Tag Archives: learning

The Empty Truck


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.”

two dads

“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.”


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.

I’m Not Oprah


what I know for sureI’m Not Oprah

Clearly.  I’m not Oprah so unfortunately not too many people will care what I think.  There is no magazine or TV show with my name on it. But let’s talk about Oprah for just a second.  In her magazine on the very last page she writes a feature every month titled ‘What I Know for Sure.’  She came up with the idea because someone on TV asked her that question, and she couldn’t formulate a good answer on the spot.

She found that the question, “What do you know for sure?’ really intrigued her and she reflected on it quite a bit.  She decided she would use the last page of her magazine to answer that revealing question differently each month.  She later confessed that she lived in minor fear of not being able to come up with a new idea each month; but I’m proud of her because she has stuck with it.

In case Oprah is reading this (stop laughing, it could happen) I’d like her to know that the last page is always the first page of her magazine that I read each month.  It IS a wonderful question to answer.  So….with a nod to Oprah…here are my answers.

What I Know for Sure

what I know for sure

  • Wisdom comes only slowly.  And frequently it can only be located at all by looking in the rear view mirror.  I’m astonished…as the decades accumulate…how I can have a whole new vantage point and understanding of something that happened way in my past.  Wisdom reveals itself when you least expect it.  “Why did that have to happen?” becomes, “Oh, now I get it.  If X hadn’t happened then Y would never have been an option.”  The challenging part is waiting for the wisdom.  It can’t be forced.  Believe me I’ve tried to force it.  A new understanding will just occur when you are ready to believe it.
  • Regrets usually come from the things I didn’t do.  Over time mistakes dim. You take a risk.  You fail.  You recover and learn from it.  But not stepping up to an opportunity, not even trying, that inaction  becomes a regret.  From my vantage point regrets hurt much more than mistakes.
  • Often the way people treat you has absolutely nothing to do with you.  This is such an amazing lesson that I have to keep learning it every day.  While it is true that if we treat people well, we also hope that they will value us, it isn’t always so.  When people treat you badly, or talk behind your back, it often is a product of their own insecurities.  They don’t feel good about themselves and can’t accept your good intentions.  It frequently has nothing to do with you at all. I wish I could have understood this when I was much younger.  OK I admit it,  even today I have to continue to remind myself of this truth, even though I’ve reached the age our parents used to call “You’re old enough to know better.”

income earned

  • The amount of money a person earns does not determine their value.  This seems obvious to a young person, but in our capitalistic culture it becomes fuzzy to us as we age. Especially in America where our value system is so skewed, we have to keep our personal definition of value separate from income.  In this country we seem to worship celebrities and people who can kick, hit or dunk a ball.   America gives a thumbs down to someone who is “just” a teacher, especially recently.  Celebrities are assigned ghost writers so they can claim to be authors and plagiarize the talents of true designers to claim their own line of fashions.  Reality TV has taken the word celebrity to a new lower level.  The family most willing to publicly display their dysfunction becomes rich quickly.  Income seems completely unrelated to value anymore.  If we tie our personal worth to income, people of real value frequently lose self-respect.

  • The education you give yourself is more important than all the degrees you can accumulate. I’m a career teacher, so it is a little difficult to admit this.  Earning a degree shows perseverance and an initial thirst for knowledge.  However, if we allow learning to stop at age 22 or 35, we’ve missed the most valuable education of all.  The real goal of earning a degree should be to make us become life long learners.  I’ve learned a hundred times more from the books I’ve read than the degrees I’ve earned.  A PhD doesn’t mean you are well-educated.  Continually seeking knowledge throughout your life makes you well-educated.  Nothing else does.
  • Messages that come from your parents early in life are the hardest to change.  Even when you understand that, it is still hard to break the hold those messages have on you.  I’ve been the recipient of both the positive and negative sides of that truth.  My parents thought I was incredibly intelligent and frequently voiced this.  I was in my thirties before I realized that I wasn’t as smart as my parents believed. But by then my confidence in my intelligence already had a firm hold on me.  However, my father was hypercritical about women’s appearances and especially critical of weight.  None of his three children will ever feel attractive as a result of those early messages.
  • We are all responsible for surrounding ourselves with a circle of people who are encouragers.  To live life with some success we all need our own group of cheerleaders. We all know people who lift and people who discourage.  We know blamers, doubters, dreamers, and winners.  We have to be selective and surround ourselves with people who encourage us to take positive risks, and people who believe in our ability to soar.  In our vulnerable moments we must turn to our encouragers and away from the naysayers.  It can mean the difference between living the life we dream of or a life of mediocrity.

Thank you Oprah, for giving us your answers to this insightful question each month.  But mostly thank you for challenging me to reflect on my OWN  life.  These are the things Dauna Easley has learned for sure…so far.