Tag Archives: inspire

The Danger of Test Scores

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Is This Wise?

Is This Wise?There is a great fable about an imagined animal school which decides to adopt the design structure of schools for humans.  Humans have greater thinking and learning power than animals, right?  Someone erroneously believes they can improve the performance of ALL animals by modeling animal schools after a learning institution for people.  But is this wise?

In this new animal school, rather than the teacher being satisfied with the beaver’s ability to chop down trees and build dams, the teacher also insists the beaver learn to fly.  The results of the beaver’s efforts to fly are, of course, frustrating and even ludicrous. Facing such a failure the beaver is no longer even proud of his innate ability to build dams better than any other animal.

What Are We Doing?

Take a discerning look at our schools.  Isn’t that too close to what we really do?  Instead of identifying and capitalizing on a student’s intrinsic talents, we reduce the time he spends in a pursuit in which he excels and simultaneously increase the amount of time he spends being tutored in a skill for which he has minimal talent.  Think for a moment about this.

In a culture in which we are being driven by only test scores, we remove a student from his favorite class to tutor him/her for a class in which s/he is failing.  Did it work for the beaver?  What a scary philosophy this becomes when you consider the implications not just for individuals, but also for our country.

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Why do we put all our efforts into forcing students to remediate to obtain mere passing scores in a subject area in which they are weak?  Why not use those same efforts to encourage and push them in an area of their brilliance?  What our country really needs is people functioning at the top of their form in the areas in which they excel.  Ignite the flame in the area of their strengths and watch them catapult forward.  If and when we finally do that, our entire nation will benefit.

Great teachers know this.  They search and search until they discover and reveal a student’s talent.  They frequently are the first to reveal that talent to the student.  They give voice to it, encourage it and often push the student to heights they didn’t believe they could ever achieve.

I’m not the national Secretary of Education, but I think one of the things we need to be doing in every school district in America, is identifying individual student’s areas of brilliance and finding ways to encourage, enhance and grow that talent.  Flying beavers are not the answer.

Want to help stop test score obsession?  Please share this blog post with someone.

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

Letters from Teachers

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Lucky Me

Lucky MeI’m a lucky lady alright.  Not only have I had the chance to spend decades involved in the teaching profession that I love, I’ve also been invited to speak to teacher audiences in 37 states.  Sometimes I speak at conferences.  Other times I’m invited to encourage teachers in individual school districts.  I love to use my speaking skills to inspire and encourage teachers.

Have you ever wondered what teachers are thinking?  I have scores of letters from teachers who write to me after they hear me speak.  They tell me exactly what is on their minds.  Listen in on what they have to say.

Dear Dauna,

… Last Friday, as school ended, I was scrubbing up a whole bottle of dried syrupletters from teachers that had been thrown into the broom closet.  At that point I was thinking, “Why did I ever sign up to attend this conference next week?  I still have things to do here AND at home!”  Now I am so glad I came   You were fantastic.  You have made this whole conference worthwhile.  I get the feeling that you are the kind of teacher who would have syrup spill in your closet too.

… You really touched our teachers.  You gave them something that doesn’t come in books or on the internet.  You shared YOU!  Your human compassion and common sense encouraged them like nothing else can.  You gave them a glow that they will not forget.

…Your stories were so moving and so real.  I came away feeling very proud to be a teacher and there are not enough of those moments.

… What a gift you have to move people with your true stories about teaching.  God bless you.

… I’ve been coming to these conferences with the same group of guys for years.  We really enjoy each other’s company.  Frankly we usually just sit in the back and talk through the presentations.  When you gave your speech it was the first time not one of us said anything.  You really hooked us.

… I knew from the moment you stepped in front of our group that you were going to be a huge success.  You have a magic aura around you.  Thank you for turning me into a hero because I was the one who invited you to our state to speak.  I feel as though I’ve not just heard a great teacher speak, I feel as though I’ve made a new friend.

… You humbled me by talking about your failures.  We all have failures but we forget the positive impact we can have by sharing those failures with others.

… My goodness you are an amazing speaker!  I have never seen anyone, ever, control an audience like you did.

( I can’t help it.  I just have to tell you.  That last comment was written by a Georgia senator about ten years ago).

… You made me think of all the teachers whom I should thank.  I hope and pray that someday someone feels the same way toward me.  I know God has put me here for a reason.  Thank you for helping me realize that I may be touching someone right now, even though I can’t see it.

… I almost didn’t come back today.  I’ve been driving to Columbus an hour each way for the past three days to attend this conference.  Last night I almost decided to stay home and avoid one more day of that drive.  But, because of you I’m so glad I didn’t stay home.  You made all that driving for all three  days worthwhile?  Next year you should speak all three days.

… I’ve always thought of myself as a positive person.  I honestly try to take this into the classroom every day.  But at times it’s hard to smile at the little SOB who gives me a rough time.  But after listening to you today, I make you three promises:

  1. I will smile at my problem child.
  2. Every student of mine will hear the fish story.
  3. I will write my 8th grade English teacher a thank you letter.

… At last they finally bring in someone to speak to us who REALLY KNOWS what it’s like to teach.  I felt like you were inside my head hearing my thoughts.  You have had all my same frustrations but you helped me realize that I might really be making a difference.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me hang in there.

… I came here worn out and wrung out.  You lifted a heavy load from my shoulders and a weight from my chest.

… You know the most important thing I learned from you today?  It is OK to be goofy.  You are a riot!

… Last night I was talking to my wife about how “the job” was going.  I told her I was considering going back into industry because I didn’t feel like I was having a positive impact on my students.  Can it possibly be an accident that I heard you speak today?  Wow, have you given me a boost!  I can go back into the classroom with a positive attitude.  You have reminded me of why I chose teaching.

… You could never believe how much I needed to hear the message you gave us today.  You were speaking directly to me.  I believe your stories will help me be a better person as well as a better teacher.

…I never would have believed I could laugh so hard –  and cry too – in ninety minutes.  The time went by too quickly.  Please come back!

..I’m really not a warm and fuzzy person, but today you have inspired me to work harder and listen to my students more.

…My staff suggested I get you to come back once a month for a shot in the arm.  You touched all of us in a special way.

… I hope someone, somewhere, lets me know I’ve been a positive influence in their life.  Thanks for giving me hope.

Now Dear Readers, Will You Do Me a Favor?

Dauna Casual 2

  • If you enjoy reading my blog posts, could you recommend me to someone who hires speakers to encourage teachers?
  • I’d love to be the opening speaker at your school next year.  Contact me.
  • Are you a teacher who attends in service meetings?  Could you share a link from my blog posts with the person who invites speakers to your district?
  • Are you in charge of hiring speakers for teacher conferences?
  • My email address is the best way to reach me:   dauna@cinci.rr.com

My past audience members are the ones who encouraged me to write a book for teachers.  I’ve now written two.  Some universities are having their education students read my books.  Here is my most recent book for teachers.

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

Great Classroom Activity

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Which Words Rule Our Lives?

Words that Rule Our LivesIt’s important for us that we know the words that rule our lives. This is a great activity I learned from my own high school students, Taylor and Cody.  The assignment was for each of my students who aspired to be future teachers, to teach a lesson in front of their classmates.  At the time of this assignment the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are had just been made into a movie and was being shown in theaters.  Taylor and Cody began their lesson by having the students watch the movie trailer.  In a very effective style the trailer pointed out that each of us has three words within us.  We all possess a little fear.  We all crave a little adventure.  And we all need a little hope.

movie trailerHow clever Taylor and Cody were to get Hollywood to create the hook for their lesson!  The movie trailer was quite effective and had every student’s attention.  The “teachers” then asked the class to focus on those three words:  fear, adventure and hope.

Decide which one of those words rules your life.

Think about it and then share it with your peers.

After a few minutes of thought they brought the class together into a cozy circle.

teens in a circle

Each student truthfully described which of these three words currently seemed to dominate their lives.  They were very honest and revealing.  (I believe students truly want to share what is on their minds.  I’ve seen it too many times to be wrong about this).  It is the challenge of an insightful teacher to find a vehicle that will encourage that sharing.

After everyone had shared their thoughts, the teaching partners posed a second question…

Are you satisfied with the word that seems to drive your life right now?

Once again the students took turns sharing their answers.  This kind of activity will only be successful if a teacher has previously created a safe, accepting environment in which all students feel free to share.  Once again the answers were candid and insightful.  This activity forced each of us to assess our lives.  It forced us to evaluate our motives, to really think about the choices we were making and whether those choices served us well.  It also built tremendous understanding and empathy among class members.  It deepened our sense of community.  As a side benefit it is important to recognize…bullies can’t thrive when you build a sense of acceptance within a classroom community.  How proud I was of my students for creating such an effective experience for our class.

dream big

Is there one word that seems to drive your life?  Fear?  Adventure? Hope?  Which one is it?  I always participate fully in any revealing activity like this in my classroom.  It bonds the teacher with the class.  It builds understanding across generations and defines the classroom as a safe place.  Even more important it shows the students the teacher is willing to talk about feelings.  It gives them the courage to approach the teacher when something really important is on their minds.  It puts a welcome mat in front of the door to your classroom and your heart.

Thank you Taylor and Cody, for creating this wonderful lesson for me to share with others!

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

Teacher for a Lifetime

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Not A Runner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Running a Teaching Marathon

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

             TEACH…To Change Lives

             Available at Amazon.com

A Lesson for Teachers

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                        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.

Perfection!

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

Teaching Strategies

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teaching strategiesThe Lesson

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

Why?

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

the lesson

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

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

I Had Forgotten One Thing

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

Why do we have to go outside?

It’s freezing out here!

Where are we supposed to sit?

There’s not enough room on this bench!

I’m not sitting on the concrete!

Why are we doing this?

This is soooo dumb!

And my personal favorite….

                                              Do we get a grade for this?

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

mad teacher

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

Can we go in now?

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

The Revelation

the lesson

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

Mrs. Easley, feel my arm.

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

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

Then she said something even more surprising…

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

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

In even our bleakest moments as teachers,

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

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

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A Celebration!

TEACH...To Change Lives

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

It is full of classroom ideas and inspiring true stories.

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

Thank you for reading my blog! 

The Empty Truck

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the empty truckAre You Kidding Me?

All the prospective teachers in my classroom were angry.  You could feel the tension hanging in the air within the classroom walls.  I  was teaching in a Teacher Academy program for high school juniors and seniors.  I had just shown my group of high school aged future teachers an article that compared teacher salaries to the yearly income of a wide variety of other professions.  But this activity backfired.  The reality didn’t just inform them, it infuriated them.

Heated comments fueled by adolescent hormones were flying around the room.  “Why should we work this hard to learn about a profession that pays so poorly”?  “What makes accountants and salesmen more valuable than teachers?”  “How come basketball players and sports figures are worth so much more than teachers who educate our country’s children?”  They looked at me with indignation.  They seemed to blame me as though I had written the economic reality of my own profession.

In that moment I sensed I was poorly prepared to answer them.  I chose the escape route of a chicken.  If you don’t know the answer, pose a question.      chicken

“Maybe it’s a good time to revisit the question I asked you on the first day of school,” I challenged them.  “Why do you want to teach?”

I paused and waited for their answers.  But they weren’t falling for it.  They didn’t feel like sharing those touchy-feely stories again.  If society didn’t value teachers were they preparing for the wrong career?  Their body language said it all.  They leaned back in their chairs and crossed their arms over their chests.  They were daring me to defend a profession that was seemingly undervalued by our American culture.

I paused even longer, and not just because I know that an effective teacher gives students time to formulate answers.  I waited because I knew I had to say exactly the right thing to this group at this moment.  I couldn’t come up with the right words.  I started to sweat.

Finally seventeen-year-old Chelsea began to speak.  “My real dad is jealous of my step dad,” she began.

Every head in the room swung to look at her like she was nuts.  Why in the world was she talking about her two dads at a time like this?  But she read their body language and continued, “Wait, just a minute, hear me out.  My real dad is jealous of my  step dad.  I know this is true because he told me so.  My real dad said he is jealous for two reasons.  First, my step dad gets to live with me.  My real dad claims he’s jealous because my step dad gets to spend more time with me.”

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“The second reason he says he’s jealous is because my step dad is an engineer who designs toys.  He first designs a toy.  If that toy design is selected by the big toy company he works for, he gets to watch the whole toy development process.  He watches them produce the toy, choose packaging for it, and market the toy through ads and television commercials.  He even gets to see his finished toy on the toy store shelf and watch kids take it home to play.  My real dad thinks that would be such a cool way to make a living.

You see, my real dad drives a delivery truck.  One day when we were having one of those kind of serious father/daughter talks, he told me that in his job at the end of a really good day all he has to show for it is an empty truck. He told me that he doesn’t care what profession I choose, but he wants me to choose carefully so that at the end of the day I will have something more than an empty truck.”

Teach to Change Lives

She paused to let that sink in and then she continued, “That’s why I want to teach.  Because as a teacher, at the end of a day of helping students learn, I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment that will be so much more than an empty truck.”

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I had a lump in my throat when she stopped speaking. I thought about the courage of her father.  How tough it must have been to so eloquently admit his jealousy for her stepfather.  He was so focused on his daughter choosing a career with meaning that he put his own self-esteem on hold to share an analogy she will never forget.  She internalized his message so completely that she could pull it out and share it with others at just the right moment.  It changed the whole climate of my classroom in an instant.  My students sensed the complete truth in that story.  I didn’t have to add a word.

Isn’t that, after all, why all of us teach?  At the end of a day, a school year or even a career we will have so much more than an empty classroom.  In this profession we build relationships that can honestly span a lifetime and touch generations to come. When we prepare a student to enter a profession with meaning because we have first helped him believe in himself, we help define not just his life, but the way he raises his family as well.  As a career teacher, I admit not every day is easy.  On those tough days I like to think about Chelsea’s story of the empty truck.  I make myself stop, close my eyes, and actually visualize that truck.  Then I take a deep breath and just keep on truckin’.

TEACH...To Change Lives

Today Chelsea is a teacher and has her own students in Hamilton, Ohio.   I have written my second book for teachers titled TEACH…To Change Lives and Chelsea’s story is only one of the stories in it.  It is now available at Amazon.com.

Full Circle

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Full Circle

A True Story

Dedicated to All Teachers Who are Returning to their Classrooms in August

When I began to teach about the profession of teaching with high school students, I gave my students a unique assignment. I asked them to write a thank you letter to the best or most memorable teacher they had ever experienced.  The power of this assignment was amazing.  It required my students to focus on the qualities of great teachers and describe those attributes in written words. We could never find all of the teachers my students wanted to thank, of course, but it was a triumph every time one of them received a response from one of their treasured teachers.  They would bring those letters to class and share them orally with everyone.  All the other class members would start hoping anew that they would be the next one to receive a reply.

The first time I ever tried this activity with high school students, I tried to locate Mrs. Harriet Ranson, my former high school science, biology and physiology teacher. As a teenager back in William Mason High School in Mason, Ohio I have to confess, I thought she was boring.  It wasn’t until I attended college that I discovered, too late, just what a great teacher she had been.

At Miami University in the 1960s anatomy and physiology was what we fearfully called a ‘flunk out’ class. If you are from my era, you know the kind of class I’m describing.  The students gathered in a huge auditorium.  The professor was way down in front, barely visible, giving prolific notes, never pausing to explain.  The text was as thick as an unabridged Bible.  Then on test day you’d discover that nothing in the notes or the book had anything to do with the questions you were expected to answer for a grade on the test.  Brilliant students were failing the course.

It wasn’t far into this potential nightmare that I came to an amazing realization. I was having no trouble with the material. While students much brighter than I were at their wit’s ends, I simply somehow knew the answers. It was an astonishing discovery for me, a triumph I owed completely to Mrs. Ranson.  In high school she had quite frankly taught me everything I needed to know about college level anatomy and physiology.

thank a teacher

I knew then what I didn’t have the maturity to realize in high school.  Mrs. Ranson was an incredible teacher.  I started feeling guilty.  I promised myself I would write her a thank you letter and tell her so.  My home town of Mason was small at the time.  I even knew exactly where she lived.  But weeks turned into months, then years, and too quickly even decades.  I never did write that letter. 

It wasn’t until I gave my own students this assignment that I decided to finally follow through and write Mrs. Ranson a long overdue letter of gratitude.  I wondered if she remembered me.  I thought it would be neat to bring in a letter from one of my own former teachers and read it to my students.  But I had waited too long. People can move quite a bit in twenty-five years.  I tried hard but I simply couldn’t find her.

Even more years slipped away until later at my thirty-year high school reunion, I finally received a clue that helped me locate her.  I was asked to be the speaker at our reunion. What a compliment! I was pleased but also more nervous than when I speak in front of an audience of strangers.  Though I was forty-eight years old I felt like a gawky teenager.  But once I began speaking I relaxed; my friends laughed in all the right places and we had a ball.  But it was during this speech, in a poignant moment, I decided to thank Mrs. Ranson.  She wasn’t there, of course, but at least I had the chance to express my gratitude in front of an audience who knew her and would understand.  As I talked about my college experience with the physiology class and the debt that I owed Mrs. Ranson, you could see heads nodding all around me. It was clear, we all agreeed.  Mrs. Ranson was a great teacher. And yet, how many of us actually took the time to say ‘thank you’?

class reunion

One of the big surprises of the reunion evening was that Mrs. Kathy Ross, our old English teacher, actually attended our reunion.  We couldn’t believe it.  Most of us had assumed she was dead.  But we learned that evening that while we had been seventeen and eighteen, she had been only twenty-three and twenty-four.  She had aged well too.  That night we were asking her questions like, “Were you in my chemistry class?” And she would respond, “I was your teacher!”

About a week after my reunion speech, I received a nice card and a note from Mrs. Ross.  A complete thrill.  She told me what a great speech she thought I had made.  Is there anything better than your high school English teacher complimenting you on a speech?  Nothing. Even when you are pushing fifty that still feels wonderful.  I felt like a high school kid again soaking up a teacher’s compliment.

But that card also included two challenges.  First she asked me for a copy of my speech.  I was in trouble there, because I don’t really write out my speeches. I know the stories I’m going to tell and the points I’m going to make, but I never completely write it out because I don’t want my speech to sound memorized.  But how do you tell your old English teacher you didn’t write it down?  So I quickly sat down and typed up what I could remember about what I had said.

Mrs. Ross also wrote, “If you are really sincere about thanking Mrs. Ranson, I have her address.  She moved to Florida years ago, but we still exchange Christmas cards.”

The Letters

There it was in front of me more than thirty years later –  Mrs. Ranson’s address.  Thankful for the second chance I immediately sat down and wrote Mrs. Ranson a letter.  I told her about my college course and let her know how indebted I was to her.  I even sent her a copy of my reunion speech. (Thanks to Mrs. Ross’s assignment, I now had a written version). Amazingly in only two weeks I received a reply.  The answer was handwritten on a yellow legal pad by her husband.

Dear Mrs. Easley,

Thank you so much for your letter and the speech you made at your thirty year class reunion.  They could not possibly have arrived at a better time.  Harriet is currently in the hospital…My wife has not responded to the medication and has been unable to communicate with even me for several weeks.

I took your letter and a copy of your speech to the hospital.  She was unable to read them, of course, so I read them aloud to her.  When I told her who they were from she immediately began talking… all about you.  She told me all about your science project. She remembered and told me that you were a very good student. This is the first conversation I have been able to have with her except for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ in three weeks.

I have made copies of your letter and your speech and sent them to our sons and their families.  Again thank you so much for taking the time to write. I know these are things we will keep forever.

Sincerely,

George Ranson

 

A teacher and her student

Reaching out to each other

Reconnecting after thirty years,

Each validating the importance of the other.

Did you ever doubt that there is a special bond

Between teachers and their students?

I don’t…not anymore.

The Story Continues…

thank you to my teacher

Mrs. Harriet Ranson
1965

Dauna Easley
1965
Look at the length of cheerleading skirts back then!

For many years the story ended this way.  I had the opportunity to travel the country talking to and encouraging teachers and this was one of the stories I always shared.  It never failed to moisten a few eyes. Many amazing things happened along the way.  When I was speaking in Los Vegas a gentleman came up to me following my speech and revealed that he had been George Ranson’s business partner for years.  He thanked me for sharing such a wonderful story about Harriet and George.   Always after I spoke teachers approached me from the audience and wanted to share stories of special teachers from their past. Many promised to go home and write to them.  And they did.

When I wrote my first book for teachers, Teachers Touch Eternity, I included the Mrs. Ranson story. I tried to send the Ranson family a copy of the book.  But the Florida address was no longer current.  I had lost them again.  It took me many months to locate them once more.  I finally learned that George had passed away and Harriet came home to Mason and lived in her son’s home.  She was bed ridden and not always cognizant by then.  But I went to her son’s home and gave them a copy of the book.

book coverOnce they read the story, they were so touched, that they read the story aloud to Harriet many nights before she went to sleep.  They claimed that she loved hearing it. The family was so moved by the story which was about their mother and contained a letter from their father, that they bought several copies of my book as a memorial tribute to their parents.  They passed them out as a surprise to the extended family members on Christmas Eve that year, and read the story orally to all of them.  That scene gives me goose bumps when I think about it.

Then when Harriet passed away, the Ranson family asked me…her student…to give her eulogy. 

I was proud to do so.

Never, ever underestimate the power of the bond between a teacher and a student.  I believe teaching is a profession like no other. If you enter into it with a desire to honor and elevate not just your students’ knowledge but also their entire lives, you have chosen the right profession.

I’ve just written my second book for teachers.  TEACH…To Change Lives.

Mrs. Ranson’s story is only one of the stories and classoom activities I share in the book.

 Available at Amazon.com

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The Secret Dream

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Some Dreams We Share with the World

Thank a teacherFor as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to become a teacher.  This dream was conceived unintentionally by observing an enthusiastic third grade teacher named Mrs. Waggoner.  She didn’t prepare a lesson about careers.  She didn’t ask us to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up.  She simply taught with joy.

Looking back I realize that my parents’ philosophy of child rearing -had they chosen to write it down- would have read like this:  “Do your chores and then go play.”  I had no complaints about that style of parenting.  I did my chores and then ran outside to play until the lightning bugs appeared.  I loved being outdoors and enjoyed a large circle of neighborhood playmates.

But in third grade I discovered a teacher named Mrs. Waggoner.  She was unlike any other adult I had ever encountered.  What made her unique?  She actually enjoyed playing with children.  She would enter whatever game we had devised and laugh with us.  Noise didn’t bother her.  Messes didn’t annoy her.  Instead of telling us to simply sit down and draw a picture during those long winter indoor recesses, she would have us push back all the desks and she taught us how to square dance.  She’d holler out the square dance calls and dance with us, clapping as she skipped around the room.  I was mesmerized by her and studied her like she was some kind of a science experiment.

 teacher

Consequently it was when I was only eight that I decided I wanted to grow up and enter a profession in which I could find as much joy and fun as Mrs. Waggoner. I began to fashion child sized classrooms on the porch, or in the garage.  That dream of becoming a teacher I made public and I rushed toward that goal as though racing along a zipline.  By age twenty I was teaching third grade myself.  Thank you, Mrs. Waggoner for revealing a career path I would love for decades.

 The Secret Dream

writing

But I also had a secret dream.  Maybe you have one too.  I wanted to become a writer.  I can’t pinpoint when this dream was conceived within me.  It wasn’t as clear-cut as meeting Mrs. Waggoner.  I just knew I enjoyed writing stories for fun. I wrote stories for myself and sometimes shared them with my family.  As a teenager, I wrote a collection of very mediocre poems that I kept hidden away.   No one encouraged me in this dream.  In fact, I rarely revealed this interest to anyone.

Why?  Every time I wrote a story or an essay for an assignment I was given a grade of a B minus.  B minus people don’t excel.  B minus people need to look elsewhere to succeed.  So I kept this interest tucked away in a private place. This dream percolated on the back burner, just below the surface of public admission for many years.

Ironically, it was once again a teacher who finally gave me “permission” to allow my writing dream to begin to grow.  She wasn’t royalty, but her name was Miss Throne.  Really.

Miss Throne’s Threat

She was my freshman composition professor at Miami University.

She issued a threat on the first day of class.  She circumvented any effort at tact and told us that most of us would fail her class.   We glanced at each other stunned.  She pointed out that we weren’t in high school anymore.  While we may have been making an ‘A’ in high school English, that didn’t impress her one iota.  She was the Marine drill sergeant equivalent of a college English prof.

 I had never seen an A for my high school writing efforts and I felt my already sagging confidence plummet.  In fact she claimed that most of us would make an ‘F’ on our first writing assignment.  Worse.  All our writing would be done during class with the topic only provided on the day of the assignment. No opportunity to refine and improve would be granted.

It was a grim group of students who showed up for that first classroom writing assignment.  She didn’t smile nor did we.  She distributed our blank blue books and then chalked our essay title in giant letters on the blackboard.

I Am An Eccentric

Decades later I still remember that title and the fear. We wrote furiously until she ordered us to stop.   The next class day was even more sullen as, sure enough, she began to hand back those blue books.  I saw, F, F, D, D-, D- – .  I even spotted an F- !  She wrote those grades in HUGE red pencil on the covers of the booklets.  Public condemnation with no apologies.

What did my booklet say?  She didn’t even return it to me.  I said absolutely nothing.  I figured she had ripped it to shreds in frustration.  You could hear a fly sweat in that classroom.  Silently Miss Throne made a throne of the desk in the front of the room as she perched on top of it and stared at us.  No one said a word.

Then quietly she began to read to us orally.  My essay.  I slid down as far as possible in my seat.  It was several minutes before I realized with astonishment that she liked it.  I have never been more surprised or embarrassed by anything in my life…not even to this day.  My grade?  It was an A minus, minus.  Miss Throne adored minuses. But the grade was no longer of any importance.

That was the day that I realized with stunning clarity that taste in good writing is subjective.  That was the day that I knew that I would allow my writing dream to continue to percolate and grow.  That was the day that I internalized that one day I would have the courage to write and make my words public.  It didn’t happen quickly, but it did happen.  First I became a teacher.  But, now also, I had permission to write.

Teachers Touch Eternity

write

TEACH To Change Lives

Please understand that as a teacher myself, I do not approve of Miss Throne’s methods.  I don’t believe you get your best results from students through intimidation.  I tell this story to prove another point.  Miss Throne does not remember me.  She doesn’t remember my name.  She doesn’t remember that day.  But notice the power one teacher had in my life, in one hour of one day.  I no longer felt that I had to squelch my secret dream.  That one day gave me the courage to write my first book.  My third book Teach…To Change Lives will be available at Amazon.com soon.  And Miss Throne is in it.

Never give up on a secret dream too soon.

Invisible Lessons

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What do I like most about teaching?  The lessons I never planned; the student produced detours that suddenly interrupt the well thought out lesson plan.

Sometimes it is an irreverent comment from a student that makes a class collapse into laughter.  At first it annoys me.  I’m right in the middle of “important information” that I have to deliver and some kid funnier than I, kidnaps my class to prove he is more entertaining than the teacher.  In that moment I have two choices; enjoy the joke with them or annoy all of them.  I choose to laugh.

Another time a class discussion will take us in an unexpected direction as a student recalls a poignant moment from her life.  The class is riveted to her comments.  Her story touches them.  My professional self screams to me, “You have only fifteen minutes to teach them the next ten points in your lesson plan.”  Fortunately my human self realizes that that student has interrupted my well planned presentation with the most important lesson of the day.  I have to release and make a U turn.

Life is exactly like my classroom.  We are busy rushing from one item on our to-do list to the next, when traffic turns the interstate into a still life painting.  A baby is born on an unexpected time table and we stop everything to celebrate. Or the phone rings right in the middle of our busiest season to tell us someone we love has a serious illness. In an instant our priorities change.  We schedule an unexpected vacation and reexamine our choices.

It’s the unplanned lessons that touch us the most.  When emotions are involved, when we “feel” things we remember.   In life and in the classroom the lessons invisible at the beginning of the day are usually the ones most memorable in the long run.