling of being excluded, once we can link a personality and an actual person to a disability it can’t help but change us inside.

Often I am invited to give speeches to special educators and I enjoy those invitations.  But I MOST like to talk to what we call “regular educators.”  I like to share stories with teachers who haven’t been specifically trained to work with kids with special needs.  Those are the teachers who most need the messages Kelsey shared with me.  I’m a “regular educator” myself and Kelsey experiences first had to change me.

A strange and unexpected thing happened as I shared Kelsey’s message.  This is something I didn’t plan at all.  As a direct result of hearing about Kelsey’s experiences, an amazing number of my students became special educators themselves.  (Today we call them intervention specialists).  Let me repeat, this wasn’t at all my goal, it just happened.  Without even trying I dumped buckets of ice all over them.  Just putting a person’s name and face to the experience drenched them with new understanding.  They now wanted to become change agents themselves.

Kelsey's lessonsSadly Kelsey didn’t live to fill my shoes and become a teacher herself.  She died at age 16 after an eleven year on-and-off battle with brain cancer.  Today I still attempt to fill her shoes as I share her story one student at a time.  We teachers sometimes have more power than a celebrity.  One day at a time, one student at a time, one story at a time, we change the world.  We have the power of a thousand buckets of ice if we just recognze it and use it for a positive purpose.

One day while teaching some aspect of child development in the classroom, I told another story about Kelsey.  A student asked with impatience in her voice, “Why do you talk about Kelsey so much?”

Now you know.  I have big shoes to fill.

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

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

Those Little Moments


teach with passionJust before this new school year begins I was reminded of something important.  Something I need to share with my readers…especially teachers getting ready to return to the classroom or those ready to enter the classroom for the first time.

This important reminder happened at a wedding.  I was honored to be invited and was there to witness a beautiful bride and her groom beginning their new life together.  The bride was a former student of mine, Kaitlyn.  I taught this young lady in high school in a Teacher Academy program.  She was a gal who was always fun to have in the classroom.  She was friendly, upbeat and creative.  Today she has just finished her second year of teaching and is half way through her Masters program.  She is an intervention specialist in an elementary school who also wants to become a school administrator.   Last Saturday she was a bride.

At her gorgeous wedding reception her dad walked past me.  I recognized him easily because he was one of those great “go-t0” fathers you could count on whenever you were up to your ear lobes with a project that needed a father’s touch.  He once helped the kids turn a grocery cart into a  fabulous float “they” had designed for the Homecoming Parade.  As he passed me at the wedding reception I put my hand on his arm and joked, “Hey, I have another school project I could use some help with.”

His face broke into a wonderful smile.  We talked about how beautiful his daughter looked as a bride.  Then he delivered the message I want to share with you.  This is what he said.

You are the lady who changed my daughter’s life.  My wife and I have talked about it for years. We are so grateful to you for changing her into the wonderful confident young woman she has become.  And you did it with one phone call.  Did I ever tell you that?  One single phone call from you and she became a completely different person.  We can never thank you enough.

One Phone Call ??

One Phone Call ??

Here’s the important point teachers.  Listen carefully.  I have no memory of that phone call.  NONE!  Not… one… word.   That is the way it is in the teaching profession.  This has happened to me enough times that I swear to you that this fact is true.

Frequently you will be making your greatest impact when you are completely unaware of it.

The first time this happened to me it was mind-boggling.  I couldn’t believe it.  But by now, after decades of teaching, I know to trust those words and their sincerity.  I cherish and appreciate the moment when it occurs.  We teachers frequently never know about the ways we change lives.  But if you are passionate about teaching and making students feel valued, it will happen to you.  I hope you are committed enough to the field of teaching to stay with the profession long enough to allow this to happen in your life.  The satisfaction it will bring you defies description.

Later on during this special wedding evening, the mother of the bride approached me and repeated the words her husband had shared.  The bride even stopped by and told me in person while her groom verified her words.

While I still have no recollection of that phone call the dad gave me just enough details that I can imagine it.  He said something about she didn’t show up for an event and I called her.

Perhaps she registered for Teacher Academy and then got cold feet about it.  I often invited students into my classroom during the summer months to meet me.  I’d have snacks and let them come in and help me put up bulletin boards or we’d just sit around and talk.

Building a classroom community

It was just a casual event when they could meet some of the other students who wanted to be future teachers.  If she didn’t show up, I know I would have called her to reassure her.  She may have thought she needed a 4.0 GPA to be a teacher.  I would have listened to her fears and reassured her that many students profit the most from teachers who had their own challenges in school. All of us feel like we don’t fit in somewhere from time to time.  I would have stayed on the phone until she and I had built a rapport.   I know I would have done anything possible to make it easier for her to enter my classroom for the first time.  And so Kaitlyn joined my class.

In her second year of Teacher Academy Kaitlyn wrote, filmed and created a video about a program we had in our school called Firebird Link.  This was an initiative that planned activities throughout the school to help all students feel valued.  I wish you could see how creative this film was.  She started her film by showing just the feet of all the students (thousands of them) walking in the hallways of our school.  Her words were poignant.  “Where do I fit in?”  Kaitlyn won the national first place award from Future Educators of America for making an effective video to promote the teaching profession.  I was so proud to see her and her film shared up on that national stage.

Would she have been just as valuable a student if she hadn’t won an award?  Of course!  My classroom was an eclectic mix of brains, athletes, band members, theatre kids and students without any identifying labels at all.  We built a community in our classroom and supported one another.  We had one thing in common.  We wanted to help other students learn.

Some of my best “teaching”, my “change-your-life” moments didn’t happen in front of the classroom.  They happened in those private moments when I had one-on-one conversations with students.  One might show up before school just needing to talk, or hang back before leaving my classroom at the end of a bell.  Some dropped me notes as they left class.  They’d find me at lunch time or come up and chat with me after I went to see a game or a play they were in.  In Kaitlyn’s case it was one phone call that gave her the courage to walk toward a profession she was meant to pursue.  One single phone call.

My hope is that this story will help you start your school year with the goal of making the most of those small moments you have to make a student feel valued.

More Good News!

  • The boomerang kid got a job!  If you haven’t “met” the boomerang kid, scroll back a couple of entries and read the blog post about Michael.
  • Congratulations to all my former students who have landed their first teaching jobs this year!  You make me so proud.
  • I have been booked by several school districts to speak to their teachers and administrators during this school year.  I love to inspire educators face to face and this excites me.
  • A couple of districts are considering my latest book for educators TEACH…To Change Lives as a year-long book club project for their teachers to discuss and reflect on throughout the year.  What a great idea.

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 groupdauna@cinci.rr.com

What Great Teachers Do in the Summertime


Great teacher secretsThe Myth

Every great teacher knows too many people who believe teachers only work nine months a year.  Critics point to the calendar and talk about what a cushy job teachers have.  What bunk.

Using this reasoning, baseball players work only half the year.  Clergy work 52 days annually and players in the NFL work less than 20.  Tax accountants work from January 31st until April 15.  Construction workers work only on sunny days. 

Why is it only teachers are singled out and accused of having an abbreviated work year?

I can hear the uproar from the professional football players.  “Twenty days?  What about all our training days?”

Exactly.  What about all the teacher training days?  Many teachers train all summer long.  They take summer classes to get an advanced degree.  They take classes in new technology or a new curriculum.  They have to accumulate college hours to renew their teaching license.  They have to accumulate in-service hours to fulfill their school district’s requirements.  They pay for these classes out of their own pockets, by the way.  How many professional football players pay for their own training?  They are paid hefty salaries TO train.

Many teachers do home visits during the summer months.  Some have Open Houses or accompany students to competitions during “their breaks. ”  I’ve sanded school desks and painted my classroom in the summer time.  I once worked for a school district that required teachers to scrape all the gum off the bottom of the school desks.  No I’m not making this up.

Teacher Conferences that share new teaching strategies are held during “vacation” months.   Textbooks are reviewed, discussed and adopted.  Websites for student use are designed. The class syllabus is written.  Guest speakers are contacted and learning field trips are scheduled.  Some teachers teach summer school all summer long. I know a teacher who welcomed her students back to school today.  (It’s July 30th as I write this).  Hello Annie.  I hope you have a wonderful year with your students!

future teacherA Great Time

Last week I had the chance to do something I love to do.  I had lunch with a young lady who had just been hired for her first teaching job.  She will be teaching first grade beginning in August.  She was just bubbling over with enthusiasm.  She simply can’t wait to get started.  It made me think back to the very beginning of my teaching career.  What a thrill that was to walk into my own classroom.  Her enthusiasm had me reliving my love for the teaching profession.

What is she doing now?  She is going to garage sales to buy books even though her teacher salary hasn’t started.  She is grouping those books into skill levels so her students can make the best use of them. She’s looking for inexpensive ways to decorate her classroom.  I put together four tubs of books for her to use in her classroom.  I looked around my house for items she might be able to use to help her get started.  I doubt that NFL players have to purchase their own helmets.  If they did, they would have the resources to do so.  Teachers spend so much of their own money simply to buy learning materials for their students.

It made me feel wonderful to pass along some tools this new teacher’s students might use to learn.  Next week she’ll begin meeting with her teacher team to set learning goals and write lesson plans.  Great teachers begin planning for their students’ success long before they walk into the room.  And she is going to be one of the greatest teachers ever.

Before you throw things away, think about a teacher who might value your cast offs.  Even better, purchase a gift card to a school supply store for your child’s teacher.  And if you hear someone spouting off about how much time off a teacher has…educate them.

 TEACH to change lives available at Amazon.com

TEACH…To Change Lives

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

Also available at Amazon.com

Absent from School


the U turn  Life’s Unexpected Detours

Sorry.  The teacher (writer of this blog-Dauna Easley) has been absent.  Quite suddenly, almost a month ago, my mother had to have emergency middle-of-the-night surgery.  Her condition was critical so I have been staying with her day and night in the hospital.

A few days ago she began to improve slightly.  She is now in a facility for acute care until she is strong enough for rehab.  I hope you understand I will return to my blog writing when she is stable. However, she has made great strides in the past few days.  Thank you for your understanding.

However, if you are visiting my blog, please know that there are many wonderful teaching posts for you to read.  Take the time to browse through the ideas and stories I’ve shared during the past year.  There are almost one hundred posts for you to look through.  You’ll see them listed by month along the right margin of this page.

I’d love it if you send me a comment about which ones you enjoy the most. 

If you are an experienced or new teacher who is committed to changing lives in the classroom, I’m certain you will enjoy my book, 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

Teaching Strategies


Making Lessons Meaningful

questions from teensAsk any teacher.  What is the most common question students ask?

 Why do we have to learn this?

In junior high and high school you have to add a whining voice or a sneer…and two more words to the end of that question…

Why do we have to learn this stupid stuff?

Now you’re moving closer to the dilemma that teachers face everyday.  The most effective assignments are meaningful to the students.  What’s even better than that?  Classroom assignments that are meaningful to both the students AND their families.  If you can lasso a lesson like that you are sitting on a throne right on top of the learning pyramid.  Yay you!

Let me describe three lessons I’ve run across in the past couple of years that fit smack in the middle of that category.  As a grandparent who also is a teacher, many school projects the grandchildren are assigned are routed in my direction for guidance and encouragement.  Here are three of my favorites.  My hat is off to the teachers who planned these lessons.

Let’s Talk About Love

let's talk about loveA few years ago my seventh grade granddaughter, Taylor had to build a poetry folder.  She had to select a topic and find poems of all kinds to include in that folder.  Her idea wasn’t unique.  The topic she chose was Love.  I wondered how many hundreds of seventh grade girls over the years had chosen love as their topic?

But the assignment was well constructed and this made the project so much more meaningful.  Yes, the students had to gather love poems and tell why they selected those particular poems.  But they also had to write their own poem about love.  Additionally they had to ask two other people to write love poems that they were to include in their portfolio.

This opened up all kinds of meaningful dialogues about love between my granddaughter and me.  I wrote one of those love poems.  I wrote about what love is and what love isn’t.  I told her a story about the boy I secretly “loved” in high school and how I ended up the maid of honor in his wedding…and how I survived that to love again.  We had so many great conversations as we worked on this project together.  I know those conversations will stay with Taylor forever.  Thank you to Ms. Shannon King from Liberty Junior High for that great lesson.

Looking into the Future

looking into the futureMany teachers wisely look into the future to come up with an authentic assignment for their students.  When my grandson was a junior, he had to write an essay that he might later use as a college admissions essay.  The teacher required them to describe themselves and their talents.  What made them unique?

My grandson, Austin came to me for assistance with this task.  He doesn’t like to write and he especially didn’t want to write something “bragging about himself.”  Those were his words.   He chose to write about his background in sports first. (High school boys like to talk about sports as much as seventh grade girls like to talk about love).

Then he hit a wall.  After he wrote about his experiences in sports he didn’t know what else to say.  He counted the words and found his essay wasn’t long enough. He stewed.  He was completely unaware that he has leadership skills.  And he didn’t have a clue about his greatest talent.  He has a unique gift for making others feel valued.  He brings people together.  I watched him do this his whole life.  I had marveled about it to myself many times.

Why had I never put this into words before?  Why didn’t he know that about himself?   That assignment gave me a vehicle for putting this into words.  He was amazed at the things I was saying.  I gave him many examples from his life to make my point.  He listened and nodded.  You could see it was the first time he recognized this ability within himself.

I know this is another conversation that will stay with a grandchild long after I am gone.  Thank you to Ms. Erin Schneider from Lakota East High School for this authentic assignment.  This essay helped him craft future college essays.  In only a couple of weeks he graduates from high school and he was accepted by the college of his choice.

Looking into the Past

authentic assignmentThe most recent authentic assignment happened this past week and was a reminder and the motivation for me to write this post.  Memorial Day is just ahead.  My eighth grade granddaughter, Kiley, was given an assignment by her language arts teacher.  Each student had to find out about a relative who had died before they were born.  They had to interview family members and ask them a list of questions to learn about their deceased relative and give a speech about them.  What a great way to draw families together to discuss their shared past.

This was an especially significant assignment for Kiley.  My youngest daughter, Kelsey, died of cancer at age 16.  She happened to pass away one week before my granddaughter, Kiley was born.  Kiley is her namesake and was given Kelsey as a middle name.  Kiley has heard stories about Kelsey all her life.  However, she dutifully wrote up her interview questions and I filled them out completely.  She even remembered a couple of stories I had forgotten to include.  She asked me to repeat those stories to her.  We did a lot of gathering photos and she assembled her display board.  She emailed me a picture of her poster before she glued things down.

Kiley's poster

She made it through her speech but her voice quivered a quite a bit.  When her chin started shaking she said to herself, “I can’t cry in this class.  There are too many boys in here!”  Everywhere she looked kids were getting tears in their eyes. She had to skip one of the stories she wanted to use, but she made it through.  A success!

But the greater lesson is what she learned by preparing the speech.  That is the hallmark of an authentic assignment.  Meaningful assignments grow the student.  They are memorable in a significant way.  They open channels of communication.  We think about those assignments for years.  I can picture Kiley decades from now helping her own grandchild with a speech.  I’m sure she’ll tell her grandchild about her quivering chin in her speech when she talked about her Aunt Kelsey whom she never met.  Thank you to Ms. Brooke Schreiber from Liberty Junior for your meaningful lesson.

Thank you to all the teachers who take the time to create authentic assignments.

Choose to TEACH…To Change Lives.

The choice is yours.

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

Teaching…What They Don’t Teach You in College


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?


  • 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

A Lesson for Teachers


                        From Caterpillars to Butterflies

the teacher learns


Jennifer walked into my early childhood education class in her senior year planning to fail.  No, she didn’t announce this goal to me or to the class.  I guess you could say it was a secret goal, but she had her strategy all mapped out.  She even knew exactly when she was going to fail; November.  I had exactly two months to change the course of her destiny, but she didn’t even give me the benefit of telling me this.

The Countdown

graphShe was busy stacking all the evidence (data) to support her decision to fail.  It was powerful data, hard to ignore.  In her sophomore and junior years she had been absent over thirty days each year.  At this time in our state she was required to pass proficiency tests in four subject areas in order to prove she had the ability level of at least a ninth grader or she would not receive a high school diploma even if she had passed all her classes.  Though she had taken these tests twice a year since the ninth grade, she had continued to fail three of the four every time.  Neither of her parents had graduated from high school and they wanted her to graduate because they knew what if felt like to go through life without a high school diploma.  However, without any serious illness, they still allowed her to stay home more than thirty days per year.  In November Jennifer would be eighteen and she would no longer need her parents’ signature to drop out.  In November she would be out the door and I wasn’t even aware of the plan.  Even worse, the class I taught was in early childhood education.  Jennifer wanted to work in a child care setting with young children.  In our state you have to earn a high school diploma to do that.  Why had she signed up for my class if she had no chance to graduate?  The answer was simple.  She had to spend those two months somewhere.  But by November the charade would be over.

A Plan Thwarted

the U turn

Here’s how the U turn happened.  As soon as I found out Jennifer still needed to pass three of the four proficiency tests, I signed her up for tutoring sessions every day of the week.  No, she didn’t want to go.  She argued long and hard about the futility of it.  Hadn’t she already proven six times that it was impossible for her to pass those tests?  But I refused to allow her to skip those tutoring sessions. However hard she complained and dragged her feet, I still insisted she attend.  She went for tutoring during a portion of my class and during her lunch break, crabbing about it every step of the way.

I had another really lucky break.  In this particular school where I was teaching at the time, we had a significant number of at-risk kids.  With this type of enrollment one of the silly things that I noticed was that a substantial number of them failed to come on the first few days of school.  They would just pretend that they didn’t know when school started.  This behavior baffled me, because when I was growing up it seemed like everyone enjoyed the first few days of school.

But for whatever reason in this particular class everyone showed up for the first three days of school.  The first week was a short week of only three days.  I made a really big deal of having perfect attendance for a whole week.  I can’t remember the specific treat I brought in, but they really loved it.  Somehow this group of students latched on to that humble success and started seeing how long they could go with the whole class having perfect attendance. They really put pressure on one another not to break that chain.  It was a lucky break for me and Jennifer.  I don’t know if I could even recreate this set of circumstances.  I rewarded them every Friday with a treat and talked it up all around the school bragging about them to others when I knew my students could hear me.


blue ribbon

At the end of the first quarter at our awards program I asked our administrator to make a big deal out of their attendance.  He had the whole class stand up and told everyone in the packed room (full of their peers from other programs)  that this was what “perfect” looked like.  I’ll never forget that line.  The members of my class were far from perfect, but they had managed to accumulate perfect attendance for a full quarter.  They just beamed.  I’m certain Jennifer had never had the benefit of going to school regularly in her whole life.

In October Jennifer retook those three proficiency tests.  She wouldn’t find out the results until December.  She decided not to drop out until she had gotten those results.  So without my knowing about the plan to fail, I was given a one month’s reprieve.  Just before the holiday break, she found out she had passed two of the three tests!  Encouraged but still wary she quietly decided to stay until March when she would have just one more chance to pass that final test.   She continued to go for tutoring, but by now she could concentrate all her efforts on just one subject in which she was still deficient.

Let the Magic Begin

That extra time gave us the window for magic to take hold. Buoyed with her successes and reinforced with perfect attendance, Jennifer’s self esteem started to bloom.  She put together a project and competed in the regional competition and won.  She advanced to state competition and won.  In February my class began their final senior project.  Each student was required to put together a plan for an entire school.  Jennifer latched onto this project of planning a child care center with a commitment she had never shown in school before.  She named her child care facility From Caterpillars to Butterflies.  The project was outstanding in every way.  Step by step she poured all of her creativity into the project.  She drew a floor plan, wrote a philosophy, created a marketing strategy that included a logo and a slogan, developed an inventory and made a tri-fold display board about her school.   Her project was voted the best all around by hundreds of visitors who came to see our finished projects on display. Jennifer, the loser, became Jennifer the star.  Her peers looked to her for advice on their projects.

Becoming a Butterfly

She found out in early May that she had passed her final proficiency test she had taken in March.  She would be graduating with all of her peers, despite her total intention to fail when she first walked into my room.  How do I know all this?  In May she told me all about her original plan.  During our end of the year program with parents, employers and advisory council members in the audience, I gave Jennifer a small butterfly decoration.  I told everyone how I had watched Jennifer change from a caterpillar into a butterfly during that school year. (Just like the process she had named her child care facility).  She and her family were very touched.

On graduation night, during the graduation ceremony someone tapped me on my shoulder.  I ignored the tap.  I thought it was going to be one of my students asking to leave the ceremony to go to the restroom and I didn’t want to honor that request.  But the tap was repeated and over my shoulder was passed a flower arrangement from Jennifer’s mother and a card from Jennifer.  Inside the card Jennifer had included a butterfly necklace for me to wear.  She had also written me a poem.  I never saw Jennifer after the graduation ceremony.  I suppose the family had graduation celebration plans they had to rush off to implement, or perhaps Jennifer was too emotional for even a good-by hug. But the necklace and the poem brought tears to my eyes.  Though the poem is very simplistic its words touched my deeply.  I have recited its words to teacher audiences many times when I speak.

spreading wingsThe best teacher for me would be

The wonderful Mrs. Easley.

She listened as I talked

She even pushed me as I walked.

She pushed me to my limit

I didn’t even know I had it.

I was going nowhere and fast

I thought I’d never last.

I kept remembering failures of my past.

She turned my life around.

Now I might be college bound.

How do I repay something like this?

I keep remembering her words…

The lectures I’m going to miss.

Now because of her I believe

That “teacher” means much more to me.

A Question and a Challenge

How could a young woman who was two months away from dropping out of school write words I would be happy to have on my headstone when I die?

She listened as I talked

She even pushed me as I walked.

What teacher wouldn’t be honored to have a student write those words about her?

But there are two other lines in that poem that should scare every teacher in America.

She pushed me to my limit

I didn’t even know I had it.

How and why would a young lady in America make it all the way to her senior year in high school without even really knowing that she “had it?”  Jennifer had the ability all along.  Isn’t that our main job as teachers?  We have to reveal for students that they “have it” within them to succeed.

We must push them to their limit until they realize that they have it.

I learned that from a poem written by an 18-year-old girl who was two months away from walking away from an education.  Those are her words.  We must listen.

TEACH...To Change Lives

Jennifer’s story and many others…

plus classroom activity ideas to build success in life for our students…

 are in my newest book for teachers.

TEACH…To Change Lives.

Available at Amazon.com